Page to Screen: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
Film Poster for Bram Stoker's Dracula
This particular cinematic adaptation was released in 1992 by director/producer Francis Ford Coppola and is classified as a horror fantasy erotic drama. It largely adheres to the plotline of the book while attempting to fill in the deficiencies while making it a film fit for its time period. It boasts a large recognizable cast from the incredibly creepy yet charismatic Gary Oldman as the namesake character Dracula, Sir Anthony Hopkins as the famous Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, Winona Ryder as poor Mina Harker, Keanu Reeves as her husband Jonathan Harker, Cary Elwes as Arthur Holmwood (made famous by his role in The Princess Bride), and numerous other individuals.
This film helped the vampire franchise break out of its previous campy adaptations and even today can be considered modern as it uses little to not computer generated images. Evidence to that is the three Academy Awards it won (Best Costume, Sound, and Makeup) and four Saturn Awards. It is also widely praised for stunning performances (minus one Jonathan Harker) and is largely recognized as one of the first films to give the vampire monster a human heart (although this was originally done by the less successful adaptation of the same book in 1973).
Written nearly a hundred years before this specific adaptation, Bram Stoker's Dracula created the mold for which most modern interpretations of the vampire draw from. Written in 1897, is told in an epistolary format (meaning it's made up of letters, news articles, and notes). It follows a variety of characters whom Dracula interacts with.
Going with the proven assumption that Dracula is a vampire, he uses a solicitor named Jonathan Harker to buy land in London so that he can feed more freely, leaving his isolated castle in Transylvania behind. Jonathan deals with how he should escape while Mr. harker's fiancée and her friend Lucy are now plagued by the demon by night. One of Lucy's three suitors, a psychiatrist, contacts his mentor named Abraham Van Helsing over Lucy's mysterious illness, who quickly comes down to the bottom of things and attempts to address the situation.
The story is widely acknowledged as one of literature's classic horror tales next to Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, and so forth.
Book Cover to Bram Stoker's Dracula
Largely, Coppola's adaptation is possibly the truest in retelling the story, using exact lines, characters, and events. However, Coppola's version goes out on their way to tie up some loose ends and to create a new purpose for Dracula's character, as well as injecting a rather large amount of erotic screenplay into the tale.
By far the biggest chance in the adaptation is Dracula and his purpose. In the book, Dracula moves to London only to continue hunting and creating his 'flock' of vampiric followers. He's presented as nothing more than a beast on the prowl, albeit a very cunning one. However, one thing changes about his character in the film that greatly increases his depth.
The film shows Dracula as a human, Vlad II, who goes to fight the Turkish armies and must leave his wife at home. With false information that Vlad II, his wife commits suicide prompting Vlad II to renounce God and the church to become the abomination that is a vampire. Short of 2,000 years later when Jonathan Harker meets with the Count, Dracula becomes infatuated with a picture of Harker's fiancée Mina, essentially Dracula's reincarnated wife. Everything at that point that Dracula does is due to his vampiric nature and his love of his lost wife.
The choice to turn Mina into a vampire isn't a spiteful one as it is in the book, but rather a mutual decision so that the both of them can live on. However, Mina's state of mind is influenced by the vampire's influence and becomes unwillingly infatuated with the Count. In the end, it isn't simply the destruction of Dracula that ends the conflict, but Mina working to release the Count's soul from his torment.
There's a strong erotic presentation surrounding vampires in this film, possibly attributing this film to be responsible for a lot of the sensuality that comes with the vampire genre today. There are numerous examples in the book that are taken and administered a strong dosage of on-screen sensuality. For example, the character Lucy is known for wondering about in her sleep however nothing more is ever shown of this. In the film however, the audience is shown that Dracula, in some kind of werewolf form, is raping her on a tombstone, something that Mina doesn't see due to Dracula's influence. This happens even when Dracula is in his vaporous form, causing her to write in pleasure on the bed without anyone else there in physical form. Nearly every interaction between Dracula and Mina is oozing with sexual tension although it's never clear if she commits infidelity or not.
Most interestingly and problematically is Harker's scene with the 'Brides of Dracula,' three vampiresses. In the book, they seek to feed on Harker but Dracula stops them, demanding them to be patient. Harker escapes before they can capture him. However, in the film, it's incredibly different. Harker is 'appetized' as they drain him but do not kill or infect him as they all emerge from the mattress he leaves him, all less than decently clothed. It's largely the most erotic scene in the film and is addressed later when Van Helsing makes sure that Harker did not drink their blood, even if they drank his (which means unless Lucy drank Dracula's blood, she wouldn't have turned either but this is inconclusive).
There are obviously some minor changes (Dracula is almost only described as a thin moustached man in the book without any monstrous transformations where Gary Oldman's rendition takes on several different forms). Most noticeably in the book, there's no reference to Dracula actually changing forms (aside from the constant innuendo of his shapeshifting as a bat or thousands and thousands of rats), merely regressing in age to become young again.
In the film, it's very different. Numerous times Dracula takes on a far more monstrous form, becoming like a werewolf and later some kind of demonic bat in humanoid shape. Still, it's possible that Gary Oldman's portrayal of old Dracula licking the blood off of Harker's shaving blade is the most striking out of all of them.
A psychiatric patient, Renfield is largely the same between the two works. However, the film gives him a little more connection to the actual plot rather than a revealed giver of plot information later on in the book. It's explained in the film that Renfield was Harker's predecessor and encountered Dracula before, which now explains his current state of mind. It's a little touch but one that's appreciated.
As mentioned before, the book tells its story through letters, journal entries, news clippings, and so forth. Obviously doing so would be a bit silly in regards to a cinematic production but the adaptation doesn't completely disregard this device. Character thoughts are constantly being shown during scenes where said character is currently either writing a letter or making a new entry in their diary. Thankfully, most of the more tense and action-driven scenes are shown, not told, making it a strong balance of faithful adaptation and improvements.
Trailer for the Film
As an adaptation, this version of Bram Stoker's Dracula is faithful yet improves upon its original design. While the book is a classic, it is a little dated and filled with an overwhelming amount of detail that would not transfer well to the silver screen, particularly when documenting every character feeling the utmost sympathy to the rest of the cast of characters. Gary Oldman portrays the character of Dracula amazingly in every form, creating an iconic impression that is hard to forget. Anthony Hopkins makes an over the top and believable character in Van Helsing, and Winona Ryder creates a compelling victim in Mina Harker. Even though Keanu Reeves gets a lot of flak for his portrayal of Jonathan Harker, the character in the book receives little importance after the story leaves the castle.
Unfortunately, while it definitely creates an undeniable atmosphere in the film, the erotic elements are extremely polarizing and limits its audience to an otherwise fantastic movie. On the other hand, the cinematic elements and techniques (such as the lack of CGI except to touch up things) add to the aged cinematic presence that continues to dignify the feel of this film.
It's the kind of movie that tells the book's plot and barely stray from it. One can watch it and miss relatively nothing. Sure, there's an entirely different antagonist motive, but it only enhances the plot instead of detracting. Definitely one of the better adaptations I've experienced.
Book vs. Movie
For those of you who read the book and watched the movie, what did you prefer?
You can read more Page to Screen adaptation commentaries if you click here.