Yeah, I did a Dracula review yesterday. However, I watched that movie about a week ago and I was late writing the review – plus I watched another Dracula movie today, so I’m reviewing that one today. Think of it, sort of, as a compare and contrast.
This time, I’m reviewing Francis Ford Coppela’s take on the story, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” The author’s name is included in the title for, in part, rights reasons. However, the inclusion is significent in that this really is Bram Stoker’s story. There are some changes to the story, but with one exception they expand upon material that was covered in Stoker’s original book, rather then excising material from the story, as with most of the prior film versions (notably Universal’s version with Bela Legosi, and Hammer’s version which I reviewed in my last update).
With most versions of Dracula, as my previous review mentioned, you can tell what sort of liberties that they’ll take to the story, or how close they’ll stick with the story, based on the opening scenes at Dracula’s castle. The film begins first with a prologue with Dracula’s back-story and explaining how he became a vampire – not having been turned by another vampire, but having been transformed by his rejection of God back in the 15th century, when, after repelling an invasion of Romania by the Turks after the fall of the Byzantine Empire, he returns home to find that a false message of his death had reached his wife, who then killed herself. In accordance with the policy of the Catholic Church at the time, because she was a suicide she could not be buried in consecrated ground, and thus could not recieve the funeral rites. This, rather pissed off Vlad, who rejected God, and, in a spectacular scene, complete with statuary weeping blood, blood pouring from the votive candles and the crucifix on the altar, Vlad desecrates his castle’s chapel and rejects God.
Cut to the opening credits and Victorian England, and young Johnathan Harker, a junior clerk at a law firm, engaged to Wilhimina (Mina) Murray, and sent to Transylvania to close the deal for 10 real estate purchases in London, notibly Carfax Abbey, with one Count Dracula, after the previous guy went batshit insane and was sent back to England. It is at this point where the movie really shows that it’s going to stick with the book. The story is framed heavily using diary entries, journal recordings, and so forth, by the participants, with the events staying fairly close to the book. The film only really starts to show it’s changes with the appearance of Dracula’s brides. In the book they were always very openly sexual, but here they’re topless (and probably would be completely naked if they could have gotten away with it with an “R” rating), with the Brides not only going for Harker’s jugular (neck), radial artery (the wrist), but also, the artery bulbi penis.
As with “Horror of Dracula” that’s pretty much the tone of the film in a nutshell. The film sticks fairly closely with Stoker’s narrative, both in the chain of events, the scope of the film, and how the story is told. There are only three major deviations. First, the writer, James V. Hart expands on a scene from the book where Dracula is captivated by a picture of Harker’s fiancee, Mina, and uses that and the origin story of Dracula to add a love story between Dracula and Mina, with Mina implicitly meant to be the reincarnation of Vlad’s lost love. Second, the script and direction essentially takes Victorian rules of sexuality, gives them a boot out the door, and replaces them with modern views of sexuality, and some modern mores (in particular with Lucy). Finally, in a minor/major addition, Dr. Seward is a bit of an morphene addict.
The performances in the film run the gamut. the character of Quincy Morris is a 2-dimentional characture and could be easily replaced with Jayne from Firefly without any major alterations. Richard Grant’s performance as Seward, Cary Elwes performance as Arthur Holmwood, Wynona Ryder’s performance as Mina and Sady Faust’s performances as Lucy are good, but not stellar. Keanu Reeves tries very hard to pull off an English accent and repress his distinctive Californian accent, and succeeds at the latter and fails at the former. Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing is a Large Ham. The highlight of the film, though, is the performance of Gary Oldman as Dracula. Oldman’s performance as Dracula is, by far, the best Dracula performance ever. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the mark to beat. Period. End of story.
As for the rest of the film, Coppela is on the top of his game directorially, the editing is stellar, the set design is fantastic, as the costume design. All in all, the movie is technically sound as well.
In short, I’d say this movie is the definitive Dracula film now. This is the best adaptation of Stoker’s book you can get for now, short of dropping the sexuality back to Victorian levels. I’d reccomend getting this movie in the highest definition version you can play with your DVD/Blu-Ray player. Go. Now. Don’t click the link, go to the store to get a copy (unless it’s out of stock, then click the link).