DirectorFrancis Ford Coppola
Release Date(s)1992 (October 6, 2015)
Studio(s)American Zoetrope/Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
[Editor’s Note: The film portion of this review is by Greg Suarez, the disc portion by Bill Hunt.]
“The blood is life!”
It would be nearly impossible to list all of the different theatrical derivations Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula has inspired since the dawn of cinema. The novel has been adapted to different times in history, with certain poetic licenses taken, in many cases, to place the story in less traditional plot situations. Director Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 telling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula remains a favorite, for its extravagant and richly-textured style and unique spin on the story of Vlad the Impaler.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula tells the tale of 14th Century prince Vlad Dracula (Gary Oldman). Dracula lost his true love to the deception of his enemies and denounced the church, which doomed him to everlasting life as one of the undead, forced to feed off of the blood of man to sustain existence. Several centuries later, London real estate agent Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) calls on Dracula to finalize a deal to purchase Carfax Abbey in London. While he entertains his new guest, Dracula sees a picture of Harker’s fiancée, Mina (Winona Ryder). She looks exactly like Dracula’s long-dead true love, and the Count decides it is his fate to travel to London to reunite with his past, and once again discover true love.
Once in London, Dracula brings with him a plague of death that leaves the city shaken. Little by little, Dracula begins to charm his way into Mina’s heart, while Dr. Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) discovers that Dracula is responsible for the evil that has been unleashed on the town. Van Helsing and Harker must save Mina before she becomes Dracula’s bride, doomed to the same tortuous, everlasting existence.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula stands apart from other vampire films in that, in this version, Dracula is not a soulless animal that exists to merely terrorize women and drink blood. Here, Dracula is a terribly lonely man doomed to an eternity of pain and heartache caused by the death of his true love. What Coppola does with this version is give Dracula a reason for existence and more of a history. The audience is actually shown why Dracula is a tortured undead creature, and the plot element of his anguish and loneliness (caused by his lost love) bestows on the character a more human quality. The fact that Stoker’s story has always contained an element of eroticism and sexuality lends itself perfectly to Coppola’s retelling, with the added amount of passion and romantic desire. This film is first a romance, and only second a horror flick.
Coppola’s film is also a marvel of old-school filmmaking magic, from its production design, to its cinematography, and even its practical visual effects. The film’s sets have a big open sense of spaciousness that allows the characters and the detail of their flamboyant costumes to really pop off the screen. The use of shadows and space in the lighting and cinematography also lends an air of mystery to the proceedings. Best of all, Coppola and his son Roman (who served as VFX director) employed strictly in-camera special effects techniques dating back to the dawn of cinema (and directors like Georges Méliès) to give the film a highly unique and effective look. In fact, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was one of the last major Hollywood films to use these techniques before digital effects took over.
Sony’s original Blu-ray release of this film was something of a disappointment to fans. Its image was surprisingly soft and lacking in detail, its print grain was coarse, and its black levels and colors were unflatteringly muddy. Not so here on Sony’s new Supreme Cinema Series release. Right away, in the very first shots, you can tell that the new 4K-mastered 1080p video image is crisper, with significantly more fine detail. There’s still the abundant film grain that was always present in the image, but it looks far more refined now. Contrast is also greatly improved. Whereas the previous Blu-ray had a murky quality to its deepest shadows, there’s more detail visible in them now, and the range of contrast is larger. Color tones are also less muddy – still rich, but also far more natural looking. While the video grade for the original Blu-ray would be a charitable C, this new edition deserves a good strong A-. Do other films of similar vintage look better than this on Blu-ray? Yes. But given this film’s unique challenges, it’s hard to imagine it looking better in 1080p than it does here. You’d have to watch in actual 4K with High Dynamic Range to get a better experience. As it stands, this Blu-ray video quality improvement is dramatic, and you appreciate it more and more the longer you watch.
English audio is present in a new Dolby Atmos mix (that’s 7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), as well as English, French, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (the previous Blu-ray included 5.1 PCM). The new mix has a smoother quality to it, with greater dynamic range, and richer bass. Sounds tend to linger and decay a little more spaciously, thus enhancing the visuals. It’s less harsh and more natural sounding than the Dolby Digital mixes. Obviously, if you have Atmos-compatible equipment, it’s also a more immersive listening experience. Note that subtitle options include English SDH, English, French, and Spanish, and there are English subs for both commentary tracks (more on that in a second).
For those of you who have Sony’s previous Collector’s Edition Blu-ray, you’ll be glad to know that the new disc carries over all of that bonus content, starting with an introduction by director Francis Ford Coppola and the feature-length audio commentary with Coppola. You also get 4 behind-the-scenes featurettes The Blood Is the Life: The Making of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (28 mins), The Costumes and the Sets: The Design of Eiko Ishioka (14 mins), In Camera: Naïve Visual Effects (19 mins), and Method and Madness: Visualizing Dracula (12 mins), an extensive gallery of Deleted and Extended Scenes (28 mins), and finally a pair of theatrical trailers.
To this, the Cinema Series Blu-ray adds another feature-length audio commentary with Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Coppola, and make-up supervisor Greg Cannom (this is the rare track from the 1992 Criterion Collection LaserDisc release). There are 2 new documentary featurettes including Reflections in Blood: Francis Ford Coppola and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (29 mins) and Practical Magicians: A Collaboration Between Father and Son (20 mins), which are essentially great extended interviews of Francis, and then Francis and Roman together, by F.X. Feeney. You also get a paper insert code for an UltraViolet digital copy of the film, and the packaging itself contains a booklet of liner notes.
If there’s one strike against the Cinema Series, it is that packaging. Sony has tried to follow in the fashion of Warner’s Diamond Luxe Series in creating a slimmer, classier packaging form, but with mixed results. It looks great, but it’s a little difficult to hold open for any length of time if you’re trying to read the liner notes. The edges of the clear plastic covers tend to rub against your fingers a little sharply. Making matters worse, the book-like “spine” binding easily peels away from the plastic of the covers. A simple Digibook would probably have been a better choice. Still, this is a minor quibble. (Note that the regular Blu-ray version – without the new custom packaging – is also available here for $17.99 and the disc content should all be the same.)
It’s been a good long wait for Sony to really do this film justice on disc, but that day has finally arrived. If you’re a fan of the film, don’t hesitate for even a second to pre-order this Blu-ray and make the upgrade. The film has never looked and sounded better on disc, offering viewers a much richer and more theater-like viewing experience, and the new content is illuminating too. The new packaging is a bit lacking but, that one small qualm aside, the Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Supreme Cinema Series Blu-ray is very highly recommended.
- Greg Suarez and Bill Hunt