Francis Ford Coppola’s retelling of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel.
When I first saw this film years ago (must’ve been high school), I remember really liking it, but I also remembered that they had added a decent amount of unnecessary sexual stuff into the story as well. I think I must’ve only seen the film once, because going back and revisiting this film felt like wandering through unexplored territory. There were a few scenes that I remembered, but by and large I had forgotten most of the film; there’s a reason for that- this is a rather forgettable film. That’s not to say that this movie is all bad- there are certainly scenes that work really well, and as a whole this movie looks absolutely gorgeous. The sets are elaborate and hauntingly gothic, the costumes are lavish and beautiful, the makeup in this film is absolutely incredible, and it boggles the mind to think how many hours Oldman must’ve sat in the makeup chair for some of the more makeup-heavy days. The biggest problem with this movie is some of the strange directorial choices Coppola makes. I will admit that Coppola took a lot of risks with this movie, and that’s something that I can certainly appreciate. There are some scenes where I think his risk taking really paid off, but there are other scenes where it almost makes one cringe to watch.
“I have crossed oceans of time to find you.”
Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves, “The Matrix”) leaves his fiancé Mina Murray (Winona Ryder, “Edward Scissorhands”) travels to the isolated castle of Count Dracula (Gary Oldman, “Sid & Nancy”) to help the Count settle the purchase of a home in London. When Harker arrives at the castle however, he finds that the Count has been hiding much more sinister plans. The Count moves to London and begins feeding on some of Harker’s acquaintances in an effort to get closer to Mina. Meanwhile, Professor Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins, “The Elephant Man”), an expert in the paranormal, is called to help fight the monsters that might be waiting in the shadows.
So, first and foremost this movie looks absolutely incredible. From the opening scene, where we see Dracula and the armor he’s wearing we can tell that an incredible amount of thought and work went into the costumes and set designs. The quality of work never goes away from the costumes, they’re almost always elaborate pieces, that are almost characters by themselves. The makeup adds to the amazing look and feel of the film, for Oldman’s age as Dracula shifts and changes rapids, and there are many times when he appears more beast than man. The sets and locations are moody and atmospheric. Dracula’s castle in particular is incredibly gothic and creepy looking. I love the way shadows cling to the walls and veils of gossamer hang from the corners and chandeliers. There’s an incredible amount of detail that really went into everything as far as design goes; its one of the better looking monster movies I’ve seen. However, the look and feel do nothing to make up for some of the other awkward choices this film made.
I loved Francis Ford Coppola ‘s films in the 70s; he was absolutely on fire with “The Conversation”, “The Godfather I” and “II”, “The Conversation”, “Apocalypse Now” and writing “Patton”. But as of late, Coppola’s films have been a little subpar, and honestly I’m not sure why he made some of the choices he did in this film. There are moments when Coppola’s risks really work. I like, for instance, the fact that for at least the first half of this movie, they try to show that the story is being told in letters in diaries. There are some really interesting shots where split screen is used- like when Harker’s diary is on the lower half of the screen, and the upper half shows his train traveling across the top of the book. I thought that was a kind of inventive shot, and there were a few other times when Coppola did things similar to that where it really paid off. I thought he did a lot of cool things with light and shadow in this movie, particularly with Oldman’s disembodied shadow (though I do think that Coppola used the shadow trick a bit too often and without any sort of subtlety- it looked cool, but using it too frequently lessoned the effect). One of the weirder choices was Coppola’s use of overlaying blood cells on certain scenes; it was incredibly on the nose and forced, and looked absolutely ridiculous. There was another scene when Oldman’s eyes were matted into clouds, and that looked so ridiculous I rolled my eyes in disbelief. There were also a lot of sexual things added to this movie that felt incredibly unnecessary. I understand that Dracula’s powers of seduction allow him to feed, but the over-sexualization of the character doesn’t really do anything for him as far as making him scarier, nor does it make him more interesting as a character. It just feels like a lazy way to fill up some screen time.
As far as acting goes, Gary Oldman was fantastic as Dracula. He was just the right balance of creepy and seductive, which is exactly how the Count is supposed to be portrayed. I thought Winona Ryder was wonderful as Mina. I thought Keanu Reeves gave the exact same performance he gives in every movie, but it didn’t work terribly for him in this movie. Cary Elwes (“The Princess Bride”) overacted horribly. But the most bizarre performance was that of Sir Anthony Hopkins. There’s a scene in this movie where Hopkins tells someone that their fiancé is turning into a vampire, and essentially there is nothing they can do for her; Hopkins works himself into an excited state and then begins to hump the man’s leg as he finishes telling him what they have to do to kill the vampire. Now, I read Dracula in high school, and if I remember right, Van Helsing was a rather peculiar character, but I don’t remember him being aroused by the idea that they have to behead a corpse and shove a stake through it’s heart. I don’t know if Hopkins or Coppola made the choice to portray Van Helsing that way, but I can say that it was so bizarre that it took me out of the film completely.
Despite my overall feelings of tepidness towards this film, I can’t say it’s all entirely bad. It looks absolutely amazing. If I were rating the film only on how impressive the production designs, costuming, and makeup looked, this film would get a perfect score. Sadly, however, there are too many bizarre choices that make this film feel messy and, at times, rather silly. I can’t say I recommend this movie, but I also wouldn’t go so far as to call if a waste of time; it’s a beautiful, if slightly disappointing film.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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