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Bram Stoker's Dracula: Criterion Collection




Reviewer: Dave
Review Date: July 19, 2001

Released by: Criterion | Columbia Tri-Star
Release date: June 23, 1993
MSRP $124.95 (OOP)
NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: N/A



It's time once again for a laserdisc review here at Horrordvds.com. Just to remind everyone that laserdisc will indeed live forever and to give them actual proof why. Criterion laserdiscs in particular have a special place in laserdisc collectors libraries. Good or bad, Criterion has refused to license out their LD supplements to be included with DVD releases. The few DVDs that have past Criterion LD supplements have been released by Criterion themselves (e.g. Chasing Amy, The Blob, The Rock). As for the 2-disc Boogie Nights DVD, the director owned most of those supplements, not Criterion (there were a few supplements that didn't make it onto the DVD because Criterion owned them).

Sadly, the DVD release of Bram Stoker's Dracula is definitely lacking in the extras department. Rumors, both official and unofficial, have flown about for years that Columbia is working on a special edition (more on that later), but at the current moment there's one DVD and it's bare bones. So, instead of reviewing that, we're taking a look at the Criterion special edition LD of Bram Stoker's Dracula. What's most amazing about this Criterion laserdisc is when it was released - 1993, a time when DVD had yet to exist - and that it's packed with some great extras, that even today rivals many DVD special editions.

The Story

inline Image The year is 1462. A great force of Muslim Turks at war with Europe ride into Romania. A Transylvanian knight, Prince Vlad Dracula (Gary Oldman), is preparing to lead a battle against the Turks. The night prior to the battle, Vlad bids farewell to his beloved bride, Elisabeta (Winona Ryder). Elisabeta knows that Vlad is going up against an insurmountable force and may never return. Vlad is successful in defeating the Turks, however. He returns to his castle only to discover that Elisabeta has killed herself after receiving a false note - sent by the vengeful Turks - indicating that Vlad has died in battle. Vlad, learning that Elisabeta's soul is now damned by God's law for killing herself, goes into an outrage and renounces God. He promises to rise from the grave, immortal, with all the powers of darkness to avenge her. Thus the immortal Dracula is born.

inline Image 1897, four centuries later in London, England, Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves), a young real estate agent, learns he must take over a foreign client - Count Dracula - that was being handled by a co-worker named R.M. Renfield (Tom Waits). Renfield had some "personal problems" while handling the Dracula account and "lost his mind". Jonathan informs Mina (Winona Ryder), his bride-to-be, of the journey he must take. She's upset, but agrees they can wait to be married. Jonathan sets off on his journey. While he is gone, Mina stays with her rich best friend, Lucy (Sadie Frost).

inline Image Jonathan arrives in Transylvania and is taken to the castle after meeting a mysterious coachman at Borgo Pass. He arrives at the castle and is greeted by Count Dracula himself, who appears rather old and decrepit. After the business transaction is complete, Dracula insists Jonathan stay for a month so that Dracula can better learn the English customs. Shortly after, strange occurences begin to take place at the castle, starting with Jonathan being unable to see Dracula's reflection in his shaving mirror, followed by Jonathan witnessing Dracula climb down the castle wall like a spider. Things quickly turn from strange to deadly. Realizing he is now a prisoner of Dracula, Jonathan begins exploring remote areas of the castle, where he's nearly killed by a group of blood thirty female vampires. As days pass and obvious travel preparations are being made for Dracula, Jonathan realizes Deregulates plan - to travel to London and find Mina, who Dracula believes is a reincarnation of his beloved Elisabeta.

inline Image Dracula arrives in London, rejuvenated physically and now looking like a young man. Lucy becomes his first victim; she manages to survive, but is violently ill. Lucy's friend Dr. Jack Seward (Richard E. Grant) is called in to diagnose her, along with friend Quincey P. Morris (Bill Campbell), and fiancee Lord Arthur Holmwood (Cary Elwes). Jack is at a loss as to what's wrong with Lucy; he calls in friend and mentor Prof Abraham Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) for assistance. At once Van Helsing recognizes the mark of the vampire and realizes the grave danger they are all in. Van Helsing leads the group of men on a quest to destroy Dracula before he can reach his true target - Mina - and make her his undead bride forever.

inline Image Written in 1897 by Bram Stoker, Dracula is easily the greatest horror books ever written. Not only has it spawned a countless number of movies based on the story, but the book itself has frightened and entertained horror readers worldwide for over a century. It's impossible for any movie to live up to the level of greatness achieved by the book. The book is too engrossing, too horrific, and has too much character development and depth to it - all good things as any active reader knows. Fortunately for movie-goers, Bram Stoker's Dracula is, without a doubt, the best film adaptation of Dracula ever created. Now, don't get me wrong, the book is ten times better and the movie certainly isn't an exact retelling of the book. However, as a person that has read Dracula at least a dozen times and has seen dozens of movies based on the story, I can confidently say that Bram Stoker's Dracula is the closest and greatest film adaptation to Bram Stoker's classic book.

inline Image The story itself, does it even need to be discussed? It is such a classic, and is known by so many, I truly have to wonder if a civilized person exists that isn't familiar with it to some degree. It has love, adventure, gore, vampires, wolves, pity, thrills, suspense, and, perhaps most importantly, the greatest villan of all time - Count Dracula. A villan that many love to love, and hate to hate. Are you one of the ones that root for him? Or hate him? You get to know each and every character, especially in the book, that you feel as if you know each one in real life. This certainly helps one become engulfed by the book.

inline Image The film has its flaws. As mentioned earlier, it's not an exact retelling of the book. There are things added and things removed. I'm especially disappointed by the lack of character development when compared to the book. Renfield, especially, gets shafted in the film. Lucy's story is a bit shorter too. But as with any film adaptation of a book, it must find the right balance to stay as true to the book as possible without having a 6 hour running time, which is the minimum needed to attempt a complete and accurate retelling of the book. Bram Stoker's Dracula has an excellent balance; while many reviews complain that it's still too long and has many unnecessary scenes, making it hard to follow and stay focused, I think many any fan of the book will disagree entirely.

inline Image Another reason the film works so well is that it's blessed with wonderful actors - minus Keanu Reeves, who should stick to his "Whoas" and not try to fill the shoes of Jonathan Harker. There are also beautiful sets and costumes, a fantastic score, and the best effects ever seen in a Dracula movie. It's easy to see why the film won three oscars - Best Costume Design, Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing, and Best Makeup. Visually the film is stunning, often filled with shapes, images, and shadows in the background that help make viewers aware of Dracula's power and presence.

inline Image Forget Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi, Gary Oldman easily gives the best portrayal of Dracula in cinematic history. He's an incredible actor and was no doubt born to play this role. Lee, while a wonderful actor, never fit the Dracula role for me. I always found him a bit too old and he's just not what I envisioned for Count Dracula. Lugosi doesn't even begin to come close to portraying the Count Dracula from the book. No, I'd have to say both visually and in terms of living up to the book's character, Oldman gets the Dracula crown by a landslide. While that particular finding many generate some disagreement, I have no doubt that everyone can agree Anthony Hopkins and Winona Ryder are perfect as Van Helsing and Mina Murray. They're two of the greatest modern day actors, and each plays their roll to perfection in the film.

Clearly I love the book, and clearly my judgement for any film or actor is based on comparison to the book. This certainly won't be the case for everyone, but it's the case for me, and it's why I found Bram Stoker's Dracula so enjoyable. I recommend this film, a modern day classic, to everyone. I strongly recommend reading the book as well. I'm scoring the film with an A, though I'd like to point out it would have been an A+ if it weren't for Keanu "Whoa" Reeve.

Image Quality

inline Image Criterion presents Bram Stoker's Dracula in a letterboxed transfer in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The image is a bit soft and lacking in detail, but for a 1993 laserdisc I can't help but me impressed with the overall presentation. The colors are good quite good, though in many scenes reds appear harsh and oversaturated. Flesh tones appear accurate throughout the film. Light grain is present in a few scenes, but overall the image is grain free. There are some minor blemishes - minor specks of dirt appearing here and there - but it's minimal. Some white specks occasionally appear well. Rating the image with a B-.

Sound

Bram Stoker's Dracula is presented in Dolby Surround sound. Laserdisc has long been touted as having the most superior sound quality, even surpassing DVD. The track found on this laserdisc is certainly proof of that. The sound is amazing for a Dolby Surround track. Decent activity from surrounds; overall a strong, powerful track. No problems at all found here.

Supplemental Material

inline Image First up is a commentary track by director Francis Coppola, special effects supervisor Roman Coppola, and makeup supervisor Greg Cannom. Each person comments separately from one another and it's obvious they each recorded their tracks separately. The commentary is informative and filled with interesting information about the technical aspects of the film, with a big focus on special effects. I enjoyed hearing about how many of the special effects were done; it was surprising to learn how many of the special effects were done in the same manner you'd see in a low budget horror film. Francis discusses each of the actors, how and why they were chosen, and also talks a great deal about how his version of Dracula overall remains faithful to the novel. I appreciated him discussing some of the aspects of the novel he didn't really focus on and his reasons why, though I don't necessarily agree with him. If there's one complaint I have about the commentary, it's that it remains fairly dry and impersonal. That's a minor complaint, however, and I have no doubt fans will enjoy all of the information learned from it.

A brief section titled "The Dracula Legend" explains the origins of the vampire, which actually dates back to an 1813 poem titled The Giaour - the poem is included in the section. "The Dracula Legend" also contains information about Bram Stoker and how his novel Dracula remains the most popular vampire tale today. Lastly, "The Dracula Legend" tells how Bram Stoker's widow, Florence Stoker, battled to have all copies of the 1922 film Nosferatu destroyed because it clearly used her husband's story without paying any sort of royalties. Obviously it was a battle she lost, since Nosferatu remains popular even today. Scenes from Nosferatu are also included.

Next is a teaser trailer, followed by a Cinefex article, revised for presentation on the laserdisc, from 1993 that explains how Francis and his son Roman decided to use old-style effects on the film and how many of those effects were done. This article is quite extensive and gives an amazing amount of detail on the effects.

Next up is a section titled "Artistic Influences" that contains reproductions of paintings and excerpts from film the makers of Bram Staker's Dracula drew influence from. The films are Nosferatu and Beauty and the Beast. Scenes from each are shown and then the influenced scene from Bram Stoker's Dracula is shown. Quite interesting to watch.


inline Image inline Image inline Image inline Image


The remaining sections, which are equally as extensive, consist of still frame analysis and discussion of costume design, story boards, editing Dracula - including an editing workshop that gives a hands on tutorial of how a feature-length film is edited.

And finally, there is a behind-the-scenes look at Dracula which consists of excerpts from a 30-minute documentary produced by HBO. It's full of behind-the-scenes shots with the cast and crew, as well as interviews. It's quite good overall, and leaves you wishing the entire documentary was presented. It's on the last side, and it's clear they cut it down - I'd say by about two-thirds - to avoid making this a 4-disc set. As a side note, the entire documentary is included on the movie-only laserdisc release of Bram Stoker's Dracula (released by Columbia Tri-Star, not Criterion).

Final Thoughts

Without a doubt the best Dracula movie ever created, boasting fine actors, beautiful sets and costume design, and great makeup effects. I strongly recommend the film, just make sure you read the classic book as well. This Criterion laserdisc originally sold for $125, but can today often be found today selling on Ebay for less than $50. If you have a laserdisc player, then by all means buy this disc. If you don't have a laserdisc player, go out and buy one, then buy this disc. Think about it - in 1993 this wonderful special edition laserdisc was produced for thousands to enjoy, 4 or 5 years before DVD even existed.

I have no doubt Columbia Tri-Star will be releasing a special edition DVD of Bram Stoker's Dracula in the near future. Besides the unofficial rumors that have been floating about regarding an SE DVD, Columbia themselves have advertised a special edition DVD as "coming soon" in some of their past catalogs (obviously it's been delayed for whatever reasons since this was years ago now). I myself have contacted Columbia to try and gain some more information, but they're response is basically "no comment right now". Regardless, chances are the DVD release is not going to contain all of the extras on this superb Criterion laserdisc. Definitely pick this one up.

Rating

Movie - A
Image Quality - B-
Sound - A-
Supplements - A-

Technical Info.
  • Running Time - 2 hours 7 minutes
  • Color
  • Rated R
  • 3 Discs, 6 Sides | All CAV
  • 75 Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Surround

Supplements
  • Running Time - 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Color
  • Rated R
  • 2 Discs, 4 Sides | Sides 2, 3, and 4 CAV
  • Movie - 71 Chapter Stops | Supplements - 44 Chapter Stops
  • English Mono

Supplements
  • Audio commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola, co-producer James V. Hart and actor Roman Coppola
  • Interactive "hands on" editing workshop
  • Separate presentation of complete music and effects track featuring Academy Award-winning sound-effects editing
  • Extensive still frame section containing behind the scenes photos, production stories, original story boards, special effects analysis, costume design analysis, and more
  • Video documentary on Dracula's production
  • Original theatrical trailer

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