Bram Stoker's Dracula on Blu-ray
Francis Ford Coppola's take on the vampire tale supposedly goes back to the original novel, offering a much broader tapestry on which to paint his cinematic vision than the limited 1931 Bela Lugosi vehicle.
Which is better? You can't argue that the Lugosi Dracula was a spectacular characterization, but on the whole Coppola's film is a better movie for today. It's lush and beautifully filmed, with audio and visual images that at times make your flesh crawl, and it more successfully balances the eroticism and the horror that is the vampire legend.
And Sony's Blu-ray treatment doesn't hurt!
Dracula was a 15th century Transylvanian warrior who, when his love dies, forsakes God and is sentenced to spend eternity as a living creature of the undead, feasting on the blood of the living. Which begs the question "What if he can't find blood? Does he die again?"
Anyway, in this version, Renfield (Tom Waits) is already in the loony bin in London, eating his insects and arachnids, and young Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is sent to Transylvania to close the transaction in his place. He's imprisoned there by the dark count, and kept weak and haunted by some buxom female vampires who hang out (well, they're bats!) in the castle.
Meanwhile, his fiancée Mina (Winona Ryder) waits impatiently for his return - but is sidetracked by the arrival of a mysteriously attractive foreigner who happens to be Dracula himself (Gary Oldman, in a typically fine performance). Dracula has already begun sucking the life from her best friend Lucy (Sadie Frost), prompting one of her would be lovers to enlist the aid of noted doctor (and, fortunately, vampire expert) Prof Abraham Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) to find out what's ailing the woman.
The scenes with the possessed Lucy and the three vampire women in Dracula's castle bring the abovementioned eroticism blended with horror to the film, yet despite the nudity and sexuality they're handled matter of factly by the sure hand of director Coppola. More horror comes from Dracula's penchant for shape shifting, his stop at nothing bloodthirstiness, and the manner of ending a vampire's "non life," which in this version more closely stays with the tried and true formula than a mere stakeout.
In all, while it has its moments of silliness (or, at least, lack of tension), on the whole the film works very well. It's dark and brooding, with good action scenes and believable (well, this is Dracula after all) characters and characterizations. Oldman is great, as usual, in the title role, Ryder puts on a good English accent and performance as his love interest, and Hopkins is always good, though he appears a bit over the top at times in this production.
Reeves has been pilloried for his portrayal and, while it may be the weakest part of the film, he isn't bad - though his English accent isn't up to Ryder's (we're not even sure it's there).
The Blu-ray disc is good, with rich colors and deep blacks (and being a vampire film, there are plenty of blacks!). The contrast is fine as well, which also comes in handy in such a dark film. There's some grain, however, and at times the image seems a tad flat. This isn't the best Blu-ray we've seen but it's better than the Superbit DVD we reviewed a few years back.
The audio is presented in PCM 5.1 surround and it's very good as well. Channel separation is good, and dialogue is balanced in the mix well, though we'd have been even happier with more, low bass effects - a common complaint.
Sony has also included a pretty good selection of extras on the Blu-ray. First up is more than a half hour's worth of extra scenes, and Coppola himself is on hand for both an introduction to the film and a running commentary track.
There's also a "making of" feature, another on the sumptuos design of the film and tow more on the visual effects and the visualization itself.
Bram Stoker's Dracula, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.