Celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, Francis Ford Coppola's lavish, big budget adaptation of Stoker's classic novel is a rare and beautiful beast; a full blooded horror picture with blockbuster production values. I'd say that the film mostly benefits from the excesses associated with such a prestige production, but in other ways it is perhaps pulled back to being slightly shy of greatness by them. In other words, there's a certain amount of fat hanging around the edges of the picture that if trimmed may have made it into a leaner, more powerful film. However, having now seen it several times, I'm growing to love it more and more despite, and sometimes even because of, its apparent flaws.
For the most part, everything about the movie is top drawer quality. It's a veritable banquet for the eyes and ears, with striking cinematography by Scorsese regular Michael Ballhaus, an achingly beautiful score by Wojciech Kilar, and wonderfully anachronistic, old-school visual effects work, supervised by Coppola's son Roman, who is now a frequent collaborator with an appropriately visual director, Wes Anderson. The film seems to make use of every cine-magic trick in the book to cast its beguiling spell, including superimposition, force perspective, multiple exposures, frame-dropping and graphic matches galore.
As much as all this visual wizardry is extremely welcome (and worth seeing the film alone for if you're an aesthete) it would add up to naught but smoke and mirrors without a beating heart at its center to inject some life into proceedings. Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder almost carry the entire movie in this regard (with the former giving a especially memorable performance that is alternatingly seductive, menacing and affecting), although the aforementioned contributions of the crew, and solid support from the surrounding ensemble cast, all certainly help too.
As I suggested earlier, there are some arguable problems with the film, despite its many merits. In a nutshell, I think the problem stems from things being spread a bit dramatically thin, so to speak, between the ensemble cast. Specifically, I think that all the action adventure shenanigans with Keanu Reeves (who adopts the most hilariously atrocious English accent I've ever heard), Anthony Hopkins (clearly having a ball in his role as Van Helsing) and company (including Richard E. Grant and Cary Elwes) somewhat dilutes the impact of the tragic-romance and horror aspects of the story (although they are admittedly part of the architecture of the plot). On the other hand, and as I also previously stated, now that I'm familiar with these seeming shortcomings, I'm starting to enjoy them for what they are, even if they do feel like they belong in another film. Though come to think of it, all of this could be construed as another way in which the movie is a glorious throwback; audiences arguably get it all: action, adventure, chills, thrills and romance. Needless to say, I still haven't entirely made my mind up about this one, and I'd say that's more of a complement than a criticism.
And just for shits and giggles, here's a promo shot of Keanu Reeves with grey hair; it shifts through several curious monochromatic shades in the latter part of the narrative (following his imprisonment in the Count's castle), before becoming silvery white at the end, which actually makes him look a little bit like Doc Brown from Back to the Future...