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Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Supreme Cinema Series (Blu-ray Review)

Bram Stokers DraculaIt may be Bram Stoker’s name in the title, but this is Francis Ford Coppola’s film, from the first frame to the last. Coppola’s adaptation is an exercise in excess, creating mesmerizing cinematic fever dream. Every detail is flawless, from the production design by Dante Ferreti and Thomas Sanders to the breathtaking cinematography by Michael Ballhaus to the lavish costumes designed by Eiko Ishioka, and finally the hypnotic score composed by Wojciech Kilar. Sony is introducing their new Supreme Cinema Series with one of my all time favorite films, finally making all my dreams come true.

Film 

Gary Oldman delivers the greatest version of Dracula, balancing terror, humor, and pathos with tremendous ease and elegance. Early in the film, Jonathan Harker (a wooden Keanu Reeves), visits Castle Dracula in the Carpathian mountains to tend to the Count’s will. What he’s greeted with is an ancient being, carrying himself with mix of royal decadence and reclusive aggression, complete with a chilling cackle, ten inch nails, and a shadow that doesn’t want to be tied down.

Bram Stoker's Dracula

“Listen to them,” he orders, in response to the howling wolves, “The children of the night. What music they make.” There’s an inhuman perversity to his Romanian purr, slightly welcoming, slightly dangerous.  Oldman is having an absolute joy playing this demon, and it’s hard not to be entranced.

The rest of the cast is a mixed bag. Anthony Hopkins is the only other actor who is up to the challenge of matching Oldman’s energy. His Van Helsing is an unpredictably cooky fellow, a genius who doesn’t quite comprehend basic social skills, injecting the perfect dose of playfully hammy humor. Sadie Frost as Lucy is appropriately feisty and seductive. As suitors who get promoted to vampire hunters, Richard E. Grant, Billy Campbell, and Cary Elwes do what they can with limited screen time and underdeveloped characters. Of course, it’s always a blast to see Tom Waits on screen, and his Renfield is a delightful, insect-like oddball.

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Reeves and Winona Ryder clearly struggle with their roles, stumbling over their accents and oftentimes lacking in emotional depth that the script demands. The strongest moments with them are the ones in the beginning, where they possess an eager innocence; their love and excitement for each other has an honesty to it that’s frankly adorable.

“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is a lush, operatic experience. The sequences of horror, especially in the castle, still resonate 23 years later; Dracula crawling on the castle wall remains bone-chilling. This is Coppola at his most playful and flamboyant; there’s a childlike silliness that had never been seen before and since.

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail: There’s been a lot of talk about the framing of this transfer, that there’s a notable shift up and to the left. I’ve spent a lot of time comparing the two Blu-ray discs, and yes, there is a slight adjustment, but it took me so long to recognize it, and it seems to me absurd to whine about such a minor flaw. This new transfer is everything that the original should have been. The picture is absolutely breathtaking. The image is crisper in every way. All the complaints people had with the original disc had been remedied. I’ve never seen this film look so vivd before, which once again makes is seem ridiculous to complain about the framing.

Depth: WWWHHHHHHHHHOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAA BOY! Let me tell you! The colors, the sets, everything has a level of depth which – once again – you’ve never seen before. Just look at the moments where Mina and Vlad meet for the first time in the streets of London. It’s so beautiful, and you can really see the sets and the extras walking around. Frames I never paid attention to before now resonate strongly with me.

Black Levels: Many nighttime sequences in the previous release has a blue tint to it, an aspect I became accustomed to and didn’t put too much thought into it. This release has removed the tint and sharpened the night scenes and various level of black, including clothes, shadows, and the corridors of the castle. It’s embarrassing how muddy the previous release was, and the fact the Francis Ford Coppola approved it makes it all the more confusing.

Color Reproduction: Being a vampire film, red is a prominent color, and it is lush and seductive; the moment where an undead Lucy sprays blood all over the hunters is vibrant, and the contrast between the white and red is powerful. Besides the red, this is a supremely vibrant film, and each detail is dazzling.

Flesh Tones: A variety of undead flesh is front and center. The tones on the living are perfectly natural, while the flesh on the vampire creatures is unnerving. There are details I have never noticed before on the makeup.

Noise/Artifacts: It’s flawless.

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby TrueHD 7.1, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish, Turkish

Dynamics: The 7.1 channel is bone-chilling. Similar to the picture, there are aspects of the sound which I have never heard before. Cackles, growls, wind, and all the elements of horror haunt every speaker, enveloping you into the world. All the sounds are positioned precisely, even something as simple as a pen writing stands out beautifully. A lot of love went into this.

Low Frequency Extension: The music and the action will make your living room rumble, every instrument, every rock and flame will make your neighbors believing hell is erupting next door. My cat bolted out of the room at one moment, which makes this my favorite Blu-ray ever.

Surround Sound Presentation: Those bats, insects, and jackals travel through ever speaker, ready to attack. Sometimes they travel fast, other times there’s a slow buildup. Dialogue is appropriately placed, matching up where the character is in the scene. The thunderstorms will have you gripping your armrest.

Dialogue Reproduction: Perfectly positioned.

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Extras 

“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is being released in two separate packages. As part of their “Supreme Cinema Series,” there’s a special packaging which has a clear cover, a booklet and a letter from Francis Ford Coppola. I was sent the standard Blu-ray packaging, so I can’t speak to the quality of the special edition package, but it looks impressive. All the features from the previous release are here, along with some new items:

NEW! Audio Commentary: It’s a combination of separately recorded commentaries with Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Coppola, and Greg Cannom. It was a feature on the Criterion laserdisc, so while it may not be “new,” if you’re like me and never owned it, this is new to you.

NEW! Reflections in Blood: Francis Ford Coppola and Bram Stoker’s Dracula: There’s some overlap here with the two commentaries, but Coppola is so interesting to listen to and so enthusiastic that it doesn’t make a difference.

NEW! Practical Magicians: A Collaboration Between Father and Son: Roman and Francis are interviewed by F.X. Feeney, and once again, there’s some overlap, but it’s still a great piece.

Audio Commentary with Director Francis Ford Coppola: From the previous Blu-ray.

Francis Ford Coppola Introduction

The Blood Is the Life: The Making of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The Costumes Are the Sets: The Design of Eiko Ishioka

In Camera: Naïve Visual Effects

Method and Madness: Visualizing Dracula

Deleted & Extended Scenes

Bram Stoker’s Dracula “Beware” Trailer

Bram Stoker’s Dracula Theatrical Trailer

And an Ultraviolet code.

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Summary 

This is as good as it gets. Those who cry over minor framing quibbles don’t deserve this tremendous release. Everything about this is thrilling, from the picture to the sound to the new features. This is without a doubt going to be one of my favorite Blu-ray releases of the year, and I look forward to what else this Supreme Cinema Series has to offer.

Bram Stoker's Dracula Blu-ray Review

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I never stand in front of the elevator doors when they open. All because of the movie The Departed.

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