Thursday, November 21, 2019

Dracula (2002)

Who's in it?: Patrick Bergin (Sleeping with the Enemy, Robin Hood, Frankenstein), Giancarlo Giannini (Mimic, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace), and Stefania Rocca (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Love's Labour's Lost).

What's it about?:An adaptation of Stoker's novel set in the 21st Century.

How is it?: I'm impressed with how well it updates Stoker's story to modern times. It keeps all of the main characters, even Quincey, and their relationships to each other are all sound. Jonathan and Mina are engaged. Mina's best friend is Lucy, who has three different suitors before she finally settles on Arthur.

Writer (alongside Eric Lerner)/director Roger Young makes a couple of big changes though, neither or which I like. The first is how he introduces Dracula. In this version, Jonathan and Mina are vacationing in Budapest when the story opens. Jonathan proposes to Mina and surprises her by having all of their friends - Lucy, Arthur, and Quincey - show up. (Dr John Seward doesn't know them yet, but enters the story quickly.) While all of this is going on, a middle-aged man named Vlad Tepes introduces himself to Jonathan with a business proposal that requires Jonathan to travel to Transylvania. I don't mind the prologue to set up the events of the novel, but what's weird is that Tepes claims to be the nephew of Count Dracula, the elderly nobleman whom Jonathan's going to work for.

Bergin plays both versions and he's good, but it's never made clear why he keeps at this deception. I don't see the advantage he gains by switching from old to young and back again multiple times. In Stoker's novel, Dracula appears old at the beginning because he's basically been hibernating in Transylvania for hundreds of years. I'm reading between the lines some, but the impression I get is that the locals are wise to him and it's hard for him to hunt. But once he gets to London's fresh supply of ignorant humans, he's able to drink freely and regain his youth. In Young's version, Dracula's elderly and youthful appearances are just parlor tricks.

The other change I don't like is how Young and Lerner make greed and materialism a theme for some reason. Jonathan and his friends suspect that what Dracula wants Jonathan to do isn't entirely legal, so conversations are had about whether he should agree. The materialistic Quincey is all for it - money justifies everything - while Arthur takes a more conservative approach. Jonathan ultimately agrees with Quincey, but comes to regret it, seeing the horror that follows as the consequence of his greed.

You could make a cool connection between the hunger for wealth and the hunger for blood, but Young/Lerner don't go far enough with it. If anyone is going to be hurt by the deal that Jonathan's getting involved in, that's not made clear. The only risk is to his own conscience (and perhaps his freedom, if he's caught). In order for the greed/vampirism analogy to work, someone needs to be drained of something by Jonathan's actions. The film glosses over other aspects of the caper, too, like just how Jonathan's friends are going to be involved in the scheme and why their agreement to it is important.

But I do love how surprisingly faithful the film is in other ways. I was worried briefly that Mina was getting sidelined and dumbed down from Stoker's version, but that ended up being a trick that the film was pulling on me. Rocca's Mina ends up being pretty awesome, not just as a vampire-fighter, but also as a strong, moral center for the group. And it's also great to see Giancarlo Giannini (from the first couple of Daniel Craig Bond movies). His character's not named Van Helsing, but that's who he's playing and he's a charming one. If it weren't for the changes I mentioned, some of the acting (English is clearly not a strong language for a lot of the cast), and CG effects that are truly horrendous, I'd love this version.

Rating: Three out of five Minas.


Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness me, Count Bergin has PROPER DRACULA HAIR (described as "curling in its own profusion" in the novel and habitually described as 'A Dark Ages mullet' by your correspondent) AND the moustache and/or Evil Goatee.

I'd like to pretend that this is only a relatively minor bonus, but that would be a Shameful lie (Hairy old mountain man Dracula is definitely my favourite aesthetic for The Count - all that hair helps remind us that, on some level, he is an primordial beast using a human carcass and truly urbane manners as a stalking horse).

One would also be lying if I pretended that learning Signor Giannini had been cast as Van Helsing in this adaptation did not immediately result in his being added to the 'Dream Cast' of a home-brew superhero setting (a character best summed up as 'The Witch Doctor of Rome' and as an applicant for membership of the 'Trenchcoat Brigade' of Occultists).

Sadly I have never actually SEEN anything but a trailer for this film and therefore cannot share anything like an intelligent opinion about it!

Michael May said...

I've always struggled with imagining a cool visual for Dracula at the beginning of the novel, but "hairy old mountain man Dracula" give me exactly the mental picture I want. And yeah, Bergin as old Dracula is pretty much the best I've seen.

Anonymous said...

Mr May, I'm glad you enjoyed my little description of The Count and if you're ever looking for some excellent inspiration for Dracula's visual appearance during the first few chapters of the eponymous novel, just type 'Hungarian nobleman' or 'Hungarian aristocracy' into Google or Ecosia (substitute 'Magyar' for 'Hungarian' if you prefer) - while The Count appears to identify as an ethnic Hungarian, rather than a full blown Magyar, you'll be able to scroll through quite a few images that strongly recall Mr Stoker's description of The Count.

I'm also inclined to agree with you r.e. Mr Bergin's look, with one reservation - NOBODY has ever looked more Dracula than the late, Great Sir Christopher Lee! (-;


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