Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Dracula Adaptations | All-Action Classics: Dracula (2008)



Adapting classic literature for a younger audience - and keeping it faithful to the literature - is tricky business. Any kind of adaptation has its challenges, but taking a novel intended for adults of a century or two ago and making it exciting for modern kids is super daunting. Especially when that novel has a difficult narrative style and spends a lot of time building dread by prolonging events. And then there's the blood and violence.

Not that younger readers don't also appreciate lots of blood, but I imagine that some of their parents aren't quite as excited about their being exposed to it. Michael Mucci and Ben Caldwell had some hard choices to make. Fortunately, they made all the right decisions on All-Action Classics: Dracula and created an adaptation that's perfect for their audience - including grown-ups in the mood for a fast-paced, exciting version of Bram Stoker's story.

Caldwell's animation-inspired characters and settings look like concept art for what could be Disney's Dracula, though Mucci's script does anything but dumb the story down. The combined result isn't much like a Disney film, but the art has the same level of quality. Jonathan Harker and Mina actually have more of a Rankin-Bass look to their designs. They're fresher-faced and less exaggerated than the other characters, which is appropriate since they're the readers' entry to the story. They seem the most normal of the cast.

Renfield is fully convincing as both a kind, pitiful, old man and a violently energetic lunatic. Van Helsing is a comical old scientist with professorial facial hair and enormously bushy eyebrows. Dr. Seward is a thin, fragile-looking man. You can tell just by looking at him that when he moves he's very careful and measured.

Caldwell draws aristocratic Arthur Holmwood with classical, almost effeminate features. He looks like he's stepped off the side of an ancient Greek vase. Quincey Morris is a big-jawed Western hero with long, Wild Bill Hickok hair and a mustache to match. I want to read a whole series of stories about Caldwell's Morris. Lucy has dark, exotic features that make me believe all of these men would fall in love with her. Her looks also turn her into a hauntingly seductive vampire once Dracula's done with her.

And as for Dracula himself: Caldwell's version is probably my favorite representation of all time. He strikes just the right balance between seductive and menacing. A couple of the film versions have gotten that right, but so often Dracula is either horrendous and disfigured or dapper and handsome. Caldwell's design with its switch-thin frame and terrible, crooked teeth leans toward the horrendous, but Dracula's body language conveys a confident, powerful, compelling presence. This Dracula can seduce, but it's a seduction based on the vampire's awful will rather than romance. It's perfect.

The lettering helps with this image too. The tails on Dracula's word balloons don't point straight at him like everyone else's in the book. They curl and wind, suggesting a silky, hypnotic voice. And this is the book's greatest strength. Not just the lettering, but the ability that the lettering and the character design and the colors and everything else has to quickly tell you what you need to know about each of these characters. There's no need for long, tension-building scenes. The tension and the horror is all visual. That frees the script to just hit the action parts of the plot.

All-Action Dracula lives up to its name. Not that there aren't scenes of people talking, but Caldwell juices those up too with interesting details and animated facial expressions. Mucci uses very few captions - mostly at the beginning and end as the story ramps up and finally settles down again - and even then he's sparing about how much text he allows into a panel. There's nothing in comics I hate more than having to spend a lot of time reading captions on a page. Mucci doesn't make me do that, which is pretty impressive in a Dracula adaptation.

Since I first read All-Action Dracula and reviewed it for Comic Book Resources several years ago (a lot of this post is based on that review), Ben Caldwell and I have become pals. He was nice enough to send me some behind-the-scenes designs and other miscellany a while ago for me to post on the site. It's really cool stuff, so just click that link if you want to see it.

Rating: Five out of five Minas.



3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm ... a Disney Animated DRACULA is a thought to conjure with! (alas, this would probably be a musical with songs on the soundtrack but none sung by the actual characters themselves - rather like TARZAN - but hopefully they could keep comical bits from the original book like The Count dropping Mr Harker's shaving mirror out the window, 'Bersiker' the extremely reluctant lupine henchman, Mr Morris declaring War on Bats and - one of my Very Favourite bits in the book - Doctor Seward's eminently sensible reaction to finding Miss Lucy's coffin empty, followed by The Professor's very PATIENT reaction to same).

Personally I nominate Mr Jeremy Irons for the role of Count Dracula, but am sorry to admit that I don't have any other thoughts r.e. casting (much to my embarrassment); perhaps Mr Christoph Waltz as Professor Van Helsing?

Michael May said...

I can't believe I've never dream-cast Dracula with modern actors. Jeremy Irons feels like a great choice for the count.

And it's funny you mention Waltz for Van Helsing, because I'm currently reading Dacre Stoker and JD Barker's prequel Dracul, which has a Van Helsing-like character whom I've cast in my head with Waltz.

I'm trying to think whom I'd cast as Mina. Lily Collins maybe?

Anonymous said...

It has just struck me that Miss Saorise Ronan would be hard to beat - if only because of the DELIGHTFUL irony of casting a lady who has herself played a vampire as one who should be numbered amongst the most famous Vampire Hunters in fiction (though also because she's good at radiating strength of character without being noisy about it).

The tricky bit of casting a Madam Mina, of course, is casting a Jonathan Harker with whom she clearly has chemistry and who can seem out of his depth without seeming a complete pushover (Well, that and working out how many of Miss Lucy's suitors to leave in - fond as I am of these Three Compadres, it strikes me that in an adaptation only two hours long they add at least one character too many to the mix!).

In all honesty, were I adapting DRACULA it might well be as a duology - with the first film (A HAMPSTEAD MYSTERY?) focusing on the affliction of Miss Lucy from start to tragic finish (allowing us to develop the ensemble and show the tragedy that ensues when Dracula wins), with the supernatural slowly bleeding into the foreground from the background as The Count has to work harder (and therefore more overtly) for access to his latest victim.

This movie would start with Miss Lucy and Mina Murray witnessing Dracula making his approach to Whitby in the shadow of a great storm, show the Westenra tragedy in full (Dracula makes his first full appearance through the scene in which he 'acquires' Bersiker - whom I would love to see making a second appearance during a post-credits scene adapting the prodigal cub's return) and ending with the scene where Mr & Mrs Harker observe The Count cheerfully going about his business in the streets of London.

The second half would, of course, focus on Madam Mina and Mr Jonathan Harker - and let us get a really good look at what makes The Count tick, as Mr Harker suffers flashbacks to the Horrors of Castle Dracula (perhaps we might start with a disjointed montage of those events, then show a more complete version as Madam Mina pours through Mr Harker's journal to help set all things in order?) before The Hunt really gets under way.

Something like that, at any case - I've also pondered a cinematic depiction of Count Dracula's 'In-flight Entertainment' on SS Demeter, which might be worth the price of admission in its own right (I tend to think of this as THE JAWS OF DRACULA, in homage to the old Hammer Horror films), though this film would likely work best with The Count as a lurking and manipulative spectre more than as a visible actor (possibly making a full appearance only at the end, to eyeball the last survivor of Demeter and clear away the fog that he has kept wrapped around the vessel like a death shroud - all the better to allow himself his first glimpse of a new hunting ground ... ).

Mr May, I'd genuinely love to see your own thoughts on a 'Dream Dracula adaptation' and/or the cast thereof!

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