Francis Ford Coppola’s iteration of the Hollywood classic Dracula is arguably the last old-school studio effects pictures ever made. Released in 2007, this Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray is a much-needed upgrade from the previous, bare-bones DVD release.
The story of Dracula appeared right alongside the birth of cinema, and Coppola took this coincidence as an opportunity to elegize old Hollywood. Shot on studio soundstages, Bram Stoker’s Dracula drenches the audience in an otherworldly nightmare where rats scurry across ceilings and Dracula’s malevolent presence is never far away. The epistolary nature of the novel is kept incredibly intact by the use of journal entries and letters, but also through the use of old cameras, telegraphy, and other post-Industrial Revolution technology.
This movie is not perfect. Coppola, already considered past his prime, seems to have romanticized the production itself instead of working with the actors to create a realistic Old London. Excluding Gary Oldman, the acting is the worst element of this film; Keanu Reeves gives a nearly unwatchable performance, Winona Ryder is stiff, and Sir Anthony Hopkins is at times downright ridiculous. Fortunately, Gary Oldman brings his signature chameleon-like mastery to every aspect of the iconic title role, from a furry bat-monster to the elegant, young Prince Vlad.
Though everyone knows the story of Dracula, this rendition goes far beyond previous versions of the movie. As the tagline “Love Never Dies” hints, we are not simply watching a horror movie, but a dark love story that ends in tragedy. James V. Hart’s script teases out Dracula’s damnation, bringing us to the realization that Dracula can never unite with his soulmate because society sees him as a monster. His suffering goes on lifetime after lifetime. When Dracula is finally defeated, our hearts are broken for him because his generations of agony go unfulfilled and history will remember him as a monster.
The opulent sets and costumes through every frame of this movie are highlighted nicely by the new 1080p HD transfer (1.85:1 aspect ratio). The video isn’t as crisp as other films coming out around 1993, but I suspect the entire finished film was softened slightly in order to smooth out transitions between normal footage, double and triple exposures, and a plethora of special effects shots (all of which are spectacular in-camera effects with the exception of a few optical effects). Overall, the film looks great.
In addition to winning Oscars for make-up and costume, Bram Stoker’s Dracula won for Best Sound Effects Editing, and rightfully so. The audio mix is nicely balanced and used to punctuate the story by providing feeling. You won’t be blown away by the unexpected swells of bass that have come to pass for great sound mixes. But the sound will effectively enchant you into this dark, weird world.
This Blu-Ray release has been given beautiful artwork that shows off the nuanced vision of the film. The picture on the cover might be one of the best movie posters in history. And while I am disappointed there is no full-colour booklet of images inside, the menus and interactive design are gorgeous.
It comes with over 30 minutes of deleted scenes, some in a degraded, unfinished quality. Many of these scenes were unquestionably nixed for the better, or condensed into other scenes, so don’t expect to find anything mind-blowing here.
Coppola’s audio commentary is enthusiastic and enjoyable, even if he does repeat himself and talk too much.
A making-of documentary and segment on the costumes are interesting, but are not as exciting as the documentary on the visual effects which gives a glimpse into how much unseen magic went into the production. Studios simply do not shoot films like this any more, and this extra gives insight on how the technologies of illusion have evolved over the years.