THE MONSTER OF MELBOURNE
An old story about an odd man out is resurrected with a all-star cast in an Australian setting, writes Michael Bodey
AARON Eckhart is reclining in his camp chair puffing on a cigar. No, it’s not a habit he picked up from his starring role in the black satire Thank You For Smoking; rather, it came from his time opposite Johnny Depp in The Rum Diary.
He’s relaxed in the leafy outskirts of Melbourne and there’s no indication the actor will soon transform into a new Hollywood version of Frankenstein. For starters, Hollywood doesn’t come to the suburbs of Melbourne too often. But the growing influence of our directors and writers and the generosity of a government rebate scheme for those who create their own projects has changed that. Hollywood is slowly bringing films back to Australia and allowing local talent to stay at the helm.
The captain of this film, I, Frankenstein, is Melbourne-born and Sydney-reared Stuart Beattie. Beattie is best known as the screenwriter of Collateral and the man who cracked open the characters for the Pirates of the Caribbean series.
He made his directorial debut with the successful 2010 adaptation of the popular Australian young adult novel Tomorrow, When the War Began and I, Frankenstein should be his next step towards the big time. He’s overseeing considerable stars such as Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto, Jai Courtney and Yvonne Strahovski in a big-budget film aimed right at the global multiplex market.
Eckhart, even without the calm of his cigar, believes Beattie can step up. “He knows what he wants and is very clear and he’s a writer so storytelling is his bones,” he says. “I feel like the producers are making his movie and he’s very happy to be making it in Australia.”
Beattie is happy, if flagging. As we speak late at night on the set of a major set piece in a forested valley in the innards of Park Orchards, he is halfway through a frenetic shoot. Yet he’s on schedule and budget. This despite having to shoehorn a US film into an Australian shooting schedule.
“It’s tiring but it’s going to plan,” he says, smiling, between shots. “This period of the night’s nice. It gets crazier as we have to chase the sunrise later.”
The valley is the kind any suburban kid would have to loved to have seen from their back yard, particularly now as it is dressed to play the part of an ancient cemetery holding Victor Frankenstein.
Right now, all is serene other than the hum of generators farther up the hill. Even the kids from adjoining houses sit still and in their pyja- mas, watching in quiet awe as a stuntwoman repeatedly drops from above on a cable, trying to land as softly as the winged gargoyle she becomes in the film.
The production of I, Frankenstein is a big ask for Beattie, particularly as he likes a tactile film, full of real stunts and prosthetics, rather than the easier option of digital effects overriding reality.
The film will be shot in 40 days, including a stint at Melbourne’s Docklands Studio and many external locations, such as the University of Melbourne and Flinders Lane. The city scrubs up nicely as the gothic city producer Gary Lucchesi describes thus: “If the world took a step to the left in 1795 and then continued on for 200 years in this slightly diverging direction, this is where we end up.”
“This is insane,” Beattie admits of his task. “Hollywood films have 80 days [to shoot]; I’d be comfortable with 60 to 65 days, that’s what it should be, but 40 is tough.”
Nevertheless, the set is calm and does not reflect the mayhem that will hit the screen 18 months hence as two supernatural tribes, the “good” gargoyles and the “bad” demons, battle with Eckhart’s Adam Frankenstein, the monster in the middle.
The film used the title of the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux ( Underworld) but Beattie worked on the premise of a modern-day action movie focusing on Frankenstein’s monster without slavish reference to Grevioux’s novel. Indeed, the film begins where Mary Shelley’s original classic ends, with a creature carrying Frankenstein’s monster away on the ice.
Beattie contends Shelley’s book, not Grevioux’s, is the source material although later