Naturally as an old school horror fan, I’m also a fan of Dracula because well who isn’t? If you just said “me, that’s who” then you’re just weird. As a proper Dracula fan, who’s actually familiar with the original story, it’s a bit annoying to see that so many Dracula films have been made but so little of them have actually been faithful to the original book. Now that seems like a pretty weird thing to write when it’s this film I’m writing about but keep reading.
The film opens way back in 1462 where Prince Dracula, a soldier defending Christianity discovers his bride Elisabeta has killed herself believing him dead. In a rage, he renounces God and becomes the vampire Dracula. Four centuries later, a young business man Jonathan Harker is sent to Transylvania to sort out an estate in London for a mysterious Count Dracula (yep, same guy). Dracula catches a glimpse of a picture of Jonathan’s fiancée Mina whom he suspects must be his beloved Elisabeta reincarnated. Dracula quickly goes to London to find Mina and reeks a bit of havoc along the way, turning her friend Lucy into a vampire.
Does that story sound a bit inconsistent? It’s okay since the whole love story was completely made up by director Francis Ford Coppola and inserted into the original Dracula story. I guess if you’re a fan of the book then you can take the love story with a grain of salt and appreciate everything else. You should really take into account that without the love story, this is the most faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel there is. So in a way it’s pretty deserving of having “Bram Stoker’s” tacked onto the title. This film includes many of elements largely left out of most adaptations like Dracula being able to move around during the day (sunlight killing vampires was actually invented by Nosferatu in 1922), as well as the climactic battle at the Borgo Pass. It also adds in a large amount of sex that Stoker certainly didn’t put in.
First of all, the cast is very good for this film. Here we have none other than Gary Oldman playing the dark prince himself and he acts the hell out of it. This Dracula would definitely be a hard character to play especially as he isn’t your average villain. This adaptation gives him a backstory and some really unique motivation. I mean, how many villains can boast they did it all for their reincarnated lover (except Imhotep but this was way before that came out)? I don’t think anyone except Oldman could have played this Dracula. Then there’s Sir Anthony Hopkins playing the famous Van Helsing and having a ball doing so. Our leading lady is Winona Ryder, doing her very best attempt at an English accent. The opinions are pretty divided on the accent but I thought it was alright – it sounded passable and a lot sexier than her regular accent. We also have Cary Elwes, Richard E Grant and Tom Waits in the supporting cast doing a fine job, Waits especially fantastic as the mad mental patient Renfield and the other two as Lucy’s lovers. Speaking of Lucy, Sadie Frost is also brilliant to watch as the biggest contrast to Mina there is. Though fans of the book may be shocked that the pure and lilylike Lucy is actually kinda slutty in this adaptation. And one last honourable mention goes to Monica Bellucci who plays one of Dracula’s brides. She doesn’t even have any lines and she’s breathtaking. She has the distinction of being the first nude woman I saw in a film, and believe me I’ve been judging them against her ever since.
Sadly there is one of the actors that doesn’t deserve a lot of praise. I’ve never been a Keanu Reeves fan and this film is not a good way to change my opinion. In contrast to Ryder and Waits who pull off decent English accents, Reeves just falls flat on his face. He actually manages to put some emotion across in his performance which ain’t nothing to sneer at for him, but his god awful accent really overshadows that.
The big thing to talk about in this film is the visuals. This film took three Academy Awards and two of them were for makeup and costumes. Costume designer Eiko Ishioka was inspired by Japanese Kabuki theatre and incorporated that into the outfits you see in the film. If you have ever heard the term “Costume Porn” then the costumes in this film pretty much define the term. Special honours go to Lucy’s snake dress, Dracula’s lobster armour and Lucy’s night gown. But I do have to draw the line at that monstrosity she was planning to wear as a wedding dress. I’m no girl but even I know when the costume designer goes too far. I’m not crazy about that mad wig the old Dracula wears, resembling a pair of ass cheeks. The sets are pretty impressive too, especially Dracula’s castle and the Westenra manor. It’s also a testament to your art department when I’m appreciating the props such as the big boa knife that has a hand in the climax, not to give anything away.
If we’re talking scenes, this is Francis Ford Coppola and the best done scene in the film happens near the end outside Dracula’s castle where the three brides corner Mina and Van Helsing to try and kidnap Mina. It’s brilliantly shot and of course it gives Monica Bellucci more screen time (even if it is the only scene in the film where she’s wearing clothes). Other impressive scenes include where Lucy sleepwalks in the garden and Dracula hypnotises her. Then of course the confrontation with the vampire Lucy; the makeup for vampire Lucy actually got me a little creeped out. And even though I’m not the biggest fan of the love story, there is a lovely scene where Dracula and Mina dance in a black room filled with candles. Also on my favourites list is the sequence of Dracula’s ship coming to England where he murders the crew spliced in between Mina and Lucy dancing in the garden, then they kiss for some reason.
I’d like to draw attention to the fact that Coppola used effects that didn’t involve computers in the film; he even went so far as to use some old school cinema tricks. For example, the shot in the train where Dracula’s eyes appear in the clouds outside was done by filming two separate shots (of the eyes, then the eyes projected on the clouds) and then projecting that image onto the backdrop. I couldn’t even tell the difference. Also his original plans were to have plain sets and let the costumes be elaborate but the studio insisted he’d have to build proper sets. I can’t imagine what the original idea would look like but the sets we had were pretty damn....well pretty.
So anyway, in spite of the tacked on love story, I find this a very good adaptation of the original Dracula story. It’s got some very innovative film making techniques as well as elaborate costumes and a fun cast (minus Mr Reeves of course). Take the love story with a grain of salt and you’ll enjoy the film a lot more. I guess if later on down the line someone decides to try making a faithful adaptation of Dracula, I’ll probably be judging it against this film. So until next time my friends. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.