Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Dracula Adaptations | Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Who's in it?: Gary Oldman (Air Force One, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Batman Begins), Winona Ryder (Beetlejuice, Alien Resurrection, Stranger Things), Anthony Hopkins (Magic, The Silence of the Lambs, Thor), Keanu Reeves (Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Point Break, John Wick), Richard E Grant (The Age of Innocence, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Logan), Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Kiss the Girls), Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer), and Tom Waits (The Dead Don't Die).

What's it about?: Francis Ford Coppola attempts a faithful adaptation and fails spectacularly.

How is it?: It bugs me more than it should that this is called Bram Stoker's Dracula, because it really, really isn't. It gets the characters and their relationships to each other right and the casting is exactly correct, at least visually. When I picture Mina, I imagine Winona Ryder. Keanu Reeves makes a very good-looking Harker. And I have much respect for including the one and only faithful version of Quincey Morris (Campbell), a great, cool character in the novel, but one who's either dropped or merged with Arthur Holmwood in other versions.

Another positive thing is just how visually inventive and gorgeous the film is. To distraction, in some parts, but I appreciate the thought and artistry that went into the film's look and visual language.

But what I absolutely can't get over is the way the film makes Mina a consensual participant in an actual romance with Dracula. I hate that more and more with every viewing. There's at least one other version where Dracula believes that Mina is the reincarnation of his wife, but that's not what bothers me. It's that she acknowledges it and embraces it. The "Love Never Dies" tagline is shameful. Coppola's Dracula owes more to Anne Rice than Bram Stoker.

And that's not even getting into Van Helsing's (Hopkins) humping Quincey's leg. There are so many weird, unexplainable choices in this film and it kills me that the title presumes to herald it as Stoker's vision brought to the screen. The fact that I do keep rewatching it is a testament to its look and mood and Quincey Morris.

Rating: Two out of five Minas.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

It promises a gourmet meal but descends into a hot dog eating contest! I would love to watch this with a group of people who hadn’t seen it just to guard their reactions. It’s as fascinating as it is odd.

It is above all else Coppola’s Dracula, the ownership in the title is the most frequent criticism I have seen. I’m sure the idea was to distinguish that this was the definitive film Dracula for all the many adaptations there had been by giving it a title that made it seem like they truly were going back to the source.

I’m hard pressed to think what else it could be called in order to stand out. Adding a subtitle practically dooms it to being remembered as “Dracula: Just Another One”!

Michael May said...

Those are all excellent thoughts. Thanks, buddy. A better title is a tough thing to figure out, but I think you're on the right track with Coppola's Dracula. Maybe Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula? Coppola's name is pretty darn distinctive.

It's tough for me to be objective, because - like I said on the Filthy Horrors episode - I had friends who really praised how faithful this was. When what they really meant was how faithful it was to certain, particular aspects. That's influenced my opinion of the film in ways that are apparently impossible for me to shake.

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

In retrospect it’s amusing how the same issues occurred in both this and the film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Both were 1990s movies that claimed to be going back to the roots of the material but still strayed pretty far off the path.

At least Tim Burton had the good sense not to call his adaptation “Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hallow”, otherwise we’d have quite the trifecta.

Michael May said...

Ha! Right!

I do think that Coppola's Frankenstein gets closer to Shelley than his Dracula gets to Stoker. I know I keep harping on it, but his Mina and Dracula are fundamental misunderstandings of those characters. Even though his Frankenstein adaptation goes far off in terms of some of the plot (particularly Elizabeth's story), it gets the characters right and tone right.

Anonymous said...

Mr May, I almost wholly agree with your review but am shocked - nay SHOCKED! - that you pay no compliments to the very finest feature of Mr Coppola's DRACULA; that utterly superb, quite frankly definite soundtrack provided by Mr Wojciech Kilar (quite frankly the only DRACULA soundtrack that comes close has to be Mr John William's from the Langella DRACULA of 1979).

I also tend to imagine Madam Mina as looking more like the young Dame Judi Dench (specifically based on her appearance in A STUDY IN TERROR) but that's merely a personal preference rather than any kind of Serious Business! (-;

Michael May said...

Kilar's soundtrack is QUITE good. And also Williams' in '79.

You're making me want to do a series of posts now about the music of Dracula. The use of Swan Lake in '31 made me a fan of Tchaikovsky's ballet, for instance. And the Philip Glass/Kronos Quartet score for that film (but created in the late '90s) deserves some discussion, too.

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a most excellent article in the making, as a one-off or a series; The Count has even more than his fair share of excellent scores to his name (Though I have to say the fact that not a single DRACULA soundtrack to date has featured Mussorgsky's 'Night on Bald Mountain' is truly disappointing - one would have thought the association as awesome as it was obvious!).

Michael May said...

"Night on Bald Mountain" would be amazing in a Dracula film.


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