Dracula (1992)
By: Julian on November 13, 2009  | 
Colombia Tristar (Australia), Region 4, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0, Italian DD 2.0, German DD 2.0, French DD 2.0, Spanish DD 2.0. 122 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder, Richard E Grant
Screenplay: James V. Hart
Country: USA
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A shlockmeister who struck very lucky with three absolutely superb films (maybe four if you count the intriguing Conversation), Francis Ford Coppola's talent, or lack thereof, is proved by the fact that he's done barely anything of significance since Apocalypse Now, a precursor to one of the most staggeringly moribund careers that any promising filmmaker in living memory has ever had. But his best film since is without a doubt this one, a return to Coppola's Corman roots but a movie so pretentious, long-winded and ridiculous that it's absolutely impossible to take it seriously. This is horror posing as drama, horror posing as romance, horror posing as period piece – Coppola so staunchly tries to avoid the dreaded Genre Beginning With H that he botches what could have been an absolutely terrific and raucous vampire flick. There is redemption at hand, though, provided you're able to overcome a lethargic start, Coppola in sheep's clothing and Keanu and Winona.

Dracula is Coppola's attempt to film a reasonably accurate adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel, though a number of significant liberties emerge in the final product. We're given insight into Dracula's evil genesis in a brief prologue (avenging his suicided wife from beyond the grave after a dramatic renouncement of God) before getting into the main storyline: at the dusk of the 19th century, London-based law clerk Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is assigned the task of completing the sale of a number of properties being purchased by Count Dracula (Gary Oldman) after his original lawyer Renfield (Tom Waits) was committed to an insane asylum. The ambitious Harker leaves his fiancée Mina (Winona Ryder, who also plays Dracula's wife Elisabeta in the opening few minutes of the film) in London to travel to Transylvania to meet Dracula.

While Harker remains in Transylvania, Dracula discovers Mina bears a striking resemblance to Elisabeta and, after closing the real estate deal, the Count has Jonathan imprisoned by his Brides (Monica Bellucci, Michaela Bercu and Florina Kendrick) while he goes to London in an attempt to claim Mina. Dracula first attacks Mina's best friend Lucy (Sadie Frost), whose blood restores him to his original appearance. Lucy is bedridden and displays fits of fury, eventually leading her suitors to call in Professor Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) who diagnoses her as a victim of vampirism. Mina and Van Helsing join forces to try and destroy Dracula and remove Jonathan from his clutches.

First, I should probably qualify my inflammatory opening paragraph: Dracula is a pretty good horror movie – Oldman and Hopkins, two tremendously talented actors who, in their more inspired moments, equal Lee and Cushing, ham it up in the presence of some gory vampire violence, a surprisingly high quota for this M-rated film. But Coppola is so concerned with not making Dracula a horror movie that he spoils the fun, making the proceedings pretty – ahem – toothless. The make-up effects and set direction are quite brilliant but the whole thing is all very vapid and two-dimensional, the romantic and pseudo-erotic period-piece frills getting in the way of a rip-roaring horror movie.

As I've said, the performances by Oldman and Hopkins are a lot of fun and both actors seem suitably un-self-conscious, though the accents are shocking. However, Reeves and Ryder as the two key players Jonathan and Mina are really bad. Neither of them are worth anything as actors though perhaps Coppola could be forgiven for using them – at the time, they were up-and-comers. In later interviews, though, the director said he only had Keanu to draw in girls – an indicator of how transparent Dracula is as a film.

What a viewer, specifically, a horror fan, really needs to cast aside in order to enjoy Dracula is the arch pretention of it. It can be a lot of fun when it wants to be, but only when Coppola loses his grip on self-consciousness – get him in his excessively self-aware, auteur phase, which flitters in and out of the film's psyche, and you're likely to view this for the throwaway, ostentatious twaddle it is.
The transfer is very good, presented in 1.78:1, with 16:9 enhancement. Michael Ballhaus, Scorsese's live-in DP for about twenty-five years, does some terrific cinematography here, and it complements Kilar's score beautifully.
An English audio track presented in Dolby 5.1, with tracks in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish presented in Dolby 2.0 surround. The English track is very clear and I had no trouble with it. Polish composer Wojciech Kilar's score is brilliant, the best incarnation of the Victorian mood Coppola was trying to evoke.
Extra Features
Blood Lines. Dracula. The Man, The Myth, The Movie, a 29-minute making-of featurette, a theatrical trailer, costume design photo gallery and filmographies round the package out.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The best crystallisation of my sentiments would probably be this: I enjoyed Dracula when it was a horror movie, not when it was trying to be high art. Those periods were often enough to make it an above-average film, but too infrequent to make Coppola's last good film brilliant.

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