We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether of not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, and Keanu Reeves
Every so often, it seems like an actor can’t be avoided. For a while it was Robin Williams. Then John Travolta. Now Kevin Hart. And while generally we, the hateful audience, eventually turn on the stars we once loved, a few actors get a pass. Guys like Samuel L. Jackson, Steve Buscemi, Christopher Walken, and Harry Dean Stanton appear in damn near everything, but since they usually don’t star, we don’t reject them and end their careers. In fact, they become rock stars of the cult-film world.
Case in point: the great Gary Oldman. The guy has been on a never ending roll, hitting big with State of Grace (or even Sid and Nancy) and never letting off the throttle. Sure, he doesn’t usually carry a movie anymore, but he always makes the picture. In honor of yet another role in the Robocop remake, let’s see if his first big budget starring role still holds up under the anal eye of The Test of Time.
Under the examination: Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Keanu's blood taste like sea water.
THE STORY: In case somehow you missed the story of Dracula, this version goes all retro, strongly focusing on the original Bram Stoker novel. The story starts with the great Anthony Hopkins doing what he does best, narrating the film. We begin back in 1492 with Dracula doing battle only to lose his love and his faith in Christianity. Fast forward just a bit to 1897 and we meet a young lawyer Jonathan who leaves his fiancée Mina to travel to Transylvania to do business with the mysterious Count Dracula. If you can’t guess, things don’t go when old Drac believes Jonathan’s woman is actually his woman from 400 years ago and he travels to London to find her. People get bit, people die, and Gary Oldman seems to have a hell of a lot of fun doing it all..
WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: In a day and age where most of us continually bitch about remakes, remakes, remakes, this is one of those stories done before and no one minds another edition. In fact, it’s been done well in every film era: silent (Nosferatu), black and white (Universal’s classic Dracula) color (Christopher Lee among countless others) and even 3-D (Dracula..3-D). However, today’s vampire flicks seem more interested in modernizing and hipping up the tale by playing with the vampire legend rather than exploring the main man behind it all.
And that’s what director Francis Ford Coppola did here in probably his last great work. His version is all about production values as it attempts to recreate the old Universal gothic film while fancying it up enough to create a film epic in its complexity. It feels big and plays big, a great exercise in old school film making while not skimping on the gore, sex, or special effects.
Beware of the Shadow of the Vampire...it'll, you know, want to kill you.
Speaking of effects, there’s a lot of cool shit here, but my favorite bits throughout come from Dracula’s shadows and slight of hands. They’re done so simply yet effectively, especially when Jonathan first encounters Dracula and his shadow tries to strangle Ted "Theodore" Logan when he catches a glimpse of Ted's woman Mina. It’s nothing too flashy, but effect is damn freaky like when he craws around on the castle walls. It’s pretty damn cool. Without the crutch of digital effects, everything here still feels old school, which seems appropriate enough.
Focusing heavily on the Stoker novel, Oldman’s Dracula becomes more a tragic love sap rather than Halloween monster. Oldman is perfect as the Count, brooding and angry while still exhibiting hidden pain. It’s a badass performance. It’s a funny thing about certain actors who’ve taken on the role of Dracula. If they nailed it, they end like the character himself: immortal. Unlike Lee or Lugosi, Oldman hasn’t been limited by the role, though it did cement him as one of the best villains in the business.
Hopkins loves blood. It's a fact.
Oh, we get Anthony Hopkins fresh off Silence of the Lambs playing a decapitating-loving Van Helsing. He’s freaking great here.
WHAT BLOWS NOW: For a movie that should play timeless, Dracula has several spots the reek of 1992, namely for the who’s who collection of hot actors at the time. The most obvious of the bunch is Mr. Reeves, who’s not terrible (he’s his usual stiff self but his accent is laughable), but he looks like he wandered in from the sets of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey and Point Break with floppy parted hair. It might as well have been Ted Logan traveling back in time. The same could be said for Winona Ryder. Her acting quality… lacks, especially in scenes with Oldman as she looks as if she’s reading off cue cards. Oh, and her accent blows too.
Ryder actually gets better as the movie continues. Thank God.
Beyond the casting, the movie drags in spots. It wants so much to massively big epic that when Oldman or Hopkins isn’t onscreen, things start to crawl (minus when the great Tom Waits appears as Renfield). In fact, once Dracula arrives in London, the movie’s a bore until Hopkins arrives to give inject a much needed vile of energy. If it were around back then, half the cast needed a few cases of Red Bull to keep things moving along. Cheer up, folks. You’re making a Hollywood movie!
THE VERDICT: My complaints all end up minor, because this isn’t the type of movie meant for the modern ADD audience. The old fashion character narrations work, the acting is mostly fantastic thanks to Oldman and Hopkins, and Coppola directs the hell out of Dracula, giving audiences a horror movies that never looks nor plays cheap. And that’s a rare accomplishment.
The world needs more Tom Waits.