Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic vampire story is unlike any other film I have ever seen. A beautifully crafted Gothic horror romance, Bram Stoker's Dracula is infinitely rich in haunting atmosphere, but a conventional love story prevents it from becoming truly great. Bram Stoker's Dracula is a mostly faithful adaptation of the original novel, telling the story of Dracula's quest to find his long lost love through four characters, Keanu Reeves' lawyer Jonathan Harker, who experiences Dracula first-hand after being imprisoned in his castle, Harker's fiancé Mina Murray played by Winona Ryder, the subject of Dracula's affection, Van Helsing the vampire hunter, played by Anthony Hopkins, and the man himself, Dracula, played with intensity by Gary Oldman. All four principle actors do well in their parts, lending a heightened drama to the fantastical story. Reeves is comfortably quiet as the straight man in the story. Ryder is an attractive presence on screen, wisely dialing back on the melodrama that may have infected her performance. Conversely, Anthony Hopkins gives a delightfully over-the-top turn as a man obsessed with killing Dracula. And speaking of the Count, Gary Oldman's irritating habit of wildly over-acting is actually channeled here into something incredibly watchable. Dracula is a fascinating presence every time he's on screen, especially when he's wearing Eiko Ishioka's brilliant costumes or sporting some of the most convincing creature makeup I have ever seen. The problem with the narrative in Bram Stoker's Dracula is that it spends too much time on an somewhat standard love story. Winona Ryder's character is well written and her arc works well enough, but at a certain point, the erotic love scenes only carry so much weight. I was far more interested in Dracula's point of view, and aesthetically, I simply wanted to spend more time in his castle. The first chunk of the film is so consistently engaging, both visually and thematically, that it is a pity that the rest of the movie never manages to get back to that level. I can't say I have a real problem with the love story. Like the rest of the film, it's well written, crafted, and acted, but the Dracula point of view as well as Van Helsing's vampire hunt were both more interesting story lines than the conventional love story, and I wish they would've gotten more screen time in comparison. Even with nagging problems regarding the story, I can't deny the power Coppola infuses into this film atmospherically. The costumes, music, sets, and special effects are uniformly amazing and they work together seamlessly with Coppola's direction to create a final product that is uniquely Coppola and uniquely Dracula. From the first shot of the film, Dracula is constantly surprising as a audio/visual experience. The first 45 minutes in particular showcase some of the most captivating visuals ever put on film. The opening flashback sequence alone is masterfully designed, composed, and shot. There is a heightened reality to the sequence, a storybook detachment that had me transfixed on the screen from the first second, and it didn't let up. The time spent in Dracula's castle is the highlight of the entire film, with the vast corridors of the castle illuminating with eerie shadows in some of the most daring and artistic cinematography I've ever seen. Dracula himself is a haunting creation, as he glides and coils about in an unsettlingly alien manner. The film never gets back to the same level of atmospheric intensity after we leave the castle, and that is a real shame, but still, Coppola continually shows us new visual tricks and inventive effects throughout the film. As a sensory experience, everything works. Coppola gives the film a breathtaking visual signature, utilizing age old camera tricks and special effects to create something that puts you in another world. It's not just unique locations we're treated to, it's a unique method of filmmaking. Wojciech Kilar's music is similarly special. Big, bold, haunting, and dramatic; the soundtrack here is exceptional. The same can be said for the costumes and makeup. There is a boldness to every technical department here. In Bram Stoker's Dracula, Francis Ford Coppola has created something daring, ambitious, and different in the best way possible. Unfortunately, the movie's best section is its first, and the story lingers too long on it's least interesting story line. While those complaints keep the film from being truly great, they don't stop Bram Stoker's Dracula from showcasing a master filmmaker's unique vision. This is a special film, an extraordinary sensory experience, a 2 hour journey to a dark, foreboding dreamworld that I won't soon forget. 85/100
Bram Stoker's Dracula
Bram Stoker's Dracula
The centuries old vampire Count Dracula comes to England to seduce his barrister Jonathan Harker's fiancée Mina Murray and inflict havoc in the foreign land.
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April 15, 2019