DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Collector’s Edition, Blu-ray

The entire film is opulent and overstuffed in a Victorian manner - it's a Dracula with all the stops out.

Published on December 13, 2007

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Collector’s Edition, Blu-ray
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Collector’s Edition, Blu-ray

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves
Studio: Columbia Pictures 15020
Video: 1.85:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen, 1080p HD
Audio: English uncompressed 5.1 PCM, English/French/Hungarian/Czech DD 5.1, Polish VO 5.1, Russian 4.0
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Roumanian, Icelandic, Bulgarian
Extras: Delete Scenes (over 30 minutes), Introduction and audio commentary by Francis Ford Coppola, The Blood is the Life – The Making of Dracula, The Costumes are the Sets – The Design of Eiko Ishioka, In-Camera – The Naive Visual Effects of Dracula, Method and Madness – Visualizing Dracula
Length: 127 minutes
Rating: ****

Coppola wanted to go back to the original Bram Stoker novel, from which nearly all the Dracula movies ever made have departed widely.  That explains his complete title of this version.  He began by bringing the actors together at his home in Napa, California and having them all read the novel together, then read their parts in the rough screenplay and rehearse them. He also asked for their input on anything they felt could be improved in the screenplay. They all handed in suggestions and most were expansions of their particular part, but Coppola felt it some of it improved the film and included it.

The major difference between the character of Dracula/Nosferatu in this film and the others is that in telling the entire tale of the Transylvanian knight of the 15th century Coppola portrays him as not a total monster but as a tragic figure — his violence being due to his reaction to a horrific incident that happened to him. Stoker used some historical background in his story but didn’t seem to know much about the original “Vlad the Impaler.” Vlad III was the son of a noble who was admitted to a secret order of knights – The Order of the Dragon – due to his bravery fighting the Ottoman Turks. Their goal was to defend the Empire of the Holy Roman Emperor against the Turks. After bravely winning another battle against the Turks, Vlad III returns to his beautiful wife at his castle, but finds she has thrown herself into the river upon receiving a bogus message from the Turks that Vlad had been killed in battle.  He then curses God and Christianity and takes on the black arts, becoming an immortal vampire up to no good.

In the Victorian era in late 19th century England, continental European literature was all the rage. Stoker’s book – which was made up of journal entries and diaries of several difference characters – was considered the most bloodcurdling novel of the century.  Coppola restored some of the characters of the book, which had never been included in previous treatments, to his film. He also ramped up the sexual implications of Stoker’s story – including the idea of the blood exchange between Dracula and his victims. The intent seems to be to eroticize Victorian women. Coppola’s version alludes to Harker’s financee/wife being the reincarnation of Dracula’s original princess who killed herself. Dracula first sees a picture of her in a locket worn by Harker when he visits Dracula’s castle to sign details of the properties Dracula is buying in London.  At the end Dracula even hesitates sharing his blood with Harker’s Mina because he loves her so and doesn’t want to damn her to his awful immortality.  Another interesting departure of both Stoker and Coppola is that the vampire is not destroyed by daylight – he can still move around during the day – he just loses his powers and is like an ordinary human.

I don’t think I need to summarize the plot. The special effects are of interest because Coppola wanted to use old-fashioned “naive” theatrical tricks rather than modern computer effects. He even used street scenes with Dracula and Mina filmed by a historic early hand-cranked camera.  But the various costumes for Oldman are not primitive in any way. He has several different appearances – ranging from dapper young Victorian gentleman with top hat and blue glasses to a monstrous bat-like creature.  The entire film is opulent and overstuffed in a Victorian manner, but with the addition of plenty of blood at some points which probably wasn’t part of Victorian tradition, except at Grande Goignol in Paris.  In fact one heavily blood-spraying scene seems to be a tribute to a scene in Kubrick’s The Shining.

Keanu Reeves doesn’t do anything special here, but Anthony Hopkins is superb as the doctor and vampire expert Von Helsing.  Winona Ryder makes a fairly convincing Mina, and Oldman’s propensity for doing outrageous villains is perfect for his Dracula role. The transfer is close to perfect and even the many very dark scenes have lots of detail in them. The uncompressed 5.1 soundtrack shakes and shudders most convincingly. This is a Dracula with all stops out, and a fitting treatment of the hoary horror story that takes its place alongside such classics as the original German silent Nosferatu of 1924 and Bela Legosi’s famous version of 1932.

 – John Sunier

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