Francis Ford Coppola’s re-imagining of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is grandiose in its ambitions and operatic in its execution. This sumptuous production boasts exquisite art design, photography, and theatrical techniques not employed in studio films for over forty years. This is undoubtably the strongest, most intelligent, erotic, and genuinely creepy adaptation of Stoker’s character to ever emerge from Hollywood. Unfortunately, it’s also a mess of narrative in-cohesiveness and flat at dull at times. Leaving the viewer to ponder how far off track Coppola’s tale becomes before derailing with an unsatisfying conclusion.
In 1897, Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is summoned to the Transylvanian mountainside estate of Count Dracula. Harker is to take on the client from his colleague R. M. Renfield (Tom Waits), who has gone insane. Jonathan travels to Transylvania to arrange Dracula’s real estate acquisition in London, including Carfax Abbey. Jonathan meets Dracula (Gary Oldman), who discovers a picture of Harker’s fiancée, Mina (Wynona Rider), and believes that she is the reincarnation of Elisabeth, his long-lost love. Dracula leaves Jonathan to be seduced by his brides and sails to England with boxes of his native soil, taking up residence at Carfax Abbey. In London, Dracula appearing young and handsome during daylight, meets and charms Mina. When Mina receives word from Jonathan, who has escaped the castle and recovered at a convent, she travels to Romania to marry him. In his fury, Dracula transforms Lucy (Sadie Frost), her best friend, into a vampire. The men: Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins), Holmwood, Seward and Morris kill the murderous Lucy.
After returning to London, Jonathan and Van Helsing lead the others to Carfax Abbey, where they destroy the Count’s boxes of soil. Dracula confesses that he murdered Lucy and has been terrorizing Mina’s friends, but a confused and angry Mina admits that she still loves him and remembers her previous life as Elisabeth. At her insistence, Dracula begins transforming her into a vampire. The men are now determined to save her before her transformation is complete by killing Dracula.
Stunning attention to detail in every department makes this a pleasure to simply look at. But the story-line wobbles and the cast is frequently allowed to overact as wildly as Coppola over-stages his sequences, but it’s all done with such skill and care that you appreciate the effort and intellect that went into the damn thing. Coppola’s take on the Bram Stoker legend is a picture to respect and at times admire, but it’s a frustrating and uneven picture with gaping flaws.
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder