Dracula: I, who served the Cross. I, who commanded nations, hundreds of years before you were born.
Professor Abraham Van Helsing: Your armies were defeated. You tortured and impaled thousands of people.
Dracula: I was betrayed. Look at what your God has done to me!
Oh, what a beautiful mess this movie is!
Prior to the release of this film, Francis Ford Coppola promised that this would be the most faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel ever brought to screen, and while there are some glaring deviations in the story, he was right. But that doesn't change the fact that after the 2 hours and 8 minute runtime is up, you'll be stunned by what you saw, and that's not entirely a good thing. Frankly, this movie is all over the map in terms of quality and content, so much so that I am of two minds when I watch it: The Film Geek and the B-Movie Freak. As such, I will give each their time in the following review:
TFG: Beautifully shot with set pieces designed specifically to be evocative of both stage and early theatrical productions, Coppola's film has a real old-world style feel to it that perfectly sets its operatic tone early on. With the energetic opening that ties Bram Stoker's tale to the historical Vlad Tepes, even minutes into the film, you know you are not going to be seeing your average Dracula movie.
BMF: Impalements! Blood-fountain Crucifixes! Bad-ass anger management issues! ROCK! Winona's kinda hot too.
TFG: Shifting now into the familiar territory of the book, it is here that the film shines... and starts to show its many flaws. Gary Oldman's campy turn as a deranged Dracula, tormented by memories of his past, yet still all-together evil deservedly launched his career into the forefront of Hollywood. On the flip-side, Keanu Reeves casting as Jonathan Harker solidified opinions of just about everyone to his limitations as an actor.
However, the true stars of the overall show, the production design and cinematography, keep you rolling along, even as the movie is about to drastically change its tone yet again.
BMF: Oldman rocks, Keanu's hilariously bad, and there are BOOBS. Add to that some nifty shadow effects and cool spider-man action. This movie is just plain awesome.
TFG: It's here that the movie begins to crumble under the weight of its own pretentiousness. With a shoe-horned romance that only just barely manages to be better than the one shoved into Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (the new standard low from here to eternity), intermixed with a surreal whirlwind of images pulling together the disparate threads of Stoker's dense novel, it's hard to make sense of what exactly is going on if you haven't already read the book. But it's beautiful to look at, so we'll give it a pass, but it's still hard to deal with the sudden shifts from supernatural romance to violence for little-to-no reason.
BMF: Hey look, he's all young and pretty again...err...why, exactly? Yawn, can we get past these courtship scenes with Wino-oh SHIT! What the fuck is that cool freakin' Wolfman-thing doing with that lady on the-oh-oooo-ok, that can't be legal! oh, and BOOBS!
TFG: As the film progresses, the bits of story are becoming more and more disjointed. Anthony Hopkins appears as Van Helsing, but his portrayal won't win him any awards. Tom Waits has an impressive turn as Renfield, and we are treated to some truly impressive effects, but the script is unraveling. The score by Wojciech Kilar however, is impressive enough to become a staple in theatrical trailers for the next 15 years.
BMF: BOOBS! BlOOD! Batman? This film is awesome! It's got comedy, gore, and sex! Lots of sex. I mean, wow. By this time we're all cackling along at some very weird happenings on the screen. Oh, and could somebody explain to the rest of us why Van Helsing is teleporting around like Nightcrawler from X-Men 2 and...oh, who cares. This. is. AWESOME.
As you can see, this movie gets bogged down by it's own pretension and some laughably bad performances by most its leads (Oldman and Waits being the distinct exceptions). But the sumptuous visuals, music, and that same B-movie acting manage to make this a worthy addition to any Cavalcade event.