Don’t let the packaging fool you: this is the Academy Award winning Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the 1992 film from Francis Ford Coppola. While I may question the choice of packaging that Sony Home Entertainment chose, the content underneath it is anything but laughable. Dark, brooding and haunting, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is anything but a horror film. Indeed, it’s about a Count Dracula that’s less hell-bent on his thirst for blood and more wallowing in his own sorrow.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula starts out with Count Dracula (Gary Oldman) very much alive and ready to fight an invading force against his castle. During the battle, vengeful Turks send a message inside the castle that Dracula has fallen in battle. Hearing this, Elisabetta (Winona Ryder), Dracula’s bride, commits suicide. Once Dracula returns and hears of her death, he goes crazy, rejecting his faith and calling upon forces of Hell in his weakest hour. Turning into the living dead, Dracula lives through several eras and it’s not until he meets up with a young lawyer, Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves), does Dracula’s ultimate fate become sealed.
While the summary above is just a glimpse into the first twenty minutes or so of Coppola’s film, it sets the stage for the movie. Through Harker, Dracula discovers that his beloved Elisabetta is “reincarnated” in the form of Harker’s fiancé, Mina Murray (Winona Ryder). After being held captive at Dracula’s castle, Harker begins to lose his sanity while Mina worries for him back in England. Dracula leaves his castle and ventures to England in the guise of his younger self in an attempt to “woo” Mina into his life. His plan eventually works and it’s not until Mina’s friend, Lucy Westerna (Sadie Frost), begins to die from blood loss, does anyone start to go after Count Dracula.
Considering I walked into the film expecting it to be more horror and less love story, this film wasn’t really what I was expecting it to be at all. While the film had strong enough reviews, I never thought of watching it. Whenever I saw it at my local library, it was always that “scary movie with the gawking face” on the cover and never once did I desire to see what might be inside. Of course, as stated, the film was nowhere near as disturbing as one would have thought and while there are quite a few visually horrific bits, it really isn’t “shocking” in any way.
One of the biggest draws into my desire to review this title was the feast of stars that were in it. Sure, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves and Anthony Hopkins were large enough, but once I discovered that Gary Oldman played the Count himself, I knew I wanted to see it. While I haven’t seen Oldman in much, I know I like him and it’s no surprise that his role was one of the strongest aspects of the film. Even layered in the heavy makeup that Dracula wears in the beginning of the film, Oldman’s able to break through it and play his way through the scenes with Reeves.
Hopkins also portrayed Van Helsing brilliantly; I had no idea Helsing was even in this film and considering my only exposure to him was in the recent Hugh Jackman film (which I highly recommend you stay far, far away from), I didn’t expect much from his character. Still, between him and Ryder, the film was certainly no slouch in the acting department; I did have a few qualms with Reeve’s, but I think it’s more just the way the man talks than he acts. In the past I’ve defended Reeve’s as the man can act, he just…does it in an odd way. His awkwardness worked to his benefit at least in the opening sequence between him and Dracula, as well as the shaving scene where Dracula starts going bonkers when he smells the blood from Harker’s neck.
The visual effects were a big deal during this film and as Coppola explains throughout the DVD extras, they were all done in-camera. While they can look odd at times, they really do add a unique feeling to the film. I’ve no doubt the film would play out better in a darkened theater on a larger screen, but I think some of the magic that the in-camera effects put out are lost when you scale it down to home video. Only a few of the effects were noticeably cheesy, like the blue light outside Dracula’s castle and the train that Harker rides during the first act of the film. The train was noticeably a miniature…I’m not sure why, as it looked real enough, it was just something about how it was filmed that made the settings around it look fake.
Still, minor qualms aside, the film is a remarkable piece of work. Watching it a first time and expecting something else entirely makes the film a bit droll and uneventful at first, but watching it again and knowing what’s there makes the film a much richer experience. The visuals, the acting, the score by Wojciech Kilar and, of course, the story itself, are all extraordinary and well worth watching. Between all of the twists and turns the film makes, it’s an excellent ride and one filled with a lot more drama than one would expect from Count Dracula. Recommended.
Of course the films excellent, but it’s been available on DVD since the early days of the format, arriving in a bare-bones release with only the film and not a single extra. Now in the year of its fifteenth anniversary, Bram Stoker’s Dracula arrives on DVD in a new two-disc special edition.
First things first on this release are the presentation. Considering how much the old VHS/DVD cover had been burned into my mind, I didn’t even realize these were the same movies when I initially saw the cover to this release. I figured the font used on the front cover would be changed by the time it went to print but I was shocked to see it hadn’t been; the beveled edges on the font come across horribly and the images used on the cover look more like something from a National Geographic DVD about vampires.
Interior art is not much better and the extras listing to the left of the dual layer amaray digi-pak tray make it difficult to read. Disc art is the same way, mixing light to dark browns with a black font that makes it hard to quickly read what each disc is. Menus, again, are the same way; the main menu has animation that makes the options a bit easier to read, but when the light colored font hits the light colored backgrounds, it’s hard to see what you’re doing. For a film that won three Academy Awards, the presentation of this two-disc release is laughable.
Those elements aside, the technical aspects of the film are impressive. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is deeply immersive and is frequently traveling from speaker to speaker. Bass is also heavily used and during the moment where we see the bat-form of Dracula, several loud thuds are pulsed out. I had my head resting against the wall during the moment this scene came during the movie and quickly felt the pounds reverbing from the wall back into my head. Video is typical of that for a film of its age; there is a fair share or grain and the film is so dark to begin with that it can sometimes fight for image clarity. For the most part this isn’t an issue and the day time scenes are clear as could be. All in all this is a great audio and visual presentation of the film. Also impressive is the sheer number of subtitles and alternate audio tracks available for the film. Even the commentary is subtitled, something I rarely see.
Moving onto the extras, we have an intro by Coppola as well as a full length commentary. Recorded in 2006, this commentary gives Coppola the ability to reflect on his work. Coppola talks about the actors, the in-camera effects and even the debt of his company and how the film helped get him out of debt. Both the video intro and film commentary are very interesting to listen to and Coppola gives up plenty of information about the film.
The rest of the extras are all on the second disc of the set, including newly unearthed deleted scenes and four new documentaries. The documentaries follow the standard template for DVD extras, but this doesn’t mean that they’re not interesting to watch. On the contrary, the making-of, filled with interviews with cast and crew from the original making of the film, are quite interesting to watch. I’m not entirely sure why I find older interviews more entertaining than newer ones, but it’s still fun to see. Of course I would’ve also liked some newer interviews with the cast and crew, seeing as it’s been so long since the original release of the film.
The next extra, “The Costumes and the Sets”, goes in-depth in the area that the film won one of its Oscars for. It’s no surprise it did either; from the “muscle” suit that Dracula wore in the beginning to his bat-form and even the period clothes of England are magnificent things to look at. Following this is an extra that looks at the in-camera effects done for the film. I talked about these earlier but this documentary, “In-Camera – The Naïve Visual Effects of Dracula”, really goes into detail about how the effects were done and where the ideas originated from.
One final documentary, “Method and Madness – Visualizing Dracula”, showcases what non-movie and non-Bram Stoker novel aspects of the Dracula lore inspired the film. Also included are the storyboards that were used to plot out the film; for films such as these it really feels like you’re being let in on the great creative process that goes on, rather than them just letting you in to see what they do like so many other DVD documentaries.
Finally we have a round of deleted scenes from the film. As with most deleted scenes, it’s obvious why it was cut and had it been left in the film it would have only appeared to be tedious and unnecessary. Extraneous voice over from the Reeves and Ryder characters was thankfully left out, although there is a bit more scenes with Dracula’s other forms as well as an extended ending sequence.
Overall this package is about as strong of a presentation as this film will ever receive. The technical aspects are astounding and the extras are a real treat to watch. It’s no accident that Sony is releasing this DVD in the month where more people dress up like Dracula than any other, so while you’re out picking up the Halloween candy, stop off by the DVD aisle and pick up this new Bram Stoker’s Dracula DVD—it’s not exactly horror, but it’s still a fine film that fits the spirit of the season. Highly Recommended.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Collector’s Edition is now available on DVD.