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Bram Stoker's Dracula

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Bram Stoker's Dracula

Starring: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Rated: R
RunTime: 128 Minutes
Release Date: November 1992
Genre: Horror

*Also starring: Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Bill Campbell, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits

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1.  Dragan Antulov review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
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Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

Vampire stories are with us for the thousands of years, and each civilisation and culture has its own version of such mythical creatures. Yet the best known vampire of all is a person who used to belong to real history instead of myth. The name most associated with vampires is "Dracula", nickname given to Vlad Tepes a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler, 15th Century Vallachian prince who ruled his lands with the methods that would turn Hitler into nice guy in comparison. Four centuries later, Irish writer Abraham Stoker resurrected Tepes as the protagonist of his gothic horror novel. The novel and its protagonists were extensively used by the horror filmmakers in the next century, but among multitudes of such films only few tried to be faithful to the source material. One of them was BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA, 1992 film directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

The plot begins in 1462, when the expanding Ottoman Empire intends to conquer entire Balkans and the rest of Europe. Among few local warlords who would try to stem the tide and defend Christendom is Vlad Tepes (played by Gary Oldman), Valachian prince who defies the odds and beats the Turks in the battle. But his beloved wife Elisabeta (played by Winona Ryder), mistakenly informed about his death, decides to take her own life. Grief- stricken Tepes decides to renounce God and becomes vampire that would haunt Transylvania for the next four centuries. In 1897, Jonathan Harker (played by Keanu Reeves), clerk in London law firm, travels to Dracula's castle in order to help Dracula buy some real estate in British capital. There Dracula sees photograph of Harker's fiancee Mina Murray, and can't help noticing that she looks exactly like Elisabeta. He imprisons Harker in his castle and travels to London where he would use his supernatural abilities to satisfy his blood lust as well as to come close to the resurrected love of his life. In the meantime, Mina waits for Jonathan to come back, while her best friend, free-spirited Lucy Westenra (played by Sadie Frost) gets bitten by Dracula and becomes ill. One of Lucy's suitors, Doctor Jack Seward (played by Jonathan E. Grant) can't help her with his medical skills so he calls for the help of his mentor, Professor Van Helsing (played by Anthony Hopkins). Van Helsing discovers traces of vampirism and decides to fight this evil embodied in shape-shifting Dracula.

Despite claiming to be the most faithful adaptation of the original, 1992 version of DRACULA is triumph of style over substance. Perhaps Francis Ford Coppola indeed tried to be as close to Stoker's vision as possible, but he managed to do it more by atmosphere than by accurate storytelling. Such atmosphere in the film was created with the series of memorable images made out of bright colours, deliberately artificial sets and haunting musical score by Wojciech Kilar. Because of that, BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA looks as gothic as possible, yet Coppola still finds the opportunity to bring a taste of the modern, un- romantic world to this story. Character of Seward uses a phonograph to make his clinical observation while injecting himself with cocaine, while centuries old Dracula still has a sense of wonder to appreciate modern wonders like moving pictures. Coppola also can't resist temptation to portray the bond between vampirism and sexuality, whether by showing characters of Mina and Lucy sharing passionate kiss in the rainstorm, Lucy making Freudian double entendres while talking to her suitors or by using nudity (one of such scenes features Italian star Monica Bellucci as one of Dracula's vampire brides).

BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA is definitely pleasing to the eye, but it doesn't make much sense as a story. Screenwriter James V. Hart added romantic subplot to the original story, but this segment about eternal love that transcends time and moral alignments somehow managed to consume all other elements of the plot. The acting is also problematic, although majority of the cast does more than decent job. Apart from Gary Oldman, who is magnificent in the role of complicated, trouble character in various incarnations, singer Tom Waits is good as Harker's insane predecessor, while newcomer Sadie Frost captures free-spirited Lucy perfectly (in the role originally intended for Traci Lords). While Winona Ryder struggles with English accent quite fine, Keanu Reeves is as wooden as usual. But the greatest disappointment of all is Anthony Hopkins who is completely over the top as semi- lunatic Professor Van Helsing. However, despite not meeting the standards of those who like clear plots in the movies, BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA, has the dream-like quality that would satisfy all those who wish some originality in films that explore this over-exploited theme.

Copyright 2002 Dragan Antulov

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