Once Dracula was released, however, Stoker (and stoked horror) purists immediately called into question the claim to accuracy... and rightly so! Bram Stoker's Dracula was touted to be the mother of all precisely translated literary films. The truth, however, is that Hart's screenplay (and Coppola's direction) took more than a few liberties with the original book, and in many cases diverged completely into an indulgent (and marketable) direction that helped to make the film one of the biggest draws of the year (and a huge hit for Columbia Pictures and American Zoetrope)!
It's easy to buy into a lot of these criticisms and it's easy to see why they are founded. It's also easy to accept the rumors that this film is "bloodless" as well. Don't. Coppola's Dracula may not be perfect, but it is quite good and can be a visual treat through and through.
As for the (oft refuted) claim of textual accuracy, let's analyze that for a moment! To be fair and honest here, I might mention I have read the novel in its entirety several times and I have a degree in English Literature, so (whether or not this makes me better qualified - and many would say it doesn't - to comment) let's just say I give a damn! It should be noted that just about every Dracula adaptation from the amazing NOSFERATU to Universal's classic 1931 Dracula to Hammer's lavish 1958 Horror of Dracula and far beyond took vast liberties with their adaptations. Some combined characters, deleted characters, added sub-plots, invented mythologies and sometimes even diverted completely into realms never touched on in the novel. Many of these (not limited to the above three) were quite good films in spite of this, make no mistake, but the idea that all of these were straight out of the book is ludicrous.
The 1992 film does some interesting things, such as hinting at the epistolary style that Bram Stoker employed in Dracula by telling parts of the story in letters between and journals by the major characters. Further, Hart and Coppola leave the characters as they are and keep virtually every character intact (if altered for their own vision). In addition, the screenplay is much more accurate to Dracula's powers of shape-shifting and his ability to walk in the daytime. There are moments in this film that seem to be straight out of the book, much more than most adapted films can claim.
On the other hand, it is absolutely true that a great deal of this film has no basis in the Stoker classic. Instead of building from the book, the script frequently relies on new imaginings and the concept of upping the sexuality in the film to a much higher level. Most notably, the very idea of Dracula and Mina having a romantic and sexual relationship (that spans centuries) is nowhere in the novel whatsoever, nor is it even truly suggested. That's not to say that the film is instantly reduced to drivel because of this fact. If such todo about the film's accuracy hadn't been made in the press, audiences might have discovered and recognized the real consistencies in the script for themselves. Instead they painted a target on the screenplay for both fair and unfair criticisms. It would be something like a goof-ball internet critic registering the domain WorldsGreatestCritic.com or something.
Instead of starting where the novel does, Dracula brings us back four hundred years before the book's main events to the bloody reign of Vlad the Impaler as he defended the Cross of Christ against heathen invaders. But when his beloved wife Elisabeta (who looks a hell of a lot like Winona Ryder) takes a long walk off a short balcony (thus damning her soul) when she is incorrectly informed that Vlad died in Battle, her prince is driven insane with grief and rage, renounces the Cross and condemns himself to a living death.
Four hundred years later a young and quickly rising real estate broker named Jonathan Harker (none-too-well played by Keanu Reeves) is employed by his firm to pick up where his predecessor left off with the case of Count Dracula (Gary Oldman), a wealthy Transylvanian who is buying up large properties in London. What Jonathan does not realize is that Count Dracula resembles portraits of his ancestor "Prince Vlad" because the elderly Count is not a descendant of the prince but is the Prince himself. Further, Jonathan's predecessor Renfield (played by the interesting choice of Tom Waits) is no longer on the job because the four-hundred year old aristocrat has driven him insane with bloodlust and is now in an asylum munching on bugs. What might this mean for ol' John-Boy? What Dracula does not realize is that Jonathan's beautiful fiancee also looks a hell of a lot like Winona Ryder! Upon seeing her snapshot, Dracula is moved. Could this be the reincarnation of his Immortal Beloved?
It's fortunate that Black-Drac is already in the process of boggarting lots of London addresses, so he'll have a place to stay while he's figuring it all out, right? Right. Convenient!
While Johnathan is "convinced" to hang around Castle Dracula for the next month while the Killer Count hears London Calling, it should be noted that his stay is not all bad! Have you heard of the Brides of Dracula? Well, in this film they're played by the super-hot Florina Kendrick, Michaela Bercu and, of course, the incredible Monica Bellucci... and they're all not only naked, but have some serious designs on playing nude hostesses in an all-out Vampire Orgy. I understand that vampirism is nothing to aspire to and all, but believe me, you, THIS IS HOW I WANT TO DIE! If it were me instead of Keanu playing the role, I wouldn't have even accepted a paycheck for the job! Before I move on, let me add "THANK YOU, MONICA!!!"
This brings us back to the Kingdom where Mina's Best Friend Lucy Westenra (sexy Sadie Frost) is attempting to decide between three possible suitors, including American wild man Quincey Morris (Billy Campbell), Renfield's own Shrink Dr. John Seward (Richard E. Grant) and potential Dread Pirate Roberts Arthur Holmwood (Cary Elwes). That is, when she's not making out with her sexy friend Mina in the rain. That's a great moment, yes, but it doesn't last. Still, Lucy is about to trade up when she starts sleepwalking into naked sexual encounters with Dracula himself (in the form of a monsterous Wolf Man).
Fortunately, as London starts to Vamp Out and things get crazier and the laws of physics are smacked around like a De Sade Servant, Dr. Seward has an ace in the hole in the form of his learned colleague Doctor Van Helsing (played by Anthony Hopkins)! See what I mean by an all star cast?
The real question is whether it's too late to save either Mina or Lucy from the claws (and jaws) of the Vampire, even with the combined efforts of all three boyfriends, Johnathan himself and, naturally, the good doctor. Of course, a better question might be what the hell Dracula was thinking in playing nightly "I Love Lucy" while he's trying to win Mina's heart. Has that EVER worked? "Oh, hey, babe, I have crossed oceans of time to find you, and I'll get right with making up for those centuries... right after I finish sexing up your best friend over here!" I'm not sure how they do things in Transylvania, but kids, I'm thinking that wouldn't get Mina's panties to move an inch just about anywhere else!
In truth there is a lot of this film that feels familiar, in part because it is based on the same material that has led to so many excellent and well-known films, but also in part because Coppola intentionally pays tribute to some of these films (and others less related) in his direction of Dracula. However, where this film is going will surprise many and confuse some. Much of the differences between this film and its predecessors has to do with the fact that it does follow the novel closely in a lot of areas. However, often Coppola flips his film into a well-handled but baseless romance plot between Oldman and Ryder (legitimizing the tagline "Love Never Dies!").
Visually, this film is a treat, from the direction of Francis to the special effects of Roman Coppola to the unsurprising Oscar nominations for Set Director Garrett Lewis and Production Designer Thomas Sanders and the Oscar wins for the Sound Effects of David Stone and Tom McCarthy and Costume Designer Eiko Ishioka (in truth sculptor Joel Harlow deserves some kind of recognition for Vlad's strange armor alone)! The unearthly living shadows of the film are chilling (though admittedly not flawless) and the blue flame is used to great effect, while the very nature of Dracula is brilliantly realized in his changing age and impossible physical presence.
This, of course, brings us to the next and possibly most impressive Oscar that Dracula won, that of Best Makeup for Greg Cannom, Michele Burke and Matthew W. Mungle. The Special Makeup Effects here are incredible. Gary Oldman truly looks like an Old Man when the time is right, while at other times he might as well have been named "Gary Youngman" once "he's grown young". The Dracula in Dracula is far from only human, however! The Vampire goes through a great many forms, each requiring amazing (and different) prosthetic effects. His werewolf form is a nightmare and his demonic bat form is incredible to see. At the same time, his hybrid forms are disturbing while his more human-like guises bring a sympathy to his character (though he's shown to be quite the mass murderer in multiple times and eras).
Aside from the common questioning of the film's accuracy, Dracula has been criticized for other reasons, some fairly, some not. One of these has been the performances. While the acting (and actors) are overall quite good, I'm sad to say that this isn't always the case. Occasionally the cast delves into an overacting that rivals the 1930s through 1950s dialogue. Meanwhile Keanu Reeves (whom I admit to being a fan of) feels like a stranger in a strange film here, struggling with both lines and accent. He seems torn between trying to speak in period dialect and wanting to end each sentence with "Dude!" and "Excellent!" Look, I'll admit that having Monica Belucci rolling all over me naked would be distracting to say the least the truth is that some scenes simply fail due only to delivery. Sad, but true, he's just not good in this film.
This is true for a few other moments in the movie as well. In addition, there are a good deal of sequences that can leave the audience scratching their heads at the logic. Lastly, for all its beauty and quality, Dracula does overstay its welcome a bit, but only a bit, especially when it relies too heavily on the romance aspects of the film, seemingly for commercial reasons. It's as if horror was avoided in favor of creating a gothic "Chick Flick".
All told, however, Bram Stoker's Dracula is a beautiful film, admittedly not without its liabilities, but with some incredible assets going for it in the areas of the makeup the (half-and-half) accuracy to the novel, the superbly beautiful women and the legitimate scares and chills. Three and One Half Stars out of Five for Bram Stoker's Dracula, the Romantic Vampire flick that graced us with beautiful naked Brides of Dracula, beautiful naked Sadie Frost and some amazing makeup and design. So until Coppola produces a "mostly accurate" film called "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" and populates it with an all star cast of... Oh, yeah... he did that too!
Okay, then, See you in the Next Reel!
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