Francis Ford Coppola
's 1992 film, Bram Stoker's Dracula
, is a lavish, visually stunning treatment of the Dracula
tale. The film features exquisite production design, startling special effects, and one of the best film scores that I've heard in a long time. But the film, which had so much potential, is deeply flawed. Altogether Bram Stoker's Dracula
suffers from an excessive amount of visual stimuli, which takes priority over characterization and acting. Much of the cast gives either flat, unconvincing performances or goes to the opposite end of the spectrum, overacting and projecting their own celebrity rather than the persona that they're supposed to be adopting.
The story itself, despite what the film's title implies, is a great departure from Bram Stoker
's 1897 horror novel. The screenplay by James V. Hart
plucks the characters and events out of Stoker's original story, and then awkwardly attempts to create a gothic romance around them. Anyone who is truly familiar with the novel knows that romance was the furthest thing from Stoker's mind. I am of the opinion that you can tell a Dracula
story without directly basing it upon Stoker's novel, or you can take Stoker's initial ideas and alter them for your own purposes, but you should never claim that you're following Stoker's blueprint when you do so.
The story follows young and ambitious solicitor, Jonathan Harker, as he travels to Transylvania to oversee the signing of certain papers, which have to do with the selling of ten very specific houses in London, to the mysterious and eccentric Count Dracula. Harker must leave behind the woman he loves, Mina Murray. After arriving in Transylvania, Harker is taken to Dracula's castle by a dark and ominous coach, whose driver is obscured beneath his gothic armor. When Harker arrives at the castle, he is greeted by the ancient Count himself. The castle is dreary and oppressive, covered with spider webs and barely lit. As Harker and Dracula go over the details of the paperwork he is to sign, Dracula discovers a photograph of Mina, and he becomes convinced that she is his lover, Elisabeta, reincarnated. Dracula insists that Jonathan stay with him for a month, though Jonathan is anxious to return to Mina. He becomes aware that he is not a guest, but a prisoner in Dracula's castle.
Meanwhile Mina is staying with her wealthy friend, Lucy Westenra, who is shamelessly flirtatious and uses her sex appeal to win the hearts of three suitors, Dr. Seward, Quincy P. Morris, and Arthur Holmwood.
Back in Transylvania, Count Dracula prepares for a voyage to London as Jonathan Harker realizes that his captor is an inhuman monster capable of unspeakable evil. Once Dracula arrives in London, he seduces and feeds off of Lucy turning her into an insatiable, damned creature of the darkness. As Lucy's unusual "illness" grows in its severity, Dr. Seward calls upon the brilliant and eccentric Abraham Van Helsing to help diagnose her. At first Van Helsing is perplexed, but quickly he becomes aware that Lucy is the victim of a vampire... and Mina may be next.
Soon Van Helsing, Jonathan Harker, and Lucy's three suitors must exterminate Dracula and his demonic offspring all the while Mina's mind, body, and soul hang in the balance. Francis Ford Coppola
assembled an impressive cast for the film, however none of them seem to be comfortable in their roles. Keanu Reeves
plays Jonathan Harker as pompous bore, and Winona Ryder
's portrayal of Mina suggests that she was never confident of her ability to produce a believable English accent. Anthony Hopkins
hams it up as Professor Van Helsing, turning the beloved character into a drunken raving madman. In fact, the only member of the cast who seems to fit his role, at least partially, is Gary Oldman
as Count Dracula. However, the moment he is taken out of his "old man" makeup, he mistakenly changes Stoker's Count from a repulsive, parasitic invader into a tragic and romantic figure.
Arguably the film's greatest strength is the magnificent score by Wojciech Kilar
. This score deserves a better film.
As the film progresses it dissolves into a kaleidoscopic menagerie of cavorting half-naked women, melodramatic romance, and some of the most gratuitous bloodletting seen in a mainstream American film. Though, I admire Coppola's tenacity as a filmmaker, this film is a missed opportunity as he dazzles us with eye candy but leaves us craving something more substantial.