Thursday, November 21, 2019
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.