“I am the monster that breathing men would kill. I am Dracula.” – Dracula.
March is here. Spring is in the air. Snow melts away bringing new life to the ground. Today is Oscar Day, the time of year when Hollywood’s best and brightest gather together to honor achievements in the industry. It is also the birthday month of Gary Oldman. Therefore, March shall be dedicated to Gary Oldman and some of his finest roles. Now it’s time to time-slide back to 1992, with President George H. W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin meeting to formally end the Cold War, the final Hitchhiker’s Guide book Mostly Harmless is published, along with the passing of E.C. Comics and Mad Magazine founder William Gaines. In November of that year, Gary Oldman brought chills to the big screen with his portrayal of movie monster Count Dracula.
Francis Ford Coppola is nothing short of a directorial legend, responsible for bringing the world such films as The Godfather, Apocalypse Now and New York Stories. However at the time of Dracula’s release, his status in Hollywood was skewed due to the flop of The Godfather Part III released back in 1990. This is a man who in years past had taken existing works of fiction and turning them into movie gold. In making HIS vision of Dracula, Coppola chose to take more cues from the original novel than follow traditional Hollywood cues for the Count. In an article published by Entertainment Weekly a week after the release, Francis detailed about the production “‘Give me something that either comes from the research or that comes from your own nightmares.’ I gave them paintings, and I gave them drawings, and I talked to them about how I thought the imagery could work.” The end result is the lavish spectacle brought to life, with a big part of it owed to Gary Oldman being cast in the lead.
Gary is a master character actor. With any role given to him, there has been a high amount of clear dedication involved in making the on-screen performance believable to audiences. With Count Dracula, there was the decades of previous leading men in the part to contend with (Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, etc.) Choosing, however, to pay more attention to the source material is what lead to a terrifying and engaging delivery from Gary whenever he was on camera. One of the things that helped sell it was playing things as Bram Stoker had originally written them, both as an old decrepit man and as the youthful, reinvigorated vampire lord.
One of the other great strengths of the 1992 production is the rest of the cast. From Anthony Hopkins as Professor Van Helsing, to Winona Ryder as Mina Murray and Cary Elwes as Arthur Holmwood, every actor and actress who was part of the heroic band that fights against the Count exemplified all the best traits of their fictional counterparts.
What also sells things is the added plot device. In Stoker’s novel, Mina is brought under the Count’s sway through his vampiric powers. In Coppola’s movie, the historic Vlad Tepes is blended with Dracula to create a plausible reason for what brings the action from London back to Transylvania. Mina is the reincarnation of Vlad’s bride, which leads to him draining Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) for sustenance in order to make the trip to England. From there, he proceeds to romance her and, in spite of her love for Jonathan, Mina is drawn to the mysterious charming figure. Despite his charms and her near-turning into a creature of the night, it is Jonathan’s love for her that brings Mina back from the edge.
Despite the numerous films about Dracula over the years, critics still appreciated and enjoyed the latest outing from the mind of Francis Ford Coppola. James V. Hart wrote for Time magazine that:
“Coppola brings the old spook story alive…Everyone knows that Dracula has a heart; Coppola knows that it is more than an organ to drive a stake into. To the director, the count is a restless spirit who has been condemned for too many years to interment in cruddy movies. This luscious film restores the creature’s nobility and gives him peace.”
While many actors have played the role of this dark monster, Gary Oldman gave some of the humanity that is overlooked back to the part. It is that humanity that lead to his success and subsequent influx of roles for a long time. So while waiting for the Oscars to begin, take some time to enjoy what is quite frankly one of the definitive movie tellings of Bram Stoker’s classic novel. It is a little bit of everything for everyone: dark, romantic, adventurous, and exciting. A quintessential picture supreme that should not be missed out by anybody.