Let’s face it, sci-fi and fantasy are not themes you often associate with period dramas. The first is stereotypically watched by teenage boys and balding computer geeks, while the former is followed by women who want to escape to a world full of Darcys, Rochesters and Thorntons. Now I may not be a teenage boy (or a balding man for that matter), but I am a self-confessed sci-fi nerd, and there is nothing I love better than when my two favourite genres combine. For that reason, I thought it only fair that I cover a fantasy drama this week. And with the current obsession (or should I say infestation) of vampire related material on the TV, the big screen or in books, I have decided to go back to the beginning and look at where it all started from, with Francis Ford Capolla’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula” (1992).
The film starts in the in the middle of the 1400s and shows the famous Romanian knight, Vlad Dracul (based on the real life Vlad the Impaler), doing what he was best at, i.e: killing and impaling. Upon his victorious return, Vlad (Gary Oldman) discovers that his love, Elisabeta (Winona Ryder), has committed suicide after falsely hearing of his death. Upon hearing that Elisabeta will be damned for taking her own life, Vlad dramatically renounces his faith and turns away from God.
The film then cuts to the late 1890’s and follows the lives of 6 young English characters; law clerk Jonathon Harker (Keanu Reeves), his fiancée Mina Murray (also acted by Winona Ryder), her flirtatious friend Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost) and Lucy’s three suitors Sir Arthur Holmwood (Cary Elwes), Quincey P. Morris (Billy Campbell) and Dr. John Seward (Richard E. Grant). After travelling to Transylvania, Jonathon comes face to face with the Count Dracula (the undead, but much aged Vlad) and helps him with the purchase of properties in the heart of London. Unwittingly, Jonathon shows Dracula a picture of his fiancée, Mina, who Dracula believes is the reincarnation of Elisabeta. Dracula then relocates to England where he terrorises Mina’s friend Lucy while in the form of a beast, and seduces Mina while in the form of a handsome young prince. When Lucy appears to be dying, her three suitors along with the help of Harker and the legendary Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) set out to destroy the creature that has haunted her.
The first time I sat down to watch this film was when I was 17 and it was the prize and glory of my then boyfriend’s movie collection. This was 2 years BCTE (or “Before Common Twilight Era”), and Meyer’s friendly, saint-like, virginal vampires were a thing unheard of. At the time, I really didn’t see the appeal, and only got through the first 20 minutes of the movie. Re-watching it now, I can appreciate it for the cult classic that it is. This film represents vampires as how they were intended. The film is dark, sinister, scary and very sex driven. Capolla clearly had a male audience in mind when he made this film. The film is filled with gratuitous breast shots and girl on girl kissing scenes. Lucy’s already wanton behaviour is only amplified when she begins to “turn” into a vampire herself.
With that aside, Capolla has actually made this adaptation into a more intense love story than the original novel. The screenplay alters from the book in that Stoker never intended for Mina Murray to be the reincarnated Elisabeta. The original novel sees the Count move to England for dietary requirements, i.e: there were move people to feed from in London. While that was Dracula’s original motivation in this adaptation, his interests change after he saw the photo of Mina. He becomes obsessed with being reunited with his lost love, though he is hesitant to “turn” her and damn her to such a life. In the novel, Dracula attempts to “turn” Mina purely to seek revenge on Harker. Although it alters dramatically from the original, I actually find that a saving grace for the film. The intense love that Dracula has for Elisabeta/Mina gave the film some sincerity and integrity that would have otherwise been lacking. This adaptation shows a Dracula with an emotional heart, not just one that can be staked. While there have been many Dracula adaptations, and with Hollywood’s current obsession, it is safe to say that there will be many more to come, I believe it will take a while before one become as popular as this cult classic.
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins and Winona Ryder
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 128 min
Em’s rating: 3/5
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