Bram Stoker's Dracula - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
- Street Date:
- October 3rd, 2017
- Reviewed by:
- Michael S. Palmer
- Review Date: 1
- October 2nd, 2017
- Movie Release Year:
- Release Country
- United States
Portions of this review are featured in our Bram Stoker's Dracula Supreme Cinema Series Blu-ray review. This 4K Blu-ray review features new Vital Disc Stats, Video, Audio, & Final Thoughts.
Also, please note: I don't have 4K screengrab capability so I reused my screengrabs from the 2015 HD/SDR transfer. They do not represent how this movie looks on 4K Blu-ray.
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Bram Stoker's Dracula debuted in North America in November of 1992, almost one hundred years after the original novel's first publishing. Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, famous for his Godfather saga and Apocalypse Now, was in a bit of financial trouble at the time. Fortunately, he was also a big fan of Stoker's book, having spent summers reading the full novel to his campers when he was a camp counselor. So, when actress Winona Ryder approached Coppola with James V. Hart's Dracula screenplay adaptation, Coppola quickly boarded the project, excited about its romantic flourishes and going back to the source material, which he thought would be fresh in the early 90s.
Another key decision was bringing aboard Coppola's son, Roman, as Visual Effects Supervisor and Second Unit Director because father and son not only tried to recreate the novel's gothic tonal flourishes, but also early 20th Century filmmaking technics. To put it another way, while James Cameron was busy ushering in a new era of digital visual effects, the Coppola family was using a combination of century-old optical, in-camera, and practical effect techniques. Together with designer Eiko Ishioka, composer Wojciech Kilar, an all-star cast, and hundreds of other collaborators, the Coppolas made a wild, gothic melodrama that lit up the box office in 1992 and saved the family home.
The plot, for those who have not read the novel or seen this adaptation, is a multifaceted tale concerning one Vlad the Impaler, a vicious warrior fighting for the Church who renounced God in 1462 after his wife's suicide, only to turn into something else... dark and immortal.
Four hundred years later, on the eve of the 20th Century, young solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) sets out to Transylvania to meet the eccentric Count Dracula (Gary Oldman) to help the count purchase London property. Once there, Dracula (Vlad himself, aged but still "alive") discovers that Harker's wife-to-be, Mina (Winona Ryder), is the living reincarnation of Vlad's lost wife, Elisabeta.
Dracula entraps Harker in his castle and voyages to London -- sleeping in the earth of his homeland -- to woo Mina. But before he can win her heart, he needs his strength, which he attains by slowly draining the life and soul out of Mina's best friend, Lucy. Lucy's three suitors, horrified by Lucy's strange illness symptoms, ultimately team up with Dr. Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) to uncover the truth about the nosferatu and destroy him. Mina, for her part, struggles with her dutiful love for the missing (and eventually found) Harker while slowly embracing an impossible sense that her true love may very well be Dracula.
Melodramatic, fanciful, surreal, Bram Stoker's Dracula is a theatrical fever-dream of a movie.
Having grown up in the early 90s, this film hit at the exact right time for my generation. We missed it theatrically because it was rated R "for sexuality and horror violence," but proceeded to rent it many times on VHS or watch it over and over again on TV. It had blood and violence and a shocking amount of nudity -- in short, everything teenage boys wanted to see. It was also deeply romantic and gothic and wildly imaginative -- in short, everything teenage girls wanted to see.
I mention this personal anecdote to acknowledge there may be a good bit of nostalgia reinforcing my passion for this adaptation. Many would cite performance and accent issues, or the lack of conventional scares, for why he or she might not care for this particular production. But I find that the movie has aged quite well, particularly for its grandiose and hand-made filmmaking style -- it feels equal parts period and ultra modern. As a student of Shakespeare and several hundred years worth of theatrical (stage and screen) expression, I'm still amazed by how this film was put together. I love the overt camera movement, breathtaking pacing, and melodramatic romance. It's what I imagine Dracula would be like if Orson Welles had adapted it earlier or if Baz Luhrmann were to take on the project today. It drips with detail and boldness that easily overcome any imperfections.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Blu-ray
Bram Stoker's Dracula descends on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as part of a two-disc 4K Blu-ray + Blu-ray + Digital HD with Ultraviolet combo pack that's housed in a standard black keepcase along with a cardboard slipcover. While 4K Blu-rays lack region coding, the included BD50 is labeled with Regions A, B, and C. There are no pre-menu trailers on the 4K disc and the main menu is formatted similarly to other Sony 4K titles.
The Digital HD with Ultraviolet redemption code expires on 12/31/19 and does NOT work for iTunes, which is a shame because iTunes has this movie up in 4K with Dolby Vision while VUDU only has it listed in HDX (1080p). To redeem, please visit sonypictures.com/uvredeem where the title will be added to your Ultraviolet Library.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Bram Stoker's Dracula travels oceans of time to make its debut on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, featuring an HEVC encode framed in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. To my eyes and the best of my knowledge, this appears to be the same master as the Supreme Cinema Series Blu-ray with new HDR10 grading that includes a wider color space.
I've watched three Sony catalog titles on 4K Blu-ray in the last week -- Dracula, Bridge on the River Kwai, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- and I must say I'm absolutely fascinated by the results thus far. All three look better than ever, and Sony appears to have taken great care in achieving these results, but 4K Blu-ray and 4K HDR displays are much less forgiving with source material flaws than I expected. In short, due to various limitations in how older movies were photographed and produced (and stored), they don't really stand up next to, say, modern CGI animated or action films that are upscaled from 2K DIs.
I mention this to set expectations. Bram Stoker's Dracula is marvelously pretty and dripping with added detail and color in a presentation that easily bests the Blu-ray if you're looking closely, but 4K/HDR -- much like with bad CGI -- highlights flaws as much as reveals improvements. As such, the numerical score above represents how this specific title sits among 4K Blu-rays rather than how it compares to the previous Blu-ray.
For this review, I re-watched Dracula in 4K, occasionally pausing to rewatch a sequence on the Blu-ray and then again on the 4K Blu-ray. During this experience, I was struck by the subtle-but-important upgrades this version makes over the Blu-ray. Like the jump to the Supreme Cinema Series itself, this 4K Blu-ray is far more accurate and rids itself of digital artifacts, aliasing, and banding. Honestly, I didn't realize how many problems that previous Blu-ray had until finding this cleaner version.
Next, while the Blu-ray and 4K Blu offer similar amounts of sharpness during closeups, the 4K version offers more detail in wider shots or with background textures; glance past the actors at the castle walls where the 4K Blu-ray reveals stone and metal. The only downside to the added sharpness is how the 4K Blu-ray make it easier to see production techniques; as an example, during the battlefield sequence of Dracula's origin story, you can see breaks in the red walls behind the silhouettes. Also, at times when there's softness in any part of a shot, your eyes can't help but notice it (in a way you don't with film projection). Unfortunately, this does distract at times.
In terms of HDR10, the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray offers a little more color pop, but it's not as dramatic as some HDR10 vs. Blu-ray comparisons. Contrast is improved as well, with inky black levels and a hint of more detail in the highlights (though the improvement is less noticeable than modern transfers like Guardians Vol. 2). Film grain is heavier than the Blu-ray, but never distracting or noisy.
My biggest word of caution here comes down to your display type. As we discussed, HDR10 is limited by the way it uses static metadata to apply HDR grading to the whole movie, rather than adjusting the grading to a particular scene or shot. Because of this, if you don't have a brighter display (like the pricier Samsung models), you're going to lose some shadow detail compared to watching the SDR Blu-ray. In other words, check your calibration and/or you might have to tweak your gamma and other settings.
Overall, I'm impressed with how Bram Stoker's Dracula looks on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in HDR10. It is filmmic and colorful and improves upon the most recent Blu-ray release in terms of detail and fixing some compression issues. That said, I can't say the results are dramatic or that most people would even notice them, especially with smaller displays or displays lacking in brightness capabilities. My advice: this 4K Blu-ray's for 65" or larger displays, or projection setups.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Bram Stoker's Dracula roars onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with the same stunning Dolby Atmos mix (7.1 TrueHD compatible) soundtrack as the Supreme Cinema Series Blu-ray. English, French, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks have also been provided.
Two years ago, this Dolby Atmos mix was proof you could take a catalog title and ramp it up into something that honors its original intentions while bettering some modern (native) Atmos mixes. And it's holding up really well too, even as sound designers improve and experiment with their Atmos abilities.
Sure, it's not as articulate as Fury Road or Gravity, but the end results are dramatically immersive. Slamming doors. Choral orchestrations. Crashing lightning. Bellows, moans, and roars. All of these things rise up above the audience. LFE levels are never monstrous, but this track plays loud and, yet, always leaves enough room for clear dialog. Hearing this track in Atmos reveals a lot of nuances both in the musical orchestration and the sound effects work, particularly in Dracula's castle and his surrounding lands.
In short, this track only gets better with time to hear more of it. For fans and audiophiles alike, this track is Must Own on any format.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
While there are no special features on the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray itself, Sony has included a copy of the Supreme Cinema Series Blu-ray, which is where you'll find all of The Supplements and HD Exclusives from that previous release.
Commentary with Director Francis Ford Coppola, Visual Effect Director Roman Coppola, and Makeup Supervisor Greg Cannom. (from the 1993 laserdisc)
Commentary with Director Frances Ford Coppola.
Francis Ford Coppola Introduction (HD, 3:55).
The Blood is the Life: Making Bram Stoker's Dracula (HD, 27:48).
The Costumes are the Sets: The Design of Eiko Ishioka (HD, 14:02)
In Camera: Naive Visual Effects (HD, 18:46).
Method and Madness: Visualizing Dracula (HD, 12:06).
12 Deleted & Extended Scenes (HD, 28:14).
Bram Stoker's Dracula "Beware" Trailer (HD, 1:31). Listed as the "Teaser Trailer" on the previous Blu-ray.
Bram Stoker's Dracula Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:36)
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Reflections in Blood: Francis Ford Coppola and Bram Stoker's Dracula (HD, 29:11). A conversation with the director about his involvement in the production and how he strove to make this film as close to the book as possible. Great interview; must watch for fans.
Practical Magicians: A Collaborations Between Father and Son (HD, 20:07). For this second interview, Roman Coppola joins his father to discuss the production.
Bram Stoker's Dracula remains one of Sony's premier home entertainment titles for a reason -- it's an immensely watchable gothic, romantic, macabre melodrama that manages to be surprisingly faithful to one of the most important genre books ever written. It is also an exercise in hand-crafted filmmaking techniques that feel even more special today than they did upon the film's original release.
As a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray featuring HDR10 grading, it really depends on a few factors.
Yes, this is the definitive home video transfer of the movie -- it's more filmmic and detailed and colorful than ever before, plus any sense of banding and digital noise is gone, but 4K Blu-rays shine a light on softness and if you don't a bright HDR-capable display, you're going to lose shadow detail. Also, if you already own the most recently Blu-ray, you've already got very good picture quality and the same stunning Dolby Atmos soundtrack.
I would say if you skipped the Supreme Cinema Series version and you're a fan of the movie, Bram Stoker's Dracula is Highly Recommended on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.
If you already own that newer Blu-ray, the results will really depend on your setup and calibration (and also don't expect it to compete with modern transfers). For you folks, I'd file this under Worth a Look.
Average those two together to a Recommended rating. Personally, I'm looking forward to revisiting this title when I get my next 4K or 4Ke projector in for testing. It should be sumptuous on the big screen.
- 4K UHD/Blu-ray/Digital Copy
- English Dolby Atmos
- Reflections in Blood: Francis Ford Coppola and Bram Stoker's Dracula
- Practical Magicians: A Collaboration Between Father and Son
- Deleted Scenes
- 4 Legacy Featurettes
- Audio Commentary & Film Introduction by Director Francis Ford Coppola
- 1993 Audio Commentary with Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Coppola and Greg Cannom
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