Dracula appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a borderline stunning representation of the film.
Overall, sharpness looked positive. At times, I thought wider shots appeared a smidgen soft, but those examples created only minor distractions. The majority of the flick provided quite good definition. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering appeared, and I noticed no edge enhancement. Natural grain appeared here, so the flick maintained a nice film-like appearance.
Blacks seemed solid. The film’s many dark shots demonstrated fine depth and contrast looked positive. Low-light shots occasionally seemed a little murky, but they usually offered acceptable to good delineation. Source flaws were minimal; occasional instances of small specks appeared, but these were rare. Honestly, this was a revelatory presentation of the film.
I also felt the monaural soundtrack of Dracula held up well for its age. The biggest distraction came from background noise. Though without clicks and pops, the audio suffered from a lot of hissiness. However, those levels remained below average for a movie from 1931, so I wasn’t bothered by the hiss; it was inevitable and not a notable problem.
The rest of the mix was fine given the flick’s vintage. Speech showed a thin, trebly side but was perfectly acceptable and lacked significant edginess or other flaws. The original soundtrack featured almost no music; films of the day generally didn't offer scores, so we only heard music to accompany the opening credits and also in a theater scene. Effects were a bit harsh but didn’t suffer from significant distortion. I felt that the audio worked pretty well within the expectations of its era.
The 2006 Anniversary DVD improved upon the original 1999 disc and the Blu-ray continued this growth. When compared with the 2006 disc, the Blu-ray delivered cleaner, smoother audio as well as cleaner, tighter visuals with stronger contrast. While I thought the 2006 disc was fine, it couldn’t live up to the excellent Blu-ray.
The Blu-ray replicates previous extras, and we open with two separate audio commentaries. We first hear from film historian David J. Skal, as he offers a running, screen-specific chat. Skal looks at the source novel and its adaptation, other story/character areas, cast and performances, sets and locations, comparisons with alternate versions, crew biographical notes, and a few other domains.
Though the track occasionally sags, Skal usually makes it interesting and informative. He covers a nice array of issues and does so in a bright, concise manner. While not one of the best historical commentaries I’ve heard, this one satisfies.
We also get a commentary from film historian/Dracula: Dead and Loving It screenwriter Steve Haberman. He provides a running, screen-specific discussion that discusses the same kinds of production and cast and crew elements covered by Skal, but Haberman also offers his comparison between the English and Spanish versions of the flick. He strongly prefers Tod Browing’s English edition and tries to convince us that he’s right.
I don’t agree, and I think he too easily dismisses the Spanish version. However, it’s interesting to hear his rationale, and he provides a spirited look at the production’s ins and outs.
Again, much of this becomes redundant after Skal’s track, as both men detail the flick’s path to the screen. Haberman does it better, though. He offers more depth and less down time. Haberman creates a satisfying track that’s probably the superior of the two.
More info appears in Monster Tracks, a subtitle commentary. It covers basic facts about the film’s production and its various participants. Given all the info that appeared during the two audio commentaries, it becomes inevitable that quite a bit of redundant material appears. Nonetheless, “Monster Tracks” covers the movie in a satisfying manner and creates a good synopsis.
Next find a 35-minute, four-second documentary called The Road to Dracula. The Skal-produced program is hosted by Carla Laemmle, niece of producer and Universal founder Carl Laemmle - and also an actress, as she appears in one of Dracula's opening scenes. We hear from Skal, author/filmmaker Clive Barker, film historians Scott MacQueen, Ronald V. Borst, Lokke Heiss, Ivan Butler and Bob Madison, Rosenbach Library and Museum’s Michael Barsanti, author Nina Auerbach, Universal Studios Archives and Collections director Jan-Christopher Horak, playwright’s son John Balderston, makeup artist Rick Baker, writer/director Gary Don Rhodes, actor Lupita Tovar Kohner, Bela Lugosi’s friend Richard Gordon, and actor’s sons Dwight D. Frye and Bela G. Lugosi.
It makes for an interesting discussion of the film's history, though it's a fairly undistinguished piece, and one that suffers from more of that inevitable redundancy; as our fourth look at the flick, it can’t avoid repetition of many facts. Still, some new info does appear.
For instance, the documentary indicates there actually is a silent version of Dracula from 1931: since at that stage, many theaters were not yet wired for sound, an alternate English edition intercut title cards for all the dialogue. The program does not mention if a Spanish release did the same.
Next we see Lugosi: The Dark Prince. This 36-minute and seven-second documentary includes remarks from Haberman, Gordon, biographer Gregory William Mank, director Joe Dante, author/screenwriter Peter Atkins, author/film critic Kim Newman, screenwriter Christopher Wicking, film historians/authors Sir Christopher Frayling and Darryl Jones, author Ramsay Campbell, screenrwriter/director Jimmy Sangster, and author/editor Stephen Jones.
I figured that “Prince” would provide a standard biography of Lugosi, but instead, it concentrates on the actor’s work on Dracula and his subsequent career. The latter elements are the most interesting since the former material gets covered pretty thoroughly in the prior commentaries and programs. Too much of “Prince” comes across as a simple appreciation of Lugosi, though, so it doesn’t present a lot of facts. Nonetheless, it’s good to see clips from Lugosi’s career, and we learn a reasonable amount about him.
After this comes from the Spanish version of Dracula. Since I already discussed it during the body of my review, I’ll not discuss my opinion of its as a film.
We can watch the Spanish Dracula with or without a four-minute and 14-second Introduction by actress Lupita Tovar Kohner. She gives us her memories of the production and her co-workers. It’s really a short interview, not an intro, but it’s interesting.
I’m happy to report that the Spanish Dracula underwent a restoration similar to the work done on the English version, though the results aren’t as consistent. The film runs one hour, 43 minutes, 16 seconds and the image often looks great. For the first 19 minutes, 35 seconds, the movie offers stellar visuals superior to those of the English edition.
After that, however, the image becomes much more erratic. At 19:35, we encounter batches of scratches, and other instances of print flaw pop up with moderate frequency. The image also lacks consistent clarity and contrast. Parts of it appear as stunning as those opening 19 minutes, but the movie doesn’t demonstrate the same level of consistency.
Similar thoughts greet the audio. For a while, the sound beats the English track, as it comes with much less hiss and noise. However, this also becomes up and down, so some scenes appear quite flawed.
Still, the Spanish mix is still stronger overall when compared to the English one. The best parts of the Spanish transfer also look better than the English version’s most appealing elements, but it lacks the Browning edition’s consistency.
In my main review, I also alluded to a third Dracula. That would be the English version with a modern score written by Phillip Glass and performed by the Kronos Quartet. The Glass work is not terrific, I must admit that I prefer the version with its music to the score-less standard edition.
For a new component, we get a featurette called Dracula: The Restoration. It runs eight minutes, 46 seconds and delivers comments from Universal Vice President of Content Management and Technical Services Peter Schade, Universal Senior Vice President of Technical Operations Michael Daruty, Universal VP of Image Assets and Preservation, NBC Universal Director of Archives and Collections Jeff Pirtle, Universal Technical Services mastering supervisor Ken Tom, Universal Digital Services project manager Seanine Bird, Universal Digital Services Inferno artist Eric Bauer, Universal Digital Services colorist George Cvjeticanin, Universal BluWave Audio executive director Richard LeGrand, and Universal Technical Services supervising sound editor John Edell.
They discuss the work that went into the restoration of both the English and Spanish versions of the film, though they emphasize the former. Programs like this tend to feel a bit self-congratulatory, but we still get a fairly informative look at all the technical challenges involved here.
The Dracula Archives offers the usual conglomeration of film posters, lobby cards, and both production and publicity photos. These come as a nine-minute, 11-second running montage. We find a good array of materials here.
We finish with a trailer gallery. It includes promos for Dracula, Dracula’s Daughter, Son of Dracula and House of Dracula.
Note that the Dracula Blu-ray drops a 95-minute documentary called “Universal Horror”. It appears on the Frankenstein Blu-ray, however.
Despite its status as a classic, I have to admit that I'm not wild about Dracula. However, I did really enjoy the Spanish version of the film made simultaneously; it offers a very creepy and exciting rendition of the story. The Blu-ray delivers excellent visuals, more than acceptable audio and a nice set of supplements. I’ll probably never embrace the English version of Dracula, but I feel delighted with the high quality of this release – and I do enjoy the included Spanish edition quite a lot.
To rate this film, visit the DVD review of DRACULA