It seems like they don’t put as much effort into filmmaking as they used to these days. Sure, you could make a good movie without beautiful imagery, some of the marvel movies are an example of this, what with the overuse of CGI and green screen. But it doesn’t hurt to have every shot in your movie a portrait, in fact, your movie would be all the better for it. In 1992, one of many legendary filmmakers Francis Ford Coppola realized this fact and put out a movie that favored the old school ways of filmmaking, illusions and forced perspective, in a time when the modern ways of filmmaking were just coming into the spotlight. In 1992, he made a beautifully made, and very sexually charged, adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. A film that, because of the aforementioned illusory ways of which it was filmed, may very well be the last of it’s kind.
THE SHADOWS ARE ALIVE!
To touch on the filmmaking of this movie, Bram Stoker’s Dracula came out in a time when the use of digital effects were starting to bloom. Everything that seemed impossible to put on screen at the time could now be done on computer. But that’s not what Coppola wanted. He wanted darkness and shadows of the variety that only practicality could give him. So, he fired everyone who insisted he go with the newer ways, and formed his own ragtag group of artists to create a criminally underrated visual gem.
This is a film where pretty much every frame is a portrait. It is nearly impossible to take your eyes off of the screen. The lighting, the sets, and the costumes!
The costuming is where the movie really shines, and it’s intentional. Coppola actually said himself that “the costumes are the sets”. If you’re wondering how pretty a piece of clothing can be, search up the movie and look at what the actors are wearing. Try telling me then that you couldn’t stop gawking (if you really couldn’t, you’re fine, I usually don’t see the appeal in pretty clothing either).
Beyond stunning costumes and great use of light, how this film was made goes against the very essence of ‘traditional’ in the modern sense. Not one bit of CGI or green screen or anything was used in this movie. Everything you see in this film is pure, good-ol-fashioned illusions. It’s practically a love-letter to the old ways of filmmaking where, in order to make it look like a character disappeared on screen, you had to cut, move the actor out of the shot, and then action. Some smoke to make it more appealing.
Coppola knew what he wanted, and though it was a painstaking task of bringing that vision to life, he stuck to it. He brought together a crew of very talented people, even his own son, to create a visually stunning story of a fallen hero.
THE THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE…
Traditionally, Count Dracula has always been portrayed as a cunning, no-good, bloodsucking, doer of evil. In ‘Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein’ he resurrects(?) Victor Frankenstein’s monster for…I don’t know, evil? At the time that’s generally how he was portrayed and therefore how people saw him, a moustache twisting villain that does bad things for the sake of being bad.
But Coppola did something different. In a way, this is one of those villains you find yourself rooting for.
Dracula in this film is a centuries old war hero that fought for God and his country. But after losing his wife, and being told very non-chalantly by the priests around him that she is in hell, he renounces God and becomes the bloodsucking creature we all know and love to hate. Jump forward to turn-of-the-century England (Late 1800’s-early 1900’s) Dracula has come to London not only to get a decent meal, but to win over a married-woman that is the spitting image of his late wife.
None of the things Dracula does in this film he does because he’s evil-and-loving-it. He does them because he’s in a state of constant heart-ache. He never got over the loss of his wife, he chose and continues to choose being an inhuman…thing. I find calling him a monster a very loose description. A monster in my mind is…well…classic Dracula, Someone who does evil things and doesn’t care about how those actions affect others. The Count in this film certainly isn’t a good guy, he’s the antagonist (Not a villain, antagonists are characters that oppose the protagonists, a villain is someone like, say, ‘The Wicked Witch of The West’), he opposes everyone looking to protect their loved ones from him. But in the end, he’s just a man with a broken heart. Everything he did in this film he did because he’s in love. He lost that love once, and, as a result, he chose to drown in his misery and gave up on God and humanity.
Coppola’s Dracula is a tragic hero. A man that lost his way, and, clearly, when we see him again after the prologue, he is far from saving.
Also, the character is played oh-so-brilliantly by Gary Oldman. If you don’t know who that is…what are you doing with your life!
Speaking of characters, the rest of the cast in this film is, mostly, stellar. We’ve got the always-so-lovely Winona Ryder as Mina Murray, Keanu Reeves in his less than ideal role as Jonathan Harker, And Anthony-Freaking-Hopkins As Abraham Van Helsing! How perfect is that!
There are of course many other actors that lend a lot to this movie, but these are the ones I thought would ring more bells to most people reading this blog.
Winona Ryder’s role in this film isn’t anything too special in terms of performances. She plays Jonathan Harker’s fiancé Mina, who ends up getting too close Dracula. Keanu Reeves as Jonathan isn’t one of his best roles, his monotone voice and demeanor, not to mention a lousy English accent, don’t lend a lot to the role. On the other hand, if it weren’t for this movie, perhaps, he wouldn’t have ended up being as well known as he is and playing roles that are actually suited to him (i.e. John Wick, Neo, etc.). Then there’s Dr. Van Helsing, played by easily one of the greatest actors of all time who shows no sign of stopping what he does best, Anthony Hopkins. Younger people may know him as Odin from ‘Thor’ and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But before then Hopkins was…well…playing on his strengths and acting as side characters with, maybe, a few screws loose. This was a year after ‘The Silence of The Lambs’ so his performance as Hannibal Lecter is probably what motivated the crew most to pick him as Van Helsing. And boy was it a good choice. Van Helsing in this movie is just a looney old man with seemingly intimate knowledge of vampires that is very beneficial in hunting Dracula.
I couldn’t help but appreciate the cast in this film, they all bring something to the table and many of them really wanted to be apart of this film. Gary Oldman joined so he could work with Coppola, and so he could say “I have crossed oceans of time to find you”.
If you’re going into Bram stoker’s Dracula thinking that it’s going to be an entertaining horror flick like ‘Alien’ or ‘The Thing’ then you’re probably in the wrong mind-set. While it has horror elements, it’s barely a traditional horror movie. It’s a gothic romance with vampires. It’s a soap opera about a man who was once good, but was consumed by darkness upon losing everything dear to him.
So don’t watch it expecting jumpscares every minute or tons of sexual tension (though there is plenty of that), watch it for the visual appeal and the most entertaining antagonist that I’ve ever seen so far.
Fun Fact: The character of Dracula took some inspiration from Vlad The Impaler, a Romanian ruler that was known for his brutality in war fronts. They pay homage to him in the beginning of the film and it’s great.
Have you seen Bram Stoker’s Dracula? Have you seen any Dracula movie? If so, which is your favorite? The list of questions goes on, and I’d love to know what you thought of this movie. For me, it’s great. Though I can see how it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you’re having a good day.