Love never dies.
In the annals of cinematic history there have been countless versions and retellings of author Bram Stoker's classic "Dracula" tale. The most famous of these is the 1931 version starring Bela Lugosi as the dreaded Count Dracula. Along the way, everyone from Christopher Lee to Eddie Murphy has played some variation on the undying bloodsucker from Transylvania. In 1993, director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather) tackled yet another version, this time attempting to stick firmly to Stoker's original text, henceforth the name Bram Stoker's Dracula. Starring Keanu Reeves (Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure), Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs), Winona Ryder (Edward Scissorhands) and Gary Oldman (The Fifth Element), Bram Stoker's Dracula rises from the dead in a new Columbia "Superbit" edition on DVD.
Facts of the Case
As Bram Stoker's Dracula opens, Vlad the Impaler (Oldman) has returned from battle in Eastern Europe to find his beloved Elisabeta (Ryder) dead, flung off the castle wall assuming that her great love had died in battle (shades of "Romeo and Juliet," no?). Vlad, filled with rage since he was out fighting God's battle and furious that this is his reward, denounces the church and all it stands for.
Many years later, Jonathan Harker (Reeves) takes over the work originally started by the now insane R.M. Renfield (Tom Waits, Mystery Men), a lunatic who lies in wait for the Count's return and promise of immortality. Harker leaves his home and fiancée Mena (also played by Ryder) and arrives at the Carpathian Mountains to finish up some paperwork on some real estate that the Count has purchased in the greater area of London. At first a guest but soon a prisoner, Harker begins to realize that Dracula may not be all that he seems (you know, he starts seeing wacky and nutty things like wolves following him and Dracula crawling all over the castle walls). After finding a photo of the enchanting Mena and seeing the striking resemblance to his first love, the Count leaves Harker in his castle and takes off for London to find the fragile Mena.
As the film progresses we meet many familiar Dracula characters, including Dr. Jack Seward (Richard E. Grant, Hudson Hawk), the obsessive vampire hunter Professor Van Helsing (Hopkins), Dracula's victim and lifeblood Lucy (Sadie Frost), and Dracula himself in many forms—lover, killer, beast and man.
Does everyone remember the early 1990s, when they attempted to remake almost all of the classic Universal monster movies with modern day filmmakers? There was Mike Nichols' wolfman tale Wolf, Kenneth Brannagh's retelling Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and of course Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula. This was all before Universal decided to pack up the dramatics and toss in the goofy action with their cartoonish remake of The Mummy. I've never read the original book by Bram Stoker, but from what I'm to understand, this version of the Dracula tale tends to stay very faithful to Stoker's original novel.
I originally saw Bram Stoker's Dracula in theaters back in 1992. I wasn't very impressed to say the least; while the imagery and production values were top notch, I felt that the film was a bit hollow (and suffered from a woefully miscast Keanu Reeves). After re-watching it almost ten years later, I think that my stance stays the same. Director Francis Ford Coppola has spared no expense in bringing the tale of Dracula to the screen, but there seems to be a less than ample fund in James V. Hart's screenplay. As I was watching the film, I tried to put my finger on what I thought was missing, and I realized that I just couldn't figure it out. It was one of those films where the best word to describe it was "hollow." An over abundance of gratuitous Dracula eyes and faces over certain scenes just adds to the fact that Bram Stoker's Dracula ends up being somewhat of a mess.
I do believe that one great flaw comes in the form of Keanu Reeves. How on earth did Coppola think that Reeves was the perfect choice for the role of Jonathan Harker? Reeves' California persona just doesn't fit in with the rest of the cast. On the other hand, I felt that Gary Oldman made an excellent Count Dracula. Sexy and cunning, Oldman steps up to the plate with an attempt to make this new Dracula his own, and is very successful. While his performance isn't going to make anyone forget Lugosi's definitive portrayal, Oldman pulls out all the stops with a very enticing performance. Everyone else in the film, including Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, and Richard E. Grant, fare well in their roles but seem to be lost amidst the spacious sets and lush scenery. Only the growling blues singer Tom Waits stands out as the frantically insane bug eating Renfield, a man so pushed over the edge that he looks like Seinfeld's Kramer on steroids.
In the end, Bram Stoker's Dracula becomes little more than Victorian age eye candy. There are some fantastic scenes of horror and effects (Dracula's transformation into a wolf-like beast is very cool), and Coppola's direction is very apt and even. But after the credits roll, it feels as if someone possibly drained some of the lifeblood out of both the viewer and the film.
Bram Stoker's Dracula: Superbit Edition is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Much like the other Superbit titles, Bram Stoker's Dracula looks close to flawless. There was a small amount of halo present in a few scenes, but this won't intrude on the viewer's enjoyment of the movie. Colors and fleshtones looked very bright and natural while the black levels looked especially solid and dark. There was no instance of digital artifacting, shimmer, or bleeding. I haven't had a chance to see the original Bram Stoker's Dracula DVD release so I won't comment on its quality, but if it looks anything like this "Superbit," version then fans should be readily excited to get their hands on this disc.
Audio is available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as DTS Surround. Both of these audio tracks are top notch and sound excellent. The surround use of both of these soundtracks is very aggressive with the subwoofer receiving a balanced and through workout during the movie. There were moments in this film where the sound was so vivid that I could have sworn I was in the Count's castle! Okay, it wasn't that good, but I was still genuinely impressed. Dialogue, effects, and music are all clear of any distortion or hiss. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English, Thai, Chinese, Portuguese, French, Spanish, and Korean.
As usual, the "Superbit" titles include no extra features or supplements.
Those of you who like Bram Stoker's Dracula will want to own this "Superbit" version to get the best possible sound and picture quality available. While the "Superbit" titles aren't that overly impressive, I do think this is a great looking disc (even if I don't think very highly of the film).
Bram Stoker's Dracula is slapped with a small fine for having Keanu Reeves roll around with a bunch of naked vampires.
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