Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula is perhaps the most influential piece of literature in the horror genre, and has been so for over a century. Yet its film adaptations seem to feel absolutely no loyalty to the original source material, judging by the way they seem almost conscientiously to ignore Stoker's work.

There are literally hundreds of adaptations of the novel out there, and none of them really manage to capture the essence of the original plot or the characters in the way I'd like to see. Surprisingly, even though I panned the 1931 film version with Bella Lugosi, which I reviewed for Halloween last year, and I have no very high opinion of it, there are many far worse adaptations--far, far worse.

Such a one, arguably, is the film to be reviewed today, the Francis Ford Coppola 1992 version. Some argue that it's actually leaps and bounds ahead of its brethren (including the Lugosi version) because it actually features all the main characters (Dracula, Jonathan and Mina Harker, Lucy Westenra, Dr. Seward, Dr. Van Helsing, Arthur Holmwood, Renfield, and Quincy Morris), many of whom get cut out or merged in other version. In addition, this version covers all the major plot points from the novel, so it can be said to be following the book faithfully in that regard as well. Indeed, had it stuck simply with that, I may have been able to forgive some of its faults, such as its over-salaciousness and the defaming of Lucy's character. I may even have actually given it my seal of approval.

Unfortunately, someone decided to mess with the entire premise of the book and make Dracula seem human instead of the purely evil monster that he was meant to be. Not only does this destroy the fright factor for me, but it completely decimates the author's vision of his titular villain. The additional bad idea of making Mina into the reincarnation of Dracula's long-lost love is maudlin, cliche, and generally revolting. I can't entirely blame Coppola for this, either,  no matter how much I want to. The idea of a vampire as a reluctant anti-hero had already been introduced by the Anne Rice novel Interview with the Vampire, which was hugely popular at the time this film was released, and would be made into a high-grossing film just a few years later. Still, the idea of Mina having a thing for Dracula makes my stomach turn. I know vampire romance is in right now, but that was not the intent of the original book, and if you are going to be brazen enough to reference the novel by putting the author's name in the title of your film, you'd better make sure you don't make any serious deviations like that. So no, this film doesn't resemble its source material  any more than Patricia Rozema's horrid bi-sexual version of Mansfield Park resembles what Jane Austen actually wrote.

(Just realized I forgot to mention Dracula's ridiculous costume design for when he's trying to "blend in" in London. He looks like a stone blend of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow and Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. It's impossible to take the film seriously after that. Also Mina's dresses are quite anachronistic, being clearly 1870s style instead of 1890s. Big bustles were out of style when the action of the film takes place, and it's especially glaring when they keep flashing the date as 1897.)

Another failure for Hollwood: 5 out of 10

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