Picks and Pans Review: Bram Stoker's Dracula
This is the prettiest, most lavish, most pompous of the movies based on Stoker's 1897 vampire novel. It is not, however, the scariest, or the most fun, by far.
Director Francis Ford Coppola has said he wanted to make a Dracula displaying more fealty to Stoker's prosaic novel. So he starts out with a sober prologue about the 15th-century Romanian nobleman Vlad Tepes, who inspired Stoker's Dracula. (He wasn't a vampire, though he did earn the nickname Vlad the Impaler for his favorite method of disposing of foes.) The rest of the film, often dimly lit and confusing, tracks Dracula as a contemporary Transylvanian nobleman buying property in and around London.
Oldman plays Dracula without an accent, certainly nothing like the Hungarian-inflected English Bela Lugosi used in the definitive 1931 Dracula. He also doesn't approach Lugosi's wit. Compare their readings of the line "I never drink...wine."
Reeves, playing Jonathan Harker, the London lawyer who represents Dracula, is so limited and stamped with his Bill & Ted roles you can practically hear him saying, "Most excellent fangs. Drac dude."
Ryder, another wholly American performer, never seems convincing as Mina Murray, Harker's fiancée and Dracula's dream girl, ostentatiously pronouncing "vast" as "VAHst."
Coppola compounds the problems by casting mustachioed look-alikes Elwes as the fiancé of Ryder's best friend; Bill Campbell as Elwes's American buddy; and Richard Grant as Dr. Seward, who treats Lucy and Mina for vampire-caused illnesses once Dracula hits London. Hopkins, overacting intensely, is the vampire hunter, Prof. Van Helsing.
Through all this the most notable character is Renfield, Harker's predecessor as Dracula's real estate contact, who got turned into a slavish apprentice vampire with such a craving for blood he eats raw insects and rodents. Singer Tom Waits plays Renfield in upstaging fashion (though it's not his fault screenwriter James Hart devotes so much attention to Renfield).
Coppola doesn't exploit modern special effects, other than a scene showing Dracula climbing spiderlike on the walls of his castle. The fights, all crucifix-brandishing and stake-pounding. are run-of-the-haunted-house stuff—when there's enough light to see what's going on. (R)