Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Dracula {2002} – review


Director: Roger Young

Release Date: 2002

Contains spoilers

Yet another adaptation of Dracula, this time moved forward to the modern day. The DVD has two versions a 104 minute feature film and a 173 minute 2 part mini series – I am reviewing this based on the mini series.

Despite being modernised and set between Budapest and Romania, this – at first glance – does appear to be a very accurate retelling of Dracula, but first glances can be deceptive. Indeed, I would go as far to say, when you start looking into the characters and sub-text, this is a very inaccurate retelling. However things start off well with the imagery of a horse on the Argentinean pampas and an attack by a vampire bat. This is lifted from a story told by Quincy in the novel and is atmospherically shot.

Stefania Rocca as MinaLet us begin by looking at the characters in a superficial way, concentrating on name changes, nationality and professions. Jonathon Harker (Hardy Krüger Jr.) is now an American city dealer based in Budapest. As the film starts he becomes engaged (with the wedding planned in a week’s time) to Mina Murray (Stefania Rocca) who appears to be some sort of aid or charity worker. Over for the wedding are their mutual friends Lucy Westenra (Muriel Baumeister), the British embassy worker Arthur Holmwood (Conrad Hornby) and Italian Quincy (Akessio Boni) whose last name is not given, but I’d bet it wasn’t Morris, and is in shipping.

Brett Forest as RoenfieldAt the ball, where Jonathon pops the question, is Dr Johann Seward (Kai Wiesinger), who runs an asylum. He is expecting a visit from his friend Dr Enrico Valenzi (Giancarlo Giannini) – a psychologist who is now studying the metaphysical and was once, in a text long, long ago, known as Van Helsing. Renfield has become Roenfield (Brett Forest) and is an inmate at the asylum. Before we look at some of the major personality changes let us look at how their entanglement with Dracula (Patrick Bergin) begins.

Patrick Bergin as DraculaJonathon is called away from the friends revelries by a need to meet a client Vladislav Tepes. The initial meeting, therefore, that sends Harker to Romania, is with Dracula posing as his own nephew. He is young looking compared to how he appears when they next meet and, it seems, that Dracula has gained the ability to age and become younger at will, rather than his apparent age being dependent on feeding. However, did you notice the name used?

strengthening the ties to historyThe programme strengthens the connection between the fictional vampire and the historical Draculea. The history is messed up in the script however. We hear how his real name was Vladislav Tepes and that he was named by his people Dracula or devil. Now Dracul can be translated as either devil or dragon – dragon is probably more accurate as Dracul (Vlad's father) was a member of the Order of the Dragon. Draculea named himself such as it meant son of the dragon. Tepes was a name given to him by political enemies – meaning impaler – and it was unlikely he ever used the name self-referentially.

Muriel Baumeister as LucyOne of the biggest sins of this production was how they changed the characters. Quincy ceased to be the stalwart friend we knew from the book and became an (at best) amoral person – specifically around capital gain. However it was the changes to Lucy that really irked. She had been in a relationship with Quincy and with Arthur (who was in love with her) but these were purely, for her, physical. She immediately jumped into bed with Seward. She was opposed to the concept of marriage (though she becomes engaged to Arthur due to fear of what is happening to her). Indeed she is as much a protagonist in the relationship with Dracula as he is with her.

BlooferladyThey took a character who was pure, for want of a better description, and essentially made her sexually predatory - before she becomes a vampire. They did, however, include the blooferlady aspects of the novel, which are sometimes sorely missed but made her actions in that role more sinister as they were a means to trap Arthur. When she is dying, her call to Arthur is less the seductive vampiress to be and more a scene from the exorcist.

Dracula oldDracula is changed also and becomes more an antichrist figure. There is a theme that runs through this of the armies of God and the armies of Dracula. This is a clash between Good and Evil in a much more religious way than was portrayed in the novel. Dracula is seen as the tempter, each person falls to him of their own volition, making their own choice to follow him.

Dracula with QuincyThe vampire lore alters and in such a way that is inconsistent within the film, not only to the book. In the book the vampires can emerge in daylight but their powers are curtailed. In this we see both Lucy and Dracula in daylight and we see him use a full range of supernatural abilities. However, Valenzi has already told us that Dracula does not have his powers in daylight hours. This is not the only issue in continuity, but it is the biggest. Another example would be Jonathon failing to get a cell signal, then managing to phone Quincy but there being no signal when Mina tries to phone him.

the bridesThe effects are somewhat rubbish. The cgi looks amateur and thus flying scenes and transformations do not work that well. A transformation of a sea of rats into Dracula should have looked mighty fine but instead looked clunky and broke suspension of belief. The brides scene failed as the flying looked poor and a sinking into the bed just did not work visually. The scenes in the castle fail when you realise that Jonathon is there to liquidate art and gold into cash and thus Dracula needs him to survive, suspense is thus shattered.

Giancarlo Giannini as ValenziThe acting from the majority of the cast is average (at best) though Bergin does okay as Dracula, Forest makes for a fine Roenfield and I have a lot of time for Giannini. As for the ending, well that is really messed around with. It works, conceptually, however and I suppose that is what counts.

All in all, the adaptation tries hard but fails to deliver. 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


CrabStiX said...

Blooferlady? Would that be Bloo- for Blood? Loofer - for, ahem, loofer? And lady...? Well, you probably get my point!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Crabstix. Blooferlady is a term/concept from the novel.

When Lucy returns as a vampire she preys on children and, being weak, they survive. They tell of being with a beautiful lady, but it is corrupted to Blooferlady.

Van Helsing notices, in a newspaper, the headline about the blooferlady and this confirms the return of Lucy.

The T said...

Good review as always! I've seen this film only once (have it on DVD as all the rest hahaha) and I was unimpressed with Dracula. The actor doesn't look the part.

But for a modern-setting Dracula, it's more accurate than I expected it.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers, The T