Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a fantastic movie filmed using late 19th-century filmmaking techniques. To understand that sentence is to understand this classic film’s anticipated Blu-ray Disc release. Of all the Halloween-themed Blu-ray releases this month, few have been met with the same anticipation and audio/visual controversy as this Francis Ford Coppola classic. The reasons are two-fold: first, because the film is an early-90s classic, and second, because Blu-ray aficionados want to experience the best presentation possible. Rest assured, Bram Stoker’s Dracula delivers on the nostalgia factor, but the Blu-ray release, much like the original film, is definitely geared more toward filmmaking buffs than audio and videophiles.
Coppola’s classic recounts the original narrative version of Dracula, with few of the horror elements most people associate with Vlad the Impaler. The story in Bram Stoker’s Dracula is in fact more love story than horror flick, as it follows the stories of four key characters as they struggle to discover, experience and regain true love. As the tale unfolds, Coppola artfully delves into subjects such as the timeless power of love, the corruption of lust and even the social indecencies of the upper class.
When the movie released theatrically in 1992, it was simultaneously scorned for its wonton visuals and lauded for its artistic insistence on avoiding computer-generated effects. Now, in a world that’s grown accustomed to nudity, the most notable feature about Bram Stoker’s Dracula is its use of traditional filmmaking techniques to achieve visual effects. Those techniques are masterfully executed, and they’re a true joy to once again see in action. However, they’re also the very reason this Blu-ray release has met with controversy even before it hits stores.
Blu-ray fans have run amok with rumors of a poor and inaccurately colored video transfer, not to mention a few comments about questionable audio. Both claims are completely unfounded. On the audio front, the uncompressed 5.1 audio delivers in a big way, particularly when it comes to environmental sounds such as howling wolves and squeaking rats. There’s definitely a volume discrepancy when switching to the bonus features (which are presented in stereo only), but the movie and bonus features are very consistent within themselves.
The video transfer discussions are also without merit, for the very reason explained in the first sentence. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an artistic film filled with experimental compositions and “old school” techniques. Coppola himself, in fact, has said he was hoping to achieve a “classic film” feel, and he certainly achieved that. But therein lies the controversy: Blu-ray buffs want a crystal clear picture, yet Coppola is presenting a true-to-the-period film, complete with the occasional grain and shimmer.
The movie’s darkest scenes and those with the least amount of contrast ironically look the best, as there’s less obvious graininess, but even the daylight scenes look good. “Good” is a relative term, of course, particularly in the world of 1080p, but when you’re watching Hitchcock, do you question the film quality? No. And when you’re absorbed in Coppola’s scenes and ambience, you won’t mind the slightly less-detailed video transfer compared to modern blockbusters that lack any substance. With all that said, though, Bram Stoker’s Dracula on Blu-ray presents the best video transfer movie fans could ever hope for from this film.
As an artistic film, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is logically accompanied on Blu-ray Disc by a host of bonus features that address various aspects of the film’s creation. The first and shortest feature is a video introduction by Francis Ford Coppola (3:55) in which he describes his fascination with the Dracula tale, his obsession with staying true to the source material and his interpretation of the classic character. This introduction is followed by a movie-length audio commentary with Coppola in which he offers even more insight into his filmmaking approach and provides background on the actors and experiences making his film. Unlike many commentators, Coppola is not afraid of silence, so you seldom hear him drone on about a boring topic just to “fill the space.” He does at times get carried away with historical references, but that’s more an indicator of his dedication to the source material than it is an indicator of him being a nerd.
The Blood is Life: The Making of Dracula (27:48) is the longest featurette, and it combines original footage taken during the film’s production with newly recorded interviews. In many respects this featurette feels like an extended version of the video introduction, but there’s definitely new footage and insight that you wouldn’t otherwise hear. The most compelling feature, In Camera: The Naive Visual Effects of Dracula (18:46), goes into great detail about how the production team created some of the special effects in the film. In an era when we’re inundated with CGI films and effects, it’s fascinating to see how Coppola’s son, Roman, achieved similar effects using double exposures, matte boxes and running film backwards, among other techniques.
A feature about the costumes, The Costumes are the Sets (14:02), goes into detail about the approach to establishing the unique fashions featured in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and really explores how the costumes, not the props, take center stage and establish a sense of place more than the sets themselves. Rounding things out are Deleted and Extended Scenes (12 total, with a running time of 28:14) and Method and Madness (12:06), a play-by-play account of how Coppola and company found inspiration for their art and storyboards.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the perfect Blu-ray Disc for those who appreciate the art of filmmaking and the application of creative techniques. The video quality is probably the best you could hope for from a 15-year-old film, but those who use their 1080p set solely to show off the sharpest images or most outlandish special effects will surely find crisper imagery elsewhere. Still, considering the flood of horror-themed movies hitting the Blu-ray Disc scene this month, movies buffs will be hard pressed to find one of a higher overall quality. It’s nice to finally have Coppola’s classic enter the BD collection.
- Score: 8.5
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a stroke of filmmaking genius, and although its Blu-ray presentation is solid, A/V buffs are sure to find some flaws — regardless of their insignificance.
— Jonas Allen