After countless film adaptations of the iconic vampire, Francis Ford Coppola hammers his own stake into Bram Stoker’s Dracula. With Gary Oldman as the titular classic monster, the film is an artistic masterpiece even if it doesn’t completely stay true to the novel. With an all-star cast, the film may not be the definitive adaptation, but it’s one hell of a piece of 90s horror cinema. After already enjoying an excellent release, Bram Stoker’s Dracula celebrates its 30th Anniversary with a new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release offering up the same excellent transfer now with Dolby Vision HDR, Atmos audio, and a terrific assortment of bonus features in a classy SteelBook. Highly Recommended
Considering the classic nature of the novel, character, and how many times we’ve reviewed Bram Stoker’s Dracula here at High-Def Digest, you’ll have to forgive me for not starting with my traditional story teaser recap of the film. If you’d like to read our past reviews here they are:
As for where I fall into the camp of defenders or detractors of Francis Ford Coppola’s opus, I am a defender. However, I do recognize its many faults. I was ten years old when this film came out and I’ve had a love of classic monster movies for as long as I could remember, and this was something I desperately wanted to see. Being an R-rated film, I wasn’t immediately allowed to see it so my parents bought me off with the condition that if I read the book then I could see the new movie. I don’t think they anticipated my dedication to living up to my end of the bargain as I dutifully read the book while at summer camp that year and loved it. While I missed out on seeing it in theaters, my Dad held up his end of the bargain and rented it for me on tape when it was available at our local Video Watch.
Thirty years later this film still fascinates and frustrates me. On one side I am completely enamored with the care and attention and scale that Ford and his team took to create Stoker’s grim and terrifying world of Transylvania and Victorian London. The costumes, the makeup, the creature design the set design, and the incredible visual effects were stunning. I still marvel at them every time I pull this film out. I love Gary Oldman’s take on the ancient monster with Hopkins turning in a devilishly delightful Van Helsing. I was actually intrigued that Copolla and company decided to give him an origin story that seemed fitting for the monster. I loved the score and the prevailing sense of dread and danger that ran throughout the film. It has a tremendous energy enjoyed by no other Dracula film.
On the other side of things, I’m not at all a fan of the romantic anti-hero angle for the character. Yes, there is an inherent sexual aspect to the film with the biting and blood-sucking, and I have no problem with that being explored in an overtly erotic way. But by forcing Dracula into this mold of being a misunderstood romantic, it deadens the seriousness and horror of his atrocities and is incongruous with the rest of the film. He feeds a baby to his brides. He seduces and murders poor innocent Lucy turning her into another of his damned brides. But you know… he’s in love with Winona Ryder’s Mina so he’s actually kind of good and he’s worthy of redemption somehow? Nope. That’s appropriate for Frankenstein's monster since he’s a creature who didn’t ask to be born and has to figure out the terrifying world while frightened people try to kill him, that’s fine. But Dracula is not a creature worthy of redemption. And that’s the area I just can’t fully get behind in this film. I appreciate a multifaceted villain, but you can’t forget he’s a terrible creature that deserves the stake to the heart and his head chopped off.
Adaptation liberties aside, I do enjoy this movie a lot. Again it’s visually arresting and I think for all of the stumbles Coppola makes, he makes up for it with two or three great decisions. Casting notwithstanding. Don’t get me wrong, I love Keanu, but he wasn’t right or ready to play an aristocratic Englishman like Harker. I actually think if they shifted the casting a little and let Cary Elwes play Harker with Richard E. Grant for Arthur Holmwood, with another elder English aristocratic actor playing Seward, a number of criticisms of the film would be nixed. With that, I do love Tom Waits as Renfield. Ultimately Bram Stoker's Dracula is a brilliantly perplexing mishmash of ideas from Coppola.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Bram Stoker’s Dracula rises from the grave once again to feed upon the wallets of physical media collectors for a new two-disc 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray 30th Anniversary SteelBook. The 4K version of the film scores a BD-100 disc with a Region Free BD-50 serving up the 1080p version and the bulk of the bonus features. Instead of Sony's original pseudo-click wheel menu system, the disc now loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options along the bottom and the included bonus features along the right side of the screen.
Sony once again goes the extra mile for a catalog title, this time giving Bram Stoker’s Dracula - which already had an excellent 4K HDR transfer - a beautiful Dolby Vision upgrade. While this isn’t a night-and-day improvement, the extra attention with dynamic metadata marks a notable improvement in color shading and shadow play for some of the most heavily stylized sequences. And for dedicated fans of the film, Sony has restored the graphic gothic text font for subtitles and title cards - which for some may well be worth the price admission alone.
Much like Michael Palmer summarized in his 2017 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray review, this film’s visual mileage and impact may rest on an understanding of the time this was filmed and the techniques used. Within any given scene, there are a lot of printed optical effects at play that can affect grain stability, clarity, softness, and other aspects of the image. However, I will say this 4K image certainly doesn’t betray these elements, if anything I had a greater appreciation of them and how fluidly they worked - Harker’s letter on the left side of the screen with Dracula’s castle to the right that fades into Harker’s room as he’s shaving while the letter then slowly fades revealing the full room as the narration finishes is beautiful in-camera effects work.
Effectively this is the same excellent transfer we got in 2017 now with some added enhancements. Those with Dolby Vision-supported televisions will most likely see and appreciate the little intricacies it offers. But even those with setups that support only HDR10 will still enjoy a tremendous image with incredible details, beautiful bold colors, and as I said earlier proper subtitle font. The font really shouldn’t be that big of an issue, but flipping between discs, the generic white does affect the mood of the film. As a whole, this is one hell of a great-looking disc, and those who haven't picked up this film on 4K are in for a treat.
Quick note about the included Blu-ray disc - it is still the same Cinema Series disc as before and has not been updated nor have the subtitles been fixed.
Once again the same uniformly excellent Dolby Atmos track has been carried over. This was one of the first films I plugged in when I got a full Atmos rig and I love it. The sound design may not be wall-to-wall explosions and action, but there is a terrific amount of ambient and pinpoint effects to enjoy. One of my favorite sound schemes revolves around Dracula’s brides and their lustful whispers and how those voices move about the soundscape. Likewise, when we see the vampire Lucy carrying the child to her crypt, that hypnotic lullaby echoes around beautifully. But to sweeten the deal for this release, Sony has gone and added excellent legacy audio tracks to this disc. You can now enjoy the film with either Atmos, DTS-HD MA 5.1, or DTS-HD MA 2.0. Of the three, I definitely stand behind Atmos, but the other two are terrific options depending on your setup.
While most of the bonus features for this film are exactly the same as before, this 4K disc now picks up the Annie Lennox “Love Song for a Vampire” music video as well as the vintage Blood Lines: Dracula - The Man The Myth The Movies featurette. Sadly, the solo Coppola and Family Audio Commentaries, once again, remain only on the included Blu-ray disc and are not included with the new pressing of the 4K disc. I guess this is fine if you’ve already listened to it, but both tracks are great and worth getting into so if you’ve never heard it, it’s frustrating not to have them on the 4K disc. At least everything else carries over so that’s something.
4K Ultra HD Disc
30 years later Bram Stoker’s Dracula remains one of those cinematic oddities that split audiences but is still highly regarded. Qualms, niggles, and grumbles aside, I still very much enjoy this film but I’m not blind to its many faults. It does have issues, but thankfully those little nitpicks don’t keep this version of Dracula from being one of the most visually arresting versions of the legendary monster - and an incredibly entertaining film overall.
To celebrate this film’s 30th Anniversary, Sony curses physical media fanatics with a new two-disc 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray SteelBook release. The 4K disc has been upgraded to include Dolby Vision HDR, properly restored subtitle font, as well as two additional legacy audio tracks on top of the excellent Dolby Atmos mix. If that wasn’t enough we now pick up the Annie Lennox music video as well as a vintage documentary. All this may not be 100% worth the added price tag of a Double Dip, or an Octodip if you’re like me and had the movie on VHS, Laserdisc, two DVDs, two Blu-rays, and now two 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays, but it's still one hell of a great disc! - Highly Recommended