Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bram Stoker's Dracula

(1992) *

Man did I hate this movie. This is one that I've caught a few scenes of here and there over the years, and it always looked like something I wouldn't like, but with Horrorthon in gear, and having just watched the Lugosi Dracula, I figured maybe I just never gave it a chance. Crap, was that not the case.

Winona Ryder is the female the lead, putting on a British accent, which is laughable and pathetic, but it gets worse. Keanu Reeves is the male lead, also putting on a British accent. All of a sudden, Ryder isn't looking too bad. Man. Their first scene together is a textbook case of bad acting and non-existent chemistry.

And then midway through, Anthony Hopkins shows up as Van Helsing, using what I eventually realized was supposed to be a German accent. Keanu and Winona's suckitude is to be expected, so there's some level of forgiveness there. But Hopkins is Mr. Wilcox. Hopkins is Mr. Stevens. Hopkins is Hannibal, for chrissakes. Alas, this role reminded me that Hopkins is also the stroke victim embarrassment in Legends of the Fall. I guess they say that good acting is being fearless and just “going for it" even at the risk of looking really foolish. Well Hopkins dives full on into scene chewing fool role here. He's also wearing a horrible blond wing, I guess to make him look younger so that when he makes out with Ryder late in the movie, we're not supposed to be thinking, “Ewwww.” But we do anyway.

I also wasn't crazy about the overwrought pre-Raphaelite set and costumes. I'll admit, I get annoyed when I feel like a movie becomes more about how it “looks” than what it “is.” And there's never been a better example than this superficially pretty mess. Similarly, Coppola employs what I'd call MTV-style camerawork and editing, another huge pet peeve of mine. There's all these quick cuts, imagistic interludes, cheesy fades, and arbitrarily disorienting shot angles with, say, floating heads in the background, maybe in soft focus. Combine all this and whole movie felt like mere color and noise.

Another distraction is what I perceived as attempts at lots of lame symbolism. I hate shit like: “Ohhh...her dress is red now!” There's a lot of that in this movie. I suppose I dislike symbolism because it's basically shorthand, and I want the artist to invest some time and sweat in getting me to where she wants me to go. Plus, plain old metaphor is almost always more interesting.

And finally, I just wasn't crazy about the script. This almost gets lost in the confusion onscreen, but a few deadpan Keanu deliveries is enough to highlight the cliched stupidity. Mostly, it's romantic melodrama, a lot of which is in voice-over mode, whether as diary entries or love letters. But there's also just horribly written attempts at character development and exposition. Hopkins delivering the stuff on “vam-PYERS!” is hysterically bad. It brought to mind the kid near the end of the Buffy run doing the same, but that was good funny. Now it occurs to me that he was specifically mocking Hopkins!

So why even the one star? Two main reasons. Gary Oldman does do some fun stuff with the Dracula character. He's the only one in the whole movie with anything to work with, unfortunately, but also his hamming is more pointed and effective than the others'. And finally, there's definitely something sexy here, and it's not just all the boobs and see-through lacy clothing. Well...


Octopunk said...

I refreshed my screen, saw it was this movie reviewed by Landshark, grit my teeth and scrolled down...

Yes! One star! "I hated this movie." Yes, yes, and yes again.

The biggest travesty is that it's called "Bram Stoker's Dracula" when it departs from the novel so much. This departure comes in certain plot elements (the whole Winona is his reincarnated queen thing is tacked on, for instance), but more severely in spirit.

Maybe, maybe there's a good way to tell this story while bringing the sexual subtext to the fore, but this isn't it. The sexualization of the whole vampire thing has nothing to do with this novel, in my opinion. But more than that, it takes stupid "playing against the text" cheap shots, like Seward doing opium and lusting after Lucy, or Van Helsing's "funny" delivery when he says they'll have to chop off Lucy's head.

I saw this in the theater and thought "forgettable, but some interesting stuff with colors." I saw it a few years later because I had just reread the novel and looooathed it. I realized I never wanted the stiff, forthright nature of the good guys in the novel turned on its head; I liked it the way it was.

Princess Right-Chuss said...

I hated this movie as well. I never thought you could make the Dracula story boring...but Keanu & Winona nailed it. Bravo!

Landshark said...

Exactly, re: the novel, octo. I'm usually enthusiastic about directors taking liberties with novels, but if you're going to title your movie with the author's name in bright lights, then there should at least be some attempt to capture the spirit of the text, if nothing else.

JPX said...

I'm so relieved because I hated it too but I've always been afraid to acknowledge this in mixed company due to a fear that I'd be accused of being an idiot. Excellent review (since I agree with it)!

The only Dracula film I ever really liked was the 1932 version.

Trevor (Tami's friend) said...

My brother saw this movie 7 times in the theater, and thought it was the greatest movie ever. He would later get in fights with my mother about how often he watched it once he owned a copy on video. This was one of the major turning points in life when I noticed my brother was getting really weird. This movie sucked and - get this - it is actually a total rip off of a 1970s made-for-TV version of Dracula starring Jack Palance. If you've seen it, you'll know what I mean - they rip off the same "MIna is my reincarnated love" thing that this version uses as the main plot. Seriously, Francis Ford Coppola, ripping off 1970s made for tv. Crazy.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

Yesssss. Give in to your hatred, Landshark.. That was one well-deserved thorough thrashing!