The novel Dracula remains one of, if not, the best pieces of horror literature, but the story is better known for its 1931 film adaptation with Bela Lugosi. While I admire that movie’s performances, I find it, like many early pictures with sound, to be almost like a filmed version of the play, lacking the suspense of the book. F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu delves into the true horror of the story much better. Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of the story manages to expand from the 1931 film and is the picture most faithful to Stoker’s story, but doesn’t manage to fully engage to audience like the novel does. Even as someone not too fond on the original adaptation, I find it to be superior than this remake.
That does not mean Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a mess. It isn’t. Inside the picture is the core for a great movie and it has one of cinema’s greatest innovators to head it. Coppola proved himself as a revolutionary filmmaker through Apocalypse Now, The Godfather Parts I and II, and The Conversation, all of which are ambitious projects that act as extended metaphors for a new American society, but the director has struggled to make another movie worthy of his talents since. He still can prove his power as a filmmaker (despite its faults, The Godfather Part III features many impressive monologues and tightly composed sequences), but most of his films pale vastly to his 70s work.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is no exception, but feels somewhat closer to Coppola’s older movies than any other movie he’s made in the past three decades (Godfather Part III excepted). Coppola uses the framework of the story to exhibit his prowess as a director: the set design, lighting, and costumes are all meticulously done. The operatic atmosphere recalls the moodiness of The Godfather while other scenes evoke the loneliness of The Conversation. He keeps his control maintained for much of the movie, as English attorney Jonathon Harker (Keanu Reeves) journeys to Transylvania to meet with Count Dracula (Gary Oldman), who centuries ago renounced his faith in God after his wife’s suicide and embraces Satanism. After seeing a picture of Jonathon’s fiancée Mina Murray (Winona Ryder), Dracula decides to head to London in hopes of using her to resurrect his dead wife. And once he arrives in England, suspicion arises and trouble brews as Professor Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) suspects that something is awry with London’s newest immigrant.
The sheerness of Bram Stoker’s Dracula makes the film worthwhile for viewing, as it contains some dazzling effects, but the movie suffers from a lack of thrills. Unlike Coppola’s past pictures, Dracula does not have a strong enough narrative to make it exciting. Coppola proves he could entertain audiences through large monologues and strong writing in The Godfather films, which are almost completely built on conversation rather than gang violence, but he can’t keep the lengthy bits in Bram Stoker’s Dracula as openly satisfying or entertaining. What hinders the picture even more are the performers. Keanu Reeves delivers the most unconvincing British accent since Dick Van Dyke in Marry Poppins as Harker and is often the result of unintentional bad laughs. Even Gary Oldman, who works effortlessly with his material, feels somewhat stilted with his bizarre haircut and make-up.
It may be appropriate the call Bram Stoker’s Dracula an experiment for Coppola. It is something that I, along with many other fans, have wished he’d done more of in his post-Apocalypse Now career, but unfortunately Bream Stoker’s Dracula never fully connects together. There’s enough to see and enjoy in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and if it were under the name of another filmmaker I may have been more generous but I have certain high expectations from Coppola and the film did not fully deliver.