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November 26, 2005

'Bram Stoker’s Dracula' Re-imagines a Classic

Today's Film Review courtesy of English-blog contributor Daniel M.

*Warning: Article may contain spoilers!

The Evolution of Dracula

Count Dracula has gone through many changes since the original publication by Bram Stoker in 1897. Dracula has been depicted in many different views in film and theater. He has gone from a hideous beast, to a suave gentleman, and then as a tired old man. In the 1931 film Dracula, and the 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula the vampire is portrayed in two very different ways. The differences and similarities in the two films are both minor and drastic. At the same time though, the films seem to get much of the same elements across . . .

. . . In the films Dracula and Bram Stoker's Dracula, the story begins the same with a lawyer from England arriving at Count Dracula’s Transylvanian castle. His business is to close a deal Count Dracula has made in purchasing ten, new, castle-like homes in England. The first major differences begin at this point. In Dracula, when the Count is first seen, he is shown as a well dressed and well mannered man of wealth and refinement. In both films the deal is sealed soon after the lawyer’s arrival.

Immediately following the deal, Count Dracula departs by ship to England. Here another difference is found in Dracula. The lawyer also goes back to England with the Count and the ship mysteriously arrives with no signs of the former crew aboard, only the lawyer whom has gone insane by the influence of Dracula. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula the lawyer is forced to stay in Transylvania and held prisoner by Count Dracula’s mistresses, who continue draining the lawyer of a portion of his blood to keep him weak. They do this to keep him prisoner, not allowing him enough strength to get away. The lawyer eventually is able to muster enough power to flee Count Dracula’s decrepit castle.

At this point, the plot between the two films shifts drastically. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the tale becomes a sort of love story with Count Dracula seeking out the lawyer’s fiancé who looks remarkably like his deceased wife. In Dracula, the Count’s motives are less clear. He has expanded into England and is introduced to many new characters that were friends or acquaintances with the lawyer. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, these characters are introduced through the lawyer returning home to find that his wife is being hunted by Count Dracula.

It becomes apparent to the main characters in Dracula that Count Dracula is a vampire through Doctor Van Helsing’s former knowledge of vampires and his research on the insane lawyer and the bite mark on a woman. Through certain tests which include: showing a cross, which seems to cause physical harm to Count Dracula, and flashing a mirror at the count that does not produce a reflection, the doctor is able to prove his assumptions are correct to the others. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula it is made very apparent that Count Dracula is indeed a vampire by him being caught sucking the blood out a woman’s neck, and the lawyer’s stories.

In both films, this is where the hunt for Count Dracula begins. In Dracula, the Count is tracked down to his lair and a stake is driven through his heart under the doctor’s instructions. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Count Dracula is chased all the way back to Transylvania. Along the journey back to Transylvania, Count Dracula goes by ship and Doctor Van Helsing and the others by rail. It takes the Count an entire week to reach his native country by sea and it takes his enemies only three days by train. Upon Count Dracula’s return, a wild and battle-filled chase takes place all the way up to his castle, where he is forced back inside. At this point, the lawyer’s bitten fiancé stabs Count Dracula in the heart and removes his head. The differences in the films are very obvious and plentiful, but there are also many similarities.

Being based on Bram Stoker’s book the films share the same main characters and villain. In both movies Count Dracula is a vampire and is harmed by Christian symbols, garlic, and sleeps in a coffin during the day. The Count can transform into a wolf in both films and has red, demonic eyes. It is made apparent in both movies that count Dracula’s strength is unparalleled by any man, and that he is immune to any attack other than a stake through the heart. He also has three mistresses that loyally obey him. The films begin in the same manner, with the lawyer finalizing Count Dracula’s purchases in England. Most of the same characters are used and main events are vaguely similar.

As for scenery in the films, Transylvania is depicted as a dark, foreboding, mountainous region, filled with dangerous animals and “children of the night.” Count Dracula’s Transylvanian castle, along with the winding mountainous pass to it, looks almost identical in the films. The castle is shown as an old worn down, uncared for, and seemingly abandoned relic. Both films give a similar theme of foreshadowing evil and darkness. The films rely heavily on the night because of the nature of Dracula’s character.

The characters in the films, most of which containing the same name such as Doctor Van Helsing and Count Dracula, contain many common traits. The character who is the most similar in both films is Doctor Van Helsing. He is depicted as a wise old doctor who somehow has former knowledge of vampire lore. Although everyone around him does not believe in the old tales, he is vigilant and adept in providing evidence to the others that Count Dracula is indeed a vampire. Doctor Van Helsing also holds the information on how to destroy the vampire.

Count Dracula, although portrayed very differently in the films, has many of the same attributes. He is incredibly strong and has the power to speak to people by only using his mind. The Count can also transform into a wolf, a bat, and even fog to get around as he sees fit. Many of the same story elements surround Dracula as well. For example, his home in Transylvania, his three mistresses, and his purchases in England are the same in both adaptations.

The boat ride to England is also similar, and the crew is mysteriously missing. Count Dracula’s powerful grip over people’s minds is also very apparent, especially with the lawyer in Dracula and the lawyer’s fiancé in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. After Count Dracula’s transformation into a younger man in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he takes on many of the same characteristics as the Dracula in the 1931 film. His controlled, polite, and sophisticated mannerisms come out, and the characters become much more alike.

Although both films are based on the same 1897 novel by Bram Stoker, they share many similarities and differences. The films give tribute to the same characters in a different light; with Count Dracula’s sophisticated and charming personality in Dracula, and the Count’s old fashioned and aging traits in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this shows the director’s opinions of what Count Dracula should look and act like. The films share many of the same themes, but are able to show them in such a different manner that the stories become different and original. This may have something to do with the different time periods in which the films were made. Even though the movies do not exactly follow the same story line, they both carry enough similarities that the viewer is already familiar with them before viewing the films, but also bring enough differences to make two unique and interesting stories.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of those films that simply must be commended. The film is different in many respects to former iterations of the novel. Instead of sticking with the horror formula, director Francis Coppola has intertwined the recipe with that of a tragic love story. This new direction adds much needed life to the overused story and reinvigorates it.

From the beginning of the film the tone is dark and foreboding, relying on shadows, and dark colors. The art direction is spectacular, with spectacular sets, lighting, and backdrops. One of the first scenes which Dracula (Gary Oldman) is introduced to Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves), the foreshadowing of Dracula’s true intent and personality come to life with his shadow, seeming to defy any natural law, leaves his body to commit horrific acts in the background.

The story is superbly told through narration and the eyes of several main characters: Dracula (Gary Oldman), Dr. Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins), and Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves). This is also one of the only letdowns of the movie. The acting throughout the film is almost laughable. Keanu Reeves blatantly plays an incredibly uninspired and ill-rehearsed character. Winona Ryder as Mina Murray does not help out either. In her attempt to display affection for Jonathan Harker, she comes off as prudish. Gary Oldman's attempt as Dracula is admirable although long winded; the only person seeming to be a real actor and strong character in the film is Anthony Hopkins, as Dr. Van Helsing.

Except for some of the acting--like Keanu Reeves' awful British accent--which is dismissible due to everything else shining of creativity and originality, the film is fantastic. Bram Stoker’s Dracula takes views of previous versions and adds to them brilliantly. This film a must see for anyone remotely interested in the genre.

~Daniel M.

[Note: Part of this review has been previously published HERE]

Comments for Daniel's article "The Evolution of Dracula?" Please leave them below:

*Read more English-Blog Film Reviews HERE!

Posted by lhobbs at November 26, 2005 11:27 PM

Readers' Comments:

Dracula for the 21 century

The Stoker file:the lost diary of Bram Stoker by Tony Noto Diary by Bram Stoker

A New version and unique take on Dracula

Posted by: Yton Oton at November 21, 2007 09:32 PM

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