Reviews: Bram Stokers Dracula
This film is more faithful to Dracula than Bram Stoker is...
Not many people get what Bram Stoker's Dracula is about I am afraid so people say that Francis Ford Coppola's film isn't faithful because there's no romance in the book. Apparently the association between vampirism and sex is still too subtle for most people, the exchange of fluids(blood), the animal element of bats is apparently very concrete symbolism. The original book by Bram Stoker was a well constructed gothic drama about a bunch of Victorian bores trying to protect women from being...infected by a mysterious but interesting foreigner. These Victorian bores are middle class gentlemen in a London of modernity and progress while the Count is Continental, Aristocratic and Immortal. Jonathan Harker is also a condescending jerk and the three dudes wouldn't get far without the book's real hero Mina. Now 100 years later, Coppola adapts this story so why shouldn't he remove a lot of the epistolary and polite genre conventions that prevented Victorian readers from accessing Mina's point of view, though a society as sophisticated as that definitely got the hints of that story right. Coppola's film is an incredible experiment, with Dracula becoming a story about change, the attraction of "the Other" about cultural mutability that would arrive in the 20th Century, completely eroding the sexually restrictive and repressive culture of the Victorian Era. The novel impinged on Apocalyptic fears of those foreigners and their strangeness invading England(and their women), a fear that impinges every vampire narrative ultimately. Coppola's film is post-apocalyptic in that it's made in the 90s with the 20th Century's horror come and gone and the AIDS crisis a recent memory. The Blood is the Life as the titles hold and this film is filled with that milennial anxiety, the inevitability of change, the old meeting the new and the new becoming old. That's what vampirism is all about.
Silly and not at all faithful to the source materal. But a great guilty pleasure.
First I will admit I'm a fan of the original Dracula novel and any adaptation is always welcomed. In fact this one was my first time seeing one of such. Yeah needless to say there were moments in the film where I went "Huh? That didn't happen in the novel." But as I grew older I came to appreciate it more. If there's one thing it did right it is capture the gothic mood of the setting. The outfits look gorgeous (which isn't surprising, the movie did win an Oscar for costume design after all) and there's some nice lighting effects. When it comes to the story though, yeah total ham and cheese. I'll give Gary Oldman props though, he certainly was an interesting Dracula. Menacing in a few cases (particularly when he goes monster) but otherwise stuck in "oh woo is me" mood through the movie. The rest of the actors give off some pretty awkward performances though that made it hard to take seriously. Though that one of the reasons why I do love this movie, it just feels so silly. The movie basically trying to do a love story with a frame of horror around it and can't really decide which on which one. I will say though the special effects are still quite neat, barely any CGI and mostly camera tricks and makeup. Classic stuff. Yeah some of the effects are a bit obvious (rewinding or speeding up the tape to give the vampires an unnatural feel and a few cases of blue screen. It was early 90s after all) but you can forgive a few cases. Yeah it's not the most proper Dracula story. But I'm always willing to give certain re-tellings a chance as long as it's entertaining. And this is one of those times. If nothing else, see it for a bit of a laugh or a MS T3k-style night.
More ham! More I say!
I read in an old Entertainment Weekly film guide that for the film's prologue, Francis Ford Coppola demanded "More blood!". I can imagine him demanding more scenery chewing from the rest of the film. In a supposedly faithful adaptation of Stoker, Coppola gets almost everything but the basic plotting wrong. The characterization is wrong. The casting in places is VERY wrong. The love story is UNBELIEVABLY wrong. The music and set design is pretty good. However, if you're watching this as a serious film I believe you're not going to enjoy it. But as a cheese-fest, as a big-budget take on late-period Hammer films it's vastly enjoyable. Whether it's Reeves' wooden acting, the combined force of Hopkins, Oldman, Elwes and Waits hamming it up, silly looking transformations (one with Dracula crying purple watercolor), this is a masterpiece of cheese. It's never explained why Dracula has a Dale Earndhardt mustache or why Van Helsing is a complete maniac, or why Old Dracula is an old lady in a red housecoat with a hairdo that looks like balls. The best thing I can say is just laugh and roll with it. And Cary Elwes is awesome in this. The part where he bursts open the doors is hilarious.
Post Twilight: The movie did not age well...
This film is a cult classic, but the truth is, it didn't age well. Now, the quality of televisions highlight the difference between the quality of the costumes and quality of the sets. The monstrous Dracula may have been interesting at the time, but now it looks like a man in a rubber suit. Most importantly, Dracula and Mina's relationship in a post-Twilight world is extremely unnerving. She is in love with the man who raped and murdered her best friend, even after knowing who she was. The number of scenes with either no consent or dubious consent kill the attempts to titillate the audience (There are a total of 12, six of which are because of Dracula and the rest by his brides). In all honesty, this film does a great job making Dracula a sexual predator. He's a complete monster, but for some reason we're supposed to route for Mina, who has fallen in love with him. If this film came out today, it would not be hailed as a great film. It would be derided in the same vein as Twilight.
Even if you haven't read it, it still doesn't impress
The chief complaint I hear about this movie is about its unfaithfulness to the actual novel, which is a very valid claim, as it is quite true, and particularly jarring, given the title of the film. Dracula is now far removed from his incarnation as the festering force of evil and darkness, and instead is presented as a broken-hearted attempt at The Woobie. His desire to feed on and enslave Mina now is replaced by him loving her, as the reincarnation (somehow) of his long lost love. The film's lack of faith to the original book nonwithstanding as a flaw however, there are three very large problems with this movie: 1. The romance simply is not entertaining or believable. It is one of the biggest Romantic Plot Tumors I've ever seen in a movie, as nearly every scene between Dracula and Mina not only undoes any sympathy for the character of Mina, as we are being expected to respect her infidelity, but it also undoes whatever actual gravitas and menace that Dracula has. Compounded by the fact that the majority of their shared scenes consists of them repeatedly telling each other how much they love each other, or alternating between staring "soulfully" into each other's eyes, and making out. 2. The film's horror elements fail abysmally. 3. The acting. Good lord, the acting. Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder seemed to be locked in combat as to who can deliver the flatter performance, with Keanu winning just a few snores ahead. Nearly every female character's performance seems to be comprised of 90% semisexual moaning and panting, and 10% confessing how much they love whatever male characters they share the scene with. Oldman's performance as Dracula is decent, as long as he isn't sharing the scene with Ryder; when he is, the character just falls apart with pseudoromantic blandness. Anthony Hopkins' performance is the one that really sticks with me however, mainly because he seemed to have snorted a line of cocaine before each take. The performances of the rest of the cast are rather forgettable, with the possible exception of the equally insane acting Tom Waits. The fanservice element of the movie was also completely unnecessary. Lucy seemed to have spent almost half of her screen time with her breasts exposed, which really felt completely out of place with the time period. Overall, I'd give the film a C minus.
Milleage will vary for those who read the book
As someone who's read the novel Dracula, I was curious about how this movie compared to the book, even after hearing about the romance that was never in the book. So I went and bought the DVD (which was only about six dollars, I should add), though my high expectations of consistency to the book ruined it for me. The movie was certainly appealing to the eye, which some nice costumes and settings (for the most part), and a soundtrack that got the job done. The performance by the actors were well-done, even if I didn't find the performances of Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins as hammy as people claimed it to be. However, what greatly ruined the film for me, besides the character derailment (which I'll get to later) and a few scenes that went out of order, was the tacked on romance plot between Dracula and Mina. Tacked on is a perfect analogy: the romance was never in the book, and it causes derailment to both characters involved. Though between the two, Mina got hit harder with the derailment stick: in the book, she's wholly devoted to Jonathan, her own husband, while in the movie, she's basically like someone who's in a resentful arranged marriage, longing for Dracula. Another point that irritated me was changing Lucy's personality from a sweet girl to a sex maniac, where she basically alludes to sex in most of her sentences and her actions. Did the one in the movie have Permanent Sexual Arousal Syndrome or something? Why did Coppola need to change her character like this? A more minor point that bothered me was Dracula in the first act. Not so much his character, but to how he looked. Honestly, with his hairstyle looking like a pair of butt cheeks, I just couldn't take him seriously. Also, those who are a bit weak to the sight of blood probably won't like this, since there are buckets of blood in the beginning and at Lucy's death. All in all, it's a decent movie, but it's probably best seen with no expectations about the name Dracula.