Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Release Date: 1992
Coppola’s vision of Dracula is very different to the '31 version, perhaps sharing a little more with the '79 version given that it focuses heavily on a romance. Yet many say that it is the closest to the Stoker story – not true. Whilst Coppola manages to draw a richly gothic romance he veers heavily from the original story.
The film starts in Transylvania, with Vlad Dracula (Gary Oldman) fighting the Turks. His wife Elisabeta (Winona Rider) is left in the castle as he goes to battle and the Turks, once defeated, fire an arrow (with a forged message) through a castle window causing her to commit suicide as she believes him dead. Now this is a mismatch of historical accuracy and inaccuracy, merged with the legends surrounding Vlad Tepes. He was a Walachian Prince, not Transylvanian, though the movement of location is consistent with Stoker. Reputedly Vlad’s first wife died in a way depicted in the film, though it was fear of the encroaching Turkish army that demanded Vlad’s surrender that was the catalyst. In the film, told by the church that she is damned as a suicide, Dracula curses himself; in life he married again. However, none of this is in the book, Dracula’s descent into undeath is hinted to be through the devil via his attendance at the Scholomance – the Devil’s academy.
All this sets the film up for the reason why this film is not an accurate remake of the book. Despite the fact that it has all the main characters from the book (unusually), the actual roles of the characters are changed. Mina (again, Winona Ryder) is the reincarnation of Elisabeta and the film tracks their love through time and darkness. She goes to Dracula willingly, betrays Harker (Keanu Reeves) and turns on Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) , calling him a murderer for killing Lucy, whereas she is grateful to Van Helsing - in the novel - for saving her friend's soul. She even helps the Count at the climax of the film, summoning storms to confound his pursuers. This is not Stoker’s Mina, who was a brave and intelligent woman who was picked by Dracula as an object of revenge against the mortals arrayed against him. The devolving of the story reaches a peak when it is Mina who kills the Count, not Harker, and it is her love setting them all free from darkness.
Coppola’s treatment of Lucy (Sadie Frost) fairs little better. She is depicted as a wanton hussy, not the sweet girl corrupted by the Count’s evil and demonstrates displays that would be simply unseemly within Victorian high society. Indeed Van Helsing actually states that she is a willing recruit to Dracula’s army of the undead, and their attempt to save her soul is despite her not for her.
There is even a hint, not from the book, that there might be a more intimate relationship between Mina and Lucy beyond being best friends, going so far as to having the character’s kiss, though it is intimated that Dracula perhaps pushed this urge.
It must also be pointed out that Whitby is utterly lost from the film. Elements from the book are added and yet changed. Renfield (Tom Waits) is there, but he is a solicitor who lost his mind when attending Dracula before Harker – in the book he is a madman whose madness allows him to tune to Dracula’s wavelength and becomes almost a barometer of the vampire's comings and goings. It is one of the few films that shows the escape of the wolf from London Zoo, though in the book the wolf is used to attack Lucy and her mother whereas in this film it is used as a seduction technique as Dracula woos Mina. That said, Lucy attacked by a wolf is revisited as this is the form that Dracula takes when he makes his final attack upon her.
So does the film succeed anywhere? Frankly, yes. As I said at the head it is a richly photographed gothic romance and in this it works very well. Hopkins’ performance as Van Helsing is masterful, painting a much more manic Professor than in previous versions and yet obviously thoroughly enjoying himself. Oldman, as ever, throws himself into his character with consummate professionalism.
Whilst the scene with the brides and their interaction with Harker strays from the book it is, perhaps, one of the most effective visions of the brides. Though the fact that Monica Bellucci is involved may have swung my opinion on that one.
The scene with Lucy in her crypt is far from accurate to the book. The heroes attendance is so easily gained that the hows and wherefores are missed totally and the blooferlady section is missed altogether. That said it is a gory and successful reworking, with Lucy going Linda Blair on Van Helsing, spewing blood at Van Helsing as he forces her into her coffin.
Special mention has to go to the fact that Coppola allowed Dracula access to the daylight hours. A part of the story too often missed in Dracula retellings.
One of my favourite parts of the film, however, was the way in which Coppola used Dracula’s shadow. This was, in my opinion, a homage to Nosferatu. Coppola has the shadow moving independently of the Count which gives a kind of surrealistic feel to Harker’s imprisonment within the castle and allowed the director to show the direction of the Count’s true thoughts whilst he hid them behind his false civility. This device was so successful that it was wildly lampooned in Dracula - Dead and Loving it (1995).
If I dwelled, at the head of the reviews, on the films inaccuracies it was because of the insistence by many that this was a faithful version of the book. It has many elements of the book that are too often missing, but misses swathes itself and rewrites the substance by making the Count a tragic romantic figure and introducing a passionate love between Mina and the Count. This, however, does not make it a bad film and it still deserves 8 out of 10.
The imdb page is here.
Bonus Mini Review
Author: James V. Hart & Fred Saberhagen
The 1992 movie was, as we know, based on the Bram Stoker novel. Indeed it actually added Stoker’s name to the title. Why then, oh why, was the need found to novelise the movie? Yes, you heard right, there is a novel of the film of the novel.
I found this book in a charity shop and whilst it is a functional read it is entirely a pointless addition to the annals of vampire fiction. There is not a lot to be said in reviewing this, the book follows the film precisely – inaccuracies from the movie to the original masterpiece captured forever in words. It is only really worthwhile if you are a completist collector, 2 out of 10.