Director Francis Ford Coppola's attempt to present the "Dracula" story was generally recieved with mixed emotions, which I agree with. It's not that Ford Coppola wasn't a good choice to direct the picture (he was) or that he didn't have a good cast (he did), but there's certain elements of the film that didn't really work for me in previous viewings, nor do they really work any better years later. The film stars Gary Oldman as Count Dracula, who has just invited real estate agent Jonathan (Keanu Reeves) to his castle to sign some papers in regards to the Count's purchase of a London estate.
But, the Count finds a picture of Jonathan's bride-to-be Mina (Winona Ryder) and she looks almost exactly like the Count's former bride that he lost in a tragedy years before. Meanwhile, Prof. Abraham Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins), senses evil has returned and prepares himself for a battle with the count. The film bounces between events rather awkwardly, causing the film to feel a little slow and somewhat confusing at times.
There's a good deal to like about the film, but it's often overshadowed by its failures. Keanu Reeves has since become a considerably better actor (if still not particularly terrific), but this film isn't too far away from the era of "Bill and Ted" and I half expected his character to say, "Bogus!" when he finds out what the situation is. Ryder isn't much more interesting and I felt as if Oldman could have gone farther with the character, given the kind of performances he's given before and after.
Coppola has spared no expense, from the costumes to the sets to the effects (some of which are neat, some of which are not) to the no-holds-barred sound design, as sound designer Leslie Shatz's work still holds up quite nicely in comparison to quite a few of today's films. Yet, while the sound effects do a nice job of adding to some of the scares, the film's extravagant look and feel do somewhat dilute the tension, but do allow one to feast upon much impressive crew work. Yet, this can only attain one's attention for so long without providing a more coherent story. As a result, the 130 minute picture starts to feel overly lengthy.
It's obvious that Ford Coppola, cast and crew certainly tried to make an interesting, entertaining and atmospheric picture, but some of the performers don't seem to be as into their roles as others, while the film occasionally seems more concerned about creating exceptional looking imagery than offering a story that isn't jumpy or a bit cluttered.
VIDEO: This new edition of "Bram Stoker's Dracula" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Columbia/Tristar. This is a new high-definition transfer reportedly handled by American Zoetrope, Coppola's company. Sharpness and detail here are generally pleasant, as the picture does have a slightly soft appearance seemingly by intent, but still manages to look crisp and fairly well-defined here.
Ah, but the problems. I'd mentioned some problems previously and although they aren't particularly terrible, they are noticable and include a few light traces of artifacting and some slight edge enhancement. The print flaws spotted on the prior releases seem to have been cleaned up here. Some grain can also be spotted now and then, but it's very light.
Colors generally looked rich and dark here, looking well-saturated and strong, with no concerns at all. While not without some flaws, this is a very nice presentation that should please fans, although the picture quality doesn't quite match the remarkable audio.
SOUND: Where this "Dracula" shines, in terms of presentation, is its soundtrack. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, the film's exceptionally elaborate and agressive surround presentation often amazed me. This is really an effort that stands up quite nicely to the soundtracks of many current pictures. Taking a look at the credits, a familiar name pops up: Leslie Shatz, who also served as the sound designer for the "Mummy" pictures, as well as "Alien: Resurrection". Highly regarded score mixer Shawn Murphy also worked on the film.
The film's presentation is almost consistently agressive without becoming an assault. Chilling sound effects are liberally distributed into the surrounds and stay at a level of use that perfectly borders on too much without going over the line. The score is often also nicely distributed to the surrounds, as well. Low-bass is occasionally strong, while score, effects and dialogue come through with fine clarity and warmth. Unfortunately, this release drops the DTS 5.1 option that can be found on the Superbit DVD edition.
EXTRAS: The first disc offers the option for viewers to watch the film with director Francis Ford Coppola. This option not only offers a commentary with the director, but an introduction with the director. Ford Coppola, as per usual, does a tremendous job providing a wealth of insights and great stories from the set.
The second disc includes four new documentaries: "In Camera" (visual effects, 19 minutes), "Method and Madness" (visualizing the film, 12), "The Costumes Are the Sets" (the design of Eiko Ishioka, 14 minutes) and "The Blood is the Life" (a 27 minute "making of" featurette done at the time of production.) We also get over 30 minutes worth of deleted scenes, trailers for "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and other titles from the studio (including the final season of "Seinfeld", which seems an odd inclusion - "What's the deal with Dracula?") and finally, "Heart of Darkness", an article on the film from CineFex magazine.
Final Thoughts: While I don't think Coppola's film is terrible, I still feel it has more negatives than positives. This new Special Edition offers fine presentation quality and a very nice set of extras, with Coppola's commentary being the highlight of the bunch. Fans interested in extras will want to check out this edition. However, in terms of presentation quality, I didn't find this edition to offer enough difference to recommend for those who already own prior releases of the film and don't care about supplements.