With noticeable steam-punk influences and quite a dose of “camp”, 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula gives one a bit of a start when watching it today.
Victorian England, as Coppola presents it to us, though often accurately portrayed, at times aesthetically rather resembles a slightly decadent 1920’s Berlin, New York, or Paris. Somehow fittingly, as the aesthetics of the Transylvanian scenes seem to pay homage to monster films of the 1920s and ‘30s; another reference to the era are Dracula’s first London street scenes which start visually like a silent era film – thus at the same time adding to the steam-punk feel.
Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel stays rather faithful to its source in many respects, as far as plot, narrative, and structure are concerned. There are exceptions of course, first and foremost the quite unnecessary nudity and sexuality and the equally unnecessary extended love triangle between Mina, Harker and Dracula.
A novel like Dracula is of course quite difficult to put on screen faithfully, as it is not a traditional novel at all, more a loose collection of letters and diary entries. Coppola references this diary character of the novel repeatedly throughout his film.
As far as the acting is concerned, the most solid performance among the leading actors seems to be that of Winona Ryder as Mina. She plays the young Victorian Englishwoman quite convincingly. She only seems to be out of her depth in scenes of a passionate or sexual nature. Since these scenes are additions made for the film and are not really compatible with Mina’s character, it is hardly surprising that Ryder is unable to reconcile these incongruities convincingly.
Keanu Reeves is the other actor who gives a convincing portrayal of his character (Harker). Reeves’s reputation for being a “black hole swallowing all of his characters’ charisma” is of a certain advantage here, as Coppola’s Harker is meant to be a somewhat bland and boring accountant.
The portrayals of many of the other characters are “over the top”. I am tempted to lay the blame at the door of the director, as these over-the-top characters fit in with the camp tone he has set for the film. Sadie Frost as Lucy is an obvious case, although her portrayal is also influenced by the need to set her up as a contrast to Mina. Likewise, Anthony Hopkins plays Van Helsing like a slightly confused OCD version of Hannibal Lecter. And Oldman’s Dracula likewise veers off towards the camp far too much and far too often for me to enjoy his performance.
It is these acting (or directing) choices that finally ruin this film for me, apart from all the other problems mentioned. And in spite of some positive aspects, such as the hard work Roman Coppola put into the many inventive practical effects, or the fact that this film represents an honest attempt to put the original novel on screen, it is just not a film that convinces me as a whole. I guess I would hand this film a mark of 6.0 or 6.5 out of 10 – markedly short of the current 7.5 on imdb.