Sunday, January 4, 2009

Guest Blogger: John Kennedy: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Let's imagine you have the following at your disposal:

* A story that's not only over 100 years old, but one that has never
been more popular
* Francis Ford Coppola directing
* Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins starring
* Lots of exposed boobs

And wait! There's more! Keanu Reeves! Winona Ryder! The hero dude from The Princess Bride! And even an appearance by Thomas Dolby! Wait, no, I mean, Tom Waits! So, given all these wonderful components, do you think you could make a really bad movie? Well, it turns out that you probably could, because someone beat you to it, for in 1992, the film "Bram Stoker's Dracula" was released.

Having just read the novel, I was keen to watch this movie again: all I can remember from going to see it 16 years ago was that Gary Oldman had freaky hair, and someone sitting nearby in the theatre had both the strongest and very worst aftershave I've ever known, and that includes a really serious dose of eau de Fremont hippy. I think the aftershave may have caused me to blank out at some points, and as it was a really packed theatre, it seemed easier to fall unconscious than excuse myself past everyone else in my row (a similar set of circumstances kept me in the theatre when I foolishly went to see The 40-Year-Old Virgin, so I haven't learnt my lesson sadly).

Whoops. Back to the movie, and the scene is set when we get off to a truly awful start. Out the window goes the Bram Stoker part of the
novel, as we are introduced to a completely fake love story, followed
by some of the lamest sets and model trains I've seen outside 1950s
black-and-white Flash Gordon serials. Was this done on purpose? Let's be kind, and say "yes" and not wonder as to the reason.

But the horror! The horror! Keanu Reeves tries an English accent,
resulting in perhaps the worst assassination of human speech since
Dick Van Dyke starred in Mary Poppins. Imagine a cockney "I know Kung-Fu", and you'll understand what I’m getting at...

After wishing I had blanked out, the story makes an attempt to get going, Now, at this point it’s worth admitting that perhaps the book is a little dry in places, and hints at certain behaviours rather than explicitly describing them, but the movie very kindly offers to fill in those gaps. As the book mentions, the doomed Lucy has three
suitors, so it's understandable she's more of a flirty red-headed
slapper that perhaps was permissible to publish in 1897 when the novel was written (yup, that's a long time ago).

In this story, she paid for her sluttiness, as a rather nasty Van
Anthony Hopkins points out - by becoming the Devil's Concubine no
less. Tough luck, Lucy. I do wonder if she absolutely needed to throw
up a bucket of blood on him as some kind of afterthought. The movie flirts with the novel. Some elements are directly lifted from the prose, word for word, but then at other times.. A werewolf? Dracula turns into a werewolf? I do have to say it was a nice touch cutting between the wedding of Jonathon and Mina, and Lucy's "death". And the glass coffin is some fantastic piece of prop work.

Yes, I admit, there are times I wish I liked the movie more. The
cinematography veers from comically gothic cliche to.. well.. the next
comically gothic cliche. Every other cut seems to be a dissolve that
meshes two scenes based on a common element. It's a nice effect, but because it happens every two minutes or so, it quickly becomes
tiresome. My favourite cut is when witless Jonathon Harker steps over the diagonal line of the doorway, which becomes a view from above of them walking through the hallway. If only the other cuts would have been so subtle. Yes, the way the Count’s shadow moves independently is.. ok.. and the gliding is nice.. and I understand it’s cheesy on purpose.. but.. you know.. it could have been better.

The one real highlight is Gary Oldman, who is clearly not in enough
movies. He is amazing in this role. Amazingly good or bad, it doesn't
matter, it's just amazing. His 'old count' is so creepy your skin will
crawl, and his 'young price' so cool and suave you'll forgive his drac-attack
bizarrely large forehead and blue glasses, and so-far-over-the-top-
it’s-round-the-other-side blubbing and sobbing. Dracula crying? Yes,
this is the single biggest change from the book, and completely alters everything.

When the Count moves to London and becomes the dashing young Prince, darn it all if he doesn’t seduce the hallowed Madam Mina.. And she goes for it! She falls in love, right there and then, after a visit to a early porn theatre (I’m not making that up), and poor Keanu Reeves is pushed to the sidelines (not a bad thing: what would you prefer? Eternal damnation as an Undead, or do to be stuck with Keanu 'Van Dyke' Reeves and his colour-changing hair?)

Apparently it was Winona Ryder herself who brought the script to
Coppola, but I think she did it just to have an excuse to snog Gary
Oldman - even if it meant completely rewriting the novel to make it
happen. Bram Stoker's Dracula? No. So many elements from the book are lifted, but it's as if it's all been first translated into Japanese by some online automatic translator, put into a blender, and then translated back into English. At one point Dracula even says "No Mina. I can't let this be.. I love you too much!" and at that point, we have tossed the Bram Stoker novel onto the fire.

Worth renting? Um.. Do you like bad movies? Do you enjoy having a
glass of wine and sharing a wince with a friend? Then, maybe so. The many changes completely change the original story - which is fine, as has there ever been a movie adaptation that remains faithful? - but while it's interesting what has been done, its still a mess. The
desperate attempt to make us pity the Count just aren’t enough, and in the end, even the Happy Ever After ending happens to an unexpected couple. The bit I find hardest to believe though, is that it won three Oscars.There must have been a lot of awful films that year.

JohnK

This review marks the maiden voyage for the monthly guest blogger entry.

For inaugural January, please welcome John Kennedy--a witty Irish bloke who will one day complete his memoir.

1 comment:

Michelle Thomas said...

Welcome John! Well done. Thanks for the chuckles!