Reviewed by: Christopher Bligh
Plot: What’s it about?
In HS at a normal lunchroom meeting, a few of us movie buffs would get together and fill each other in on what great movies were playing and what to stay away from. This was a little part of spreading around the different channels to see what was good and not so good. Out of a few of our discussions one movie that was in that stay away from category refused to go away. The curiosity cloud over me led me to a film I had an interest in since seeing a poster full of mystery and very little explanation along with a trailer during the summer before that was equally mysterious and proclaimed “from the director of The Godfather” and ended with Anthony Hopkins saying to the audience with an open book in front of him (done for the trailer only of course and not in the film), “Make no mistake, he must be stopped!” The book slams shut and what came on the screen was unbelievable–BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA.
It’s many decades in the past and Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is assigned to take a trip to Transylvania to clear up a real estate deal with Count Dracula (Gary Oldman). Things are more mysterious when this old man in appearance develops a taste for blood along with a few other oddities amongst this big place. The Count becomes more intrigued when he sees a picture of Harker’s fiance Mina (Winona Ryder) and then a sense of deja vu takes the count out of his place and on a quest to find his love who he had lost in the past along with not losing that taste. Meanwhile, Harker enlists a group of gentlemen led by Professor Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) to track down the count and all thats connected to him.
In this case, I’m glad I went against the buzz of the friends and went on instinct to what is a mesmerizing take on an age old tale that has been told many ways executed in many directions but never quite like this. Coppola takes an approach that is different in that in keeping with unpredictability with a lack of cast credits but also a sense of a lush look in between a bit of less is more.
The film is elevated by a memorable music score which has been used in many film trailers and tv spots. There it was put to good use. In this its put to great use and why it never got nominated one never knows but this much is certain, it still retains power many years later. In addition, we are introduced to this ensemble cast in which no one is a standout but all work as a unit to make this film work and it does so beautifully. The collaboration works even with vaguely known people playing a small part in the background or foreground.
Nevertheless, Bram Stoker’s Dracula takes a new take on a classic20tale and with its classical approach even on a color palette, it works wonders with all involved and makes for a helluva ride.
Video: How does it look?
This is the umpteenth release of this title and in this Collector’s Edition, the 1.85:1 anamorphic image is better than its ever been. The colors resonate well with each scene. There isn’t a sense of too much grain and when it is evident it only helps the films classical feel and environment set in this film. Superbit tried and the standard release lacked the extras but this retains a look so rich so full of color and dark at the right times that it’s all over the place feel at the right time doesn’t have the vision look any better than on this DVD.
Audio: How does it sound?
If there’s one thing this viewer was always aware of is ever since this found a place on a disc of any kind to be viewed (LD, DIVX anyone?), is that one of the strong points of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was its sound and on this collector’s edition, it succeeds once again with its clarity and score and the overall feel of movement evident around all the channels. The track knows when to go loud at the right moments and quiet and leave enough time for an audience jump at every turn so it does help to sit in the center of this wonderful mix. This disc also has a French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0, Portuguese Dolby Surround 2.0 along with English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Korean subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The Collector’s Edition of Bram Stokers Dracula has one more disc than its previous releases and this is no shortage of extras. On Disc 1 we have both an short introduction and a feature commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola and he gives a most interesting fresh perspective of things of years past and if there’s one thing that I can give for all of his commentaries is of how informative they are and how it surpasses interesting every time in leaps and bounds. He’s a joy to listen to no matter how long or short his comments may be, they are always memorable.
On disc 2 is reserved for the behind the scenes stuff and deleted scenes. In the latter there are twelve in all and some expand on events already in the film or some are small instances of things on their own. They prove to be a good curiosity addition to this set, but not one that would beg for a re-insertion option so there won’t be any clammoring of a Bram Stoker’s Dracula Extended Edition anytime soon.
If there’s something that always excels on the extras of every Coppola film its the sense of Francis being an honest director and in the documentary The Blood is the Life, no punches are pulled. What looks like self praise is more self examination of the faithful approach to this entry into the many versions of Dracula along with the sense of confli ct. There are always challenges on a Coppola film and this documentary shows a bit of that.
The Costumes ARE The Sets– goes through Coppola and his costume designer into the overall look of all within the film and displays why this extraordinary work got the golden boy that night and beat out the likes of Howards End, Enchanted April and the fun epic TOYS.
In-Camera– goes into the smaller less is more approaches Coppola and his son went through to capture a film that could’ve been done in the fourties with no technological advances in effects dominating the film. This even had me thinking to some comments on some pieces that were done more simply than extravagant and this little featurette shows a bit of what that is all about.
Method and Madness–goes through what is imagined beforehand, what kind of eye visualizes this version of Dracula and what steps are taken to present that to the big screen from boards to celluloid. This makes for a nice exclamation point into the making of this film as a whole.
A text wrinkle is added to this 2nd disc in the form of Heart of Darkness which explores Coppola’s visual effects and goes a step literally further than the featurette and adds to the excellence of this collector’s edition.
The very trailer I mentioned at the beginning is included along with the teaser along with many ads such as Youth Without Youth, ?Ray Harryhausen In Color?, Taxi Driver, Hostel Part II, Seinfeld Season 9, Pumpkinhead IV: Blood Feud, Ghost Rider, Fearnet.com, and Rise: Blood Hunter.
Absent from this is the commentary track done on Criterion with Coppola and different company and one wonders whether that will ever see the light of day. With the demise of laserdisc, this is one of those few reasons to have one for those small gems that might never be seen again.
This viewer is glad that dependence on other’s opinions is lesser than one’s curiosity, like the old saying goes “Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it!” I didn’t have to try to watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I appreciated what it brought and love what it resulted in and the collector’s edition makes it all the more sweeter to one of the more memorable versions on this classic tale to make for a memorable collector’s edition that comes well-recommended.