Bram Stoker’s Dracula appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. In my experience, early 1990s film stocks can tend to be a bit murky. That trend created minor distractions during Dracula, but I thought the transfer usually looked good.
Sharpness was positive most of the time. Occasional shots appeared a little ill-defined, but those instances cropped out without frequency. Instead, the majority of the flick looked crisp and accurate. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and I noticed only light edge enhancement. The movie also came with a clean transfer. Grain looked a bit heavy at times but usually stayed in control, and no other defects could be observed.
Colors could vary, but I found them pleasing overall. Some shots – like those when we first meet Mina – warm and rich tones. The not infrequent heavy red images demonstrated good delineation and never became too thick or runny. Although a few scenes suffered from slightly dense tones, the hues were usually positive. Blacks also demonstrated nice clarity, and shadows seemed acceptable to good. Again, the minor murkiness of the era’s stock meant a few low-light shots appeared a little muddy, but they worked fine in general. Though I wasn’t ecstatic about the transfer, given its restrictions and age, I felt it merited a “B”.
I found a lot to like about the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Dracula. To be sure, the movie boasted an active mix. From start to finish, the film made frequent use of all five channels. The various speakers kicked in good ambience during creepy quiet scenes, and they rocked to life well in louder, more action-oriented bits. All the elements meshed together smoothly and created a fine sense of place and environment.
Audio quality also was positive. Music sounded lush and full, while effects were clean and concise. Both of those elements showed nice range, with crisp highs and firm lows. Speech appeared natural and distinctive. This was a terrific soundtrack.
For this two-disc “Collector’s Edition”, we get a mix of extras. On DVD One, we start with an introduction from director Francis Ford Coppola. In this three-minute and 54-second chat, Coppola discusses prior vampire films and his childhood experiences with those and the book. He also tells us why he wanted to make his own version of the tale. Though the intro isn’t crucial, it opens the movie in a pleasant manner.
Coppola also appears for an audio commentary. The director provides a running, screen-specific chat. He looks at how he came onto the project, visual storytelling and the use of shadows, effects and costumes, the adaptation of the original novel and other influences, sets, music, cast and performances, and other thoughts about the experience.
The best parts of the commentary come when Coppola reflects on his own mindset. In regard to the movie industry, the director seems weary at best and bitter at worst. I don’t know if he intended this, but the commentary provides an interesting entry into Coppola’s psyche.
So how does it fare as a look at the movie itself? In that regard, it works fairly well. Though the track never becomes scintillating, it provides an honest view of the flick. Coppola goes over a nice range of subjects, especially during the second act. He starts slowly and fades somewhat toward the end, but the middle portion of the commentary includes quite a few good notes. This ends up as an unusual and intriguing piece.
From there we head to DVD Two and its materials. First comes The Blood Is the Life – The Making of Dracula. This 27-minute and 47-second documentary involves movie clips, archival components, and interviews. We hear from Coppola, screenwriter James V. Hart, and actors Gary Oldman, Richard E. Grant, Anthony Hopkins, Sadie Frost, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Bill Campbell, and Cary Elwes. “Blood” examines the rationale behind the creation of another Dracula film and a desire to remain faithful to the original novel. It also goes into characters and story, cast and performances, script alterations, and aspects of the shoot.
“Blood” was created with elements around the time of the flick’s release, a fact that initially caused me some concern. I feared it would be fluffy and not very informative. However, those fears proved unfounded, as “Blood” offered a strong examination of the film. The inclusion of so much prime movie personnel helps, and they offer consistently open and frank comments. The shots from the set contribute to this tone as well, for we find quite a lot of intriguing background clips. In particular, the rehearsal images are fun, and we see fascinating shots of on-the-set conflicts between Coppola and Oldman. This is a very good program that doesn’t sugarcoat the experience.
Next we find the 14-minute and one-second The Costumes Are the Sets – The Design of Eiko Ishioka. It gives us notes from Coppola, Oldman, Frost, and designer Ishioka. The show tells us about Ishioka’s costumes and the realization of her designs. We see lots of conceptual sketches and behind the scenes footage that gives us a good look at the creation of the elements. This is another informative piece that digs into its subjects well.
In-Camera – The Naïve Visual Effects of Dracula lasts 18 minutes, 44 seconds and features Coppola, Reeves, visual effects and 2nd unit director Roman Copolla, visual effects supervisor Gene Warren Jr., and visual effects camera operator Christopher Lee Warren. The show examines the visual effects techniques used in the film. Dracula went with “primitive” effects, which makes “Naïve” all the more interesting. We get a great look at these various methods in this fascinating program.
For the last featurette, we go to Method and Madness – Visualizing Dracula. The 12-minute and four-second piece provides remarks from Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Coppola, and storyboard artist Peter Ramsey. “Method” discusses artistic influences and goals for the visual design of the film. It shows the storyboard process and its use on Dracula as well as different aspects of the flick’s look and style. I really liked the other featurettes, and this one finishes the set with another terrific show. It’s consistently informative and intriguing.
Taken from a 1993 issue of Cinefex magazine, Heart of Darkness offers a text piece. As one would expect from an article from that magazine, “Heart” provides a detailed investigation of the film’s visual effects. Inevitably, some of the information repeats from “Naïve”, but “Heart” digs into the elements with much greater depth. It’s a nice extra.
12 Deleted Scenes show up here – though many are extensions of existing sequences. Taken together, they fill a total of 27 minutes, 48 seconds. Among the extended pieces are “Prologue” (6:20), “Gypsies In Coach” (1:00), “Lucy’s Party” (3:35), “Harker Meets Dracula” (1:56), “Harker Explores Castle” (1:37), and “Rule’s Café/Convent” (2:34). There’s a “trim” from “Harker/Dracula Dinner” (0:57) and an “early version” of the “Ending” (2:44).
This should mean the remaining four clips offer new sequences. We locate “Harker’s Escape Attempt” (4:07), “Dracula on The Demeter” (0:32), “The Demeter Lands” (0:50) and “The Death of Renfield” (1:32).
Do any of these prove interesting? Not really, though the extensions are often more substantial than expected. “Prologue” creates a bloodier sequence in which Dracula condemns God, and it provides greater exposition in terms of our intros to Mina, Harker and Lucy. That one and the other elongated scenes don’t tell us anything we don’t already know, however, and the added sequences usually fail to develop much of interest. “Escape” drags, and the Demeter pieces are downright goofy. “Death” is a little more compelling, at least, but the “Ending” isn’t satisfying. Though I can’t find much good material here, I do appreciate the inclusion of the cut clips.
Under the Trailers banner, 11 ads appear. We get both teaser and theatrical trailers for Dracula along with promos for Youth Without Youth, “Ray Harryhausen In Color”, Taxi Driver, Hostel Part II, Seinfeld Season 9, Pumpkinhead IV: Blood Feud, Ghost Rider, Fearnet.com, and Rise: Blood Hunter.
Busy and over the top, Bram Stoker’s Dracula provides an unsatisfying retelling of the vampire legend. It musters a few intriguing moments but proves so goofy and overdramatic that it doesn’t work. The DVD offers good picture, very strong audio, and a mix of informative and enjoyable extras. Too bad the movie itself is such a mess.