Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Drama,Romance,Thrillers Movie Review of ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ (1992)

Movie Review of ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ (1992)

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the epitome of polarising. In a nutshell, it’s a sensuous, artistic, peculiar, eccentric and at times thrilling adaptation of the iconic 19th century novel, packed with demonic rites, erotic images and Christian symbolism. From the project’s inception, director Francis Ford Coppola sought to adapt Stoker’s original novel as faithfully as possible, which most prior Dracula retellings had neglected to do. To be sure, the resultant film is flawed, but it’s a mostly enthralling throwback to the golden days of Hollywood. Eschewing CGI in favour of in-camera special effects techniques from a century prior, Coppola has crafted an intriguing take on such a legendary literary tale. It won’t work for everyone, but this reviewer found it uniquely breathtaking.

In 1462, Romanian knight Vlad the Impaler (Oldman) battles to overthrow the Turkish Empire. But when his wife Elisabeta (Ryder) receives a false letter claiming that Vlad died in combat, she kills herself in despair. Finding his wife dead upon returning from the battlefield, Vlad renounces God and essentially joins the dark side, becoming a bloodsucking member of the undead going by the name Count Dracula. Centuries later, aspiring real estate broker Jonathan Harker (Reeves) travels to Transylvania to organise the sale of a London abbey to Dracula. When the Count sees a photograph of Jonathan’s fiancée Mina (also Ryder), he sees his lost wife Elisabeta in her, and looks to reclaim his love. Leaving Harker at his castle surrounded by lascivious vampires, Dracula travels to London in pursuit of Mina.

James V. Hart’s screenplay adheres closely to Stoker’s novel, though a few changes were made to distinguish this adaptation. Most notably, the script bestows Count Dracula with more depth and dimension. Rather than a one-dimensional menace painted in broad strokes of black and white, Hart based the Count on Vlad the Impaler, a vicious historical figure with a body count estimated in the tens of thousands. By giving Dracula a back-story, his motivations are more understandable for pursuing Mina and it adds to the story’s overall impact, giving weight to what could have been a cheesy romantic angle. Due to its focus on the relationship between Mina and Dracula, the film is more sensual and sexy than any prior Dracula adaptation have ever dared to be. However, as the source novel is epistolary in form, Bram Stoker’s Dracula constantly switches between storylines, and consequently feels a bit overstuffed. Put simply, the movie runs too long, and required more narrative focus and momentum, not to mention more disciplined editing. Indeed, some may find the film dull from time to time.

Francis Ford Coppola purposely abstained from creating any outright horror, and this aspect holds the film back from perfection since genuine thrills would have been welcome. However, Coppola’s attention to visual detail and atmosphere is what makes this Dracula such an enthralling experience for most of its runtime. The feature was reportedly produced for $40 million (no small chunk of change for 1992), and the outcome is pure spectacle. Coppola allowed his imagination to run wild in the best possible way, dreaming up unforgettable and often beguiling imagery. Furthermore, Coppola flat-out refused to use digital effects for the film – he fired the CGI-focused crew he was given, and instead recruited his son Roman to create the vast onscreen illusions in-camera without using green screen, optical printers or computers. Coppola and his son utilised every old cinematic trick from the dawn of moviemaking to generate the effects, and the results look better than their glossy digital counterpart. Thanks to such creative innovation, there’s a staggering sense of film magic throughout Bram Stoker’s Dracula that will always remain intact. Also notable about the film is Wojciech Kilar’s formidable score, which excellently establishes a Gothic sensibility.

Coppola was responsible for creating the world for Dracula to inhabit, but it’s Gary Oldman’s convincing performance as the titular protagonist which truly brings the Count to life. Oldman submitted a remarkable performance here – he alternates between subtle and over-the-top depending on the situation, and presents Dracula as a multilayered character. However, the same praise cannot apply to Keanu Reeves, who’s woefully miscast as Jonathan Harker. Reeves’ performance is universally despised (Coppola even regrets the casting decision, claiming he only cast the star for his appeal to young girls), and for good reason; he’s stilted and wooden, and his awful English accent doesn’t convince for a single second. Moreover, his general bodily demeanour is every bit as stiff as his line delivery. Meanwhile, the usually-dependable Anthony Hopkins is somewhat underwhelming as vampire hunter Van Helsing, as he lacks the fire and vigour to bring the role to life. At least Winona Ryder and Cary Elwes are decent in their respective roles of Elisabeta/Mina and Lord Arthur Holmwood – not brilliant by any means, but serviceable.

At times, Bram Stoker’s Dracula does border on pretentious, goofy, ludicrous and campy, and the quality of the acting drastically varies, but the production has more going for it than not. It’s an old-fashioned monster movie on a grand scale, a Gothic horror spectacle benefitting from Oldman’s stunner of a performance and Francis Ford Coppola’s memorable visual style.

7.3/10

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