Judge Daryl Loomis wishes he could use vampires as an excuse for his fly infestation.
Bram Stoker's legendary tale…now in 3D!
Once upon a time there was this movie director named Dario Argento (Four Flies on Grey Velvet), who perfected one genre, the Italian giallo, and created one of the greatest horror movies of all time, and my personal favorite of the genre. More recently, you might have heard of this other movie director named Dario Argento who has made unwatchable horror for the last fifteen years. Fairly, these are both the same guy, obviously, but the difference in quality is so remarkable that it hardly seems like the same person. Still, I continue to watch them when they arrive and had already suffered through his Dracula 3D, albeit in 2D, when I received the 3D Blu-ray for review. Now, watching it in its intended format doesn't make the movie more dramatically interesting, almost nothing could, but something interesting did happen to make it, at the very least, an interesting viewing experience.
Facts of the Case
Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde, Goya's Ghosts) comes to Romania to work at the castle of Count Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann, King Kong), cataloging his extensive library. Soon, Harker's new wife Mina (Marta Gastini, The Rite) comes in from England to stay with Lucy (Asia Argento, Scarlet Diva), her friend and caretaker, while Jonathan does his work. But Dracula has a secret; he's an immortal vampire who is very thirsty. His rampage continues until he sees Mina, who is the spitting image of his long-dead love. He wants to turn her like him, so they can be together forever, but a vampire hunter named Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner) suddenly arrives with a stake to grind who'll stop at nothing to drive it through Dracula's heart.
While at his best, Dario Argento could deliver sublime horror moments, he was never particularly good at the narrative side of things. He could present an interesting, if confusing, mystery, but his dialog is consistently poor through his whole career. Visually, though, when Argento was on, there was absolutely nobody who could touch him. Surprisingly, while not nearly at the level that he was at earlier in his career, in Dracula 3D, he's actually kind of on, but not in the way one might expect.
When I watched it initially in 2D, there was something weird about it. The dialogue and performances were terrible, of course, but that wasn't it. There was something unpalatable in the visual style, something off-putting and just wrong. Then I got the disc and realized what I had missed.
This is the first 3D movie I've ever seen designed so specifically for the format. Everything on the screen is designed to highlight the depth of the frame, which is hard to describe without seeing it in action. Instead of trying to immerse the audience in the world, it seems more that Argento wanted to create a stage in which we look into the world. The effect, then, becomes more like what happens when one draws a cube on a piece of paper; instead of feeling like we're inside that cube, we are given the optical illusion of the third dimension.
So, what you find in Argento's visuals is that corners are pointed directly at the camera, people are placed at oblong angles to walls, and lots and lots of architecture. This is aggressive 3D filmmaking and if there's one thing that Argento excels at, at least in his best work, is aggressiveness. Of course, this is a very long way from his best work, but in this new format, he seems to be striving for something and the boredom that has affected his more recent work is less apparent. The result is much more exciting and physical movie, with a ton of hand to hand action, that is still slow enough to appreciate the visual style. Narratively, it's just as dumb as most of his recent work, but visually, this is his best work in years.
Argento's script isn't anything to write home about, but his actors don't help one bit. The movie was recorded in English with an international cast, so while not dubbed, the actors have varying degrees of accents that sometimes make them hard to understand. Rutger Hauer, unfortunately, mailed it in as Van Helsing, while Thomas Kretschmann may be cinema's dullest Dracula. There is no chemistry in any combination of actors and the only point of note is the continued creepiness of Asia Argento getting undressed for her father in every film of his that she appears. Otherwise, come for the violence and stay for the visuals; everything else here is pretty worthless.
The Blu-ray from MPI, as part of the IFC Midnight collection, is fairly good, with a strong 2.35:1/1080p image and 3D that performed very well on my system. The colors are bright and saturated, black levels are deep, and are no digital errors to speak of. The Master Audio mix isn't as great, without the dynamic range one expects from a surround track. The dialog comes through fine and the score from Claudio Simmonetti (Opera) sounds good in the mix, but there's little going on in the rear channels and there are few interesting surround effects to talk about. Extras are your standard mix of a basic making-of featurette, a genuinely terrible music video, and a trailer. It's certainly not a special disc, but at least the 3D works well.
Unwatchable in 2D and narratively awful in any dimension, the only way to watch Dracula 3D is in its native format. Even then, the movie has far too many problems to recommend to anybody but Argento's biggest fans, except maybe as an exercise in 3D movie design. But its faults are too great to come anywhere near an average movie of his past.
Less guilty is still guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• 2D Version
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