Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Review: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins

In 1992, Francis Ford Coppola directed a movie called Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That seems like a winning formula, doesn’t it? The director of classic movies like the Godfather and the Godfather II making a new movie based off a legendary horror classic. What could go wrong?

…Well, I’ll tell you.

The movie begins with a hokey narration spoken in just about the silliest English accent you could possibly imagine. I mean it; it’s like they hired a narrator from the Monty Python team to do it. It’s just so unfitting of the serious material that it’s unbelievable. And speaking of Monty Python, the montage of battle scenes that follows isn’t much more believable. It just looks so fake. It’s just silly, and that’s not how I want to start off a film adaptation of an all time literary classic.

Then we get a sob story that details why Dracula is a sympathetic villain. Apparently some guy shot a fake notification of Dracula’s death in battle into the castle by arrow. His fiancée apparently just straight up believes that Dracula really did die, and then she kills herself instantly, after writing a suicide note. Uh...so she didn't ask QUESTIONS or anything? She didn't even ask anyone else and confirm that he was really dead? She just believed a piece of paper shot through a window and decided that she had to KILL HERSELF because of it? Well, I guess Darwinian natural selection wins again. Dracula of course is not really dead, and flies into a rage after a priest tells him that his fiancée's soul is damned for eternity because she killed herself. He drinks blood, saying that he will become immortal and avenge her death!

…Dracula is a pretty extreme guy. His highs are high and his lows are low.

No, seriously, where was any of this in the original book? If you’re going to title a movie ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula,’ at least try to keep it close to the source material. You could at least attempt to build up the same kind of suspicion and fright that the original novel did. But nope, this movie just throws it all out the window and spoils the villain for us right at the start. That’s wonderful. Just wonderful, movie.

But if you think that was a treat, just wait until the movie introduces us to Jonathon Harker, the main character, played by the only guy to ever be out-acted by an actual brick, Keanu Reeves. Who is probably the very last person I would ever have picked to be in a Dracula movie. Seriously, he's basically just doing Bill and Ted in this movie again - the lost sequel, Bill and Ted's Blood Sucking Fun Time; he's just about as silly in this role. Luckily they barely give him any lines anyway. His girlfriend Mina (Winona Ryder) is sad because he’s leaving. But it's OK, honey, just get the Keanu Reeves life-size cardboard cutout. You won't even notice the difference!

So the next ten minutes play out like the novel: he travels up a dark, strange mountain pathway to meet the mysterious Count Dracula and sell him real estate in the city, going through many odd things in the process. But it’s all out the window when you see…

I think that thing is eating his head.

Oh, god dammit, movie. God dammit. Really? This is what you’re making Dracula look like now? I think the real question is how Gary Oldman’s career survived this streak of lame 90s movies. I think there must have been some kind of personal vendetta against the guy in the agent industry. It’s practically reaching levels that look like a conspiracy theory. He does a good job, sure, but how convincing can you possibly be when you look like that?! It’s ridiculous! How could anyone have thought that was a good costume? He looks like he has a nest of spiders in his hair.

So he engages in all manner of scenery-chewing with Keanu Reeves, who mostly just sits there with a blank look on his face the entire time. Get used to that look, people. It’s going to be on his face for the whole goddamn movie. I especially love this one scene where we get this fade-out as he’s looking around him after Dracula invites him to stay for a while longer. He just looks so clueless that it’s absolutely hilarious. Every look he has in this entire movie makes me wonder if he even knew he was in a movie. Like they just filmed him while he was eating Cheerios or watching Lost and then edited everything else in around him. "Hey guys, can you move the camera so I can see the end of this episode?"

Come to think of it, that would explain a lot of the editing in this movie, too.

We then establish the characters of Mina, who is the quiet girl who just wants one guy alone, and her best friend Lucy, who is the total opposite and loves flirting with lots of men at the same time. She has three guys trying to court her all at the same time – kind of like a roulette of guys to pick and drain of their souls. But we all know her true passion:

...well, we all need to get off somehow, I guess.

Meanwhile, Keanu Reeves is getting his own wild sex fantasy fulfilled as we see him drawn mysteriously to a bed where three vampiric succubi rise up out of the cloth and start seducing him, biting at him and trying to suck his blood. They’re stopped by Dracula, who pulls them away only to…let them have him later on when he needs to keep him bound. As for Dracula, he’s off to seduce Mina, who apparently looks exactly like his old wife who killed herself all those years ago. This is where the movie really starts to lose me and become too stylized for its own good. I mean it is seriously like a drunk, half-asleep David Lynch took over the director’s chair and started doing acid, or something. There are so many constantly overlapping images fading in and out and so many zoom shots where the camera runs up to whatever it wants to focus on that it’s like a roller coaster. Yes, this movie is just a big roller coaster ride, one big old advertisement for the Universal Studios tie-in. Can’t you idiots tell a story correctly?!

It just keeps going on like this. For like 20 minutes all we get are montages and overlapping images and pretentiously goofy camera shots, winding themselves up so tight that they’ll make you lose your lunch. At first, like with the succubi scene, it’s entertaining, and adds to the dark and mystical atmosphere. But after a few minutes of nothing but these kinds of scenes, it just becomes tiresome, and lame. Really lame.

So eventually, after much deliberation, they FINALLY get their heads out of their anuses and start trying to tell the story right. Alright, yeah. This is good. You’re back on track, movie. Now just get back to telling the story of how Dracula crept his way into the unsuspecting lives of…

The prince of darkness, people!

Fuck you, movie. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on. This sympathetic Dracula crap has got to stop. Right now! It’s one thing to have it done subtly in a way, to make it sort of an undercurrent…but when you actually shove it in our faces that this cold-blooded killer is actually just a poor little hopeless romantic who got his love taken away from him, you’re crossing a line that you can’t step back over. This isn’t just ‘Dracula,’ it’s BRAM STOKER’S Dracula, people! That should indicate that it’s at least mostly true to the source material! This is like the complete opposite of that! Dracula is a cold-blooded, heartless monster. He may have had a shred or two of humanity a long time ago, and he may have certain traits to him that inspire some degree of sympathy, but for the most part, he’s just the embodiment of evil. To treat him like this forlorn romantic dark hero makes the good guys look irrational and even downright crazy when Van Helsing starts raving about how he’s the devil. That could possibly make for an interesting psychological twist in a better movie, but in this movie, they mostly spend too much time on the special effects for any effort to be put into anything else.

Oh, yeah, Lucy died! That…was hardly even noticeable with all the special effects masturbation going on! I’m so glad we got to get to know her character in this movie…oh, wait, she comes back as this:

"I'm ready for my close up!"
By this point, it's clear to the characters that they need to do something drastic. Van Helsing tells them about the history of vampires, informing them of all the usual cliches: they live forever, they can turn into bats and wolves and other creatures of the night and they need blood to survive. Pfft, don't listen to this amateur. You need Edgar Frog to come to the rescue! TRULY COMIC BOOKS ARE THE ONLY WAY TO KNOW ABOUT VAMPIRES!

Yeah, I think it pretty much shot its load with that succubi scene, no pun intended. The rest of the movie just can’t hold up. There are some good scenes here and there and the final climax does have a few alright moments, but for the most part, it’s just really overdramatic tripe fronted by a really overt missing of the point of the whole thing (you know, the sympathetic Dracula angle). And it just kind of…ends, no real resolution whatsoever besides Mina getting released from Dracula’s spell.

Oh, whatever, I’ll accept any crap you throw at me as long as I never have to watch this again. My guess is the only reason this was popular was because of all the big stars in it; nothing else. Nobody would have ever noticed this movie had it not been basically a vehicle for these big names. This movie is just a mess all around. The directing is all over the place and the whole thing has about as much flow as one of those pasted-together ransom notes from twelve different magazines; it’s just so un-entertaining that it’s unbelievable. I mean it’s Dracula for Pete’s sake; the job of writing the damn story is already done for you. Added to the silly costume designs, unconvincing acting and all around weak transitions between scenes and you have a bona fide crap festival of a film. Just buy your ticket, swallow your dignity and strap your seatbelts, because this is two hours of showboating how cool Francis Ford Coppola thinks he is. I spit on this movie.