I’ve always been somewhat puzzled by the casting decisions made for Francis Ford Coppola’s stylish take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Keanu Reeves – arguably one of the most wooden actors of his generation – and the “cutesy” Winona Ryder always seemed like bizarre choices for the roles of young lovers Jonathan and Mina. However, upon a recent viewing, I realized that Coppola’s Dracula was really nothing more than a Hammer horror flick on steroids, and the casting now makes perfect sense. While Jonathan and Mina are certainly major characters, they are the equivalent of a Hammer film’s “eye candy” quotient, in which young, attractive (and usually bad) actors were saddled with fairly meaty roles in hopes of drawing in younger audiences, while the real stars of the film – usually someone like Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, or Donald Pleasance (or, in the case of Coppola’s film, Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins) – easily stole the show away from their easy-on-the-eyes counterparts. Just go back and look at any number of Cushing/Lee Dracula flicks, and you’ll see that formula repeated again and again.
Coppola also mimics the look and feel of these films (as well as those of Italian horror maestro, Mario Bava), using lots of theatrically lit interior sets, miniatures, superimposed images, and all manner of old-school editing tricks. Of course, the director also injects a healthy dose of modern technique in putting his own personal stamp on the Dracula mythos, but remains remarkably faithful to the source material, including the multiple viewpoint “journal” narrative of Stoker’s novel – a plot device that could have been a disaster in less capable hands. The result is a visually scrumptious picture that works so long as you accept it as the homage it is meant to be.
I was really excited at the prospect of seeing Bram Stoker’s Dracula in all its HD glory, but my excitement quickly turned to dismay when I saw how grainy the transfer looked, especially in darker sequences, where reds and blues, in particular, lacked definition. There are moments of exceptional clarity (especially the scenes in Lucy’s house), and I did notice that, by tweaking the sharpness levels on my set, I was able to reduce some of the noise, but the image quality still looked somewhat flat and, at times, very soft. While a definite improvement over the standard definition DVD, the overall transfer lacked the depth one expects from BD.
The uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio, on the other hand, sounded fantastic! Clean highs and defined lows, with nary a hint of distortion, and wonderfully crisp dialogue throughout.
Bonus features here are plentiful, new, and, most importantly, the majority of them are in HD!
First off, we get an all-new feature-length documentary (in four parts) that combines new interviews with the same sort of comprehensive on-set footage Coppola has used to chronicle the making of most of his films since his wife shot “Heart of Darkness” on the set of “Apocalypse Now”. While there were no heart attacks or hallucinogen fueled rages this time out, the camera crew managed to capture some great footage of the production, and it’s all been remastered to glorious 1080p!
Next up we have an all-new commentary by Coppola that is one of the most entertaining and informative I’ve ever had the pleasure to listen to. He occasionally meanders off on to other topics, but always comes back to the point, and it’s just a hoot to “watch” the movie with him, as it’s literally like a filmmaking workshop. This should be essential viewing for aspiring moviemakers!
Extras also include HD versions of the film’s teaser and trailer, as well as an assortment of deleted scenes that, sadly, are not 1080p.
While not quite the HD experience I was hoping for, Bram Stoker’s Dracula on Blu-ray is an upgrade over its SD version, and the wonderful bonus material makes it worth owning for hardcore fans of the film.