Where do I start in reviewing such a masterpiece? Francis Ford Coppolla directed what is generally considered the most faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel, and for most people’s money (including mine) Gary Oldman (JFK, Léon The Professional) delivers the most definitive and frightening incarnation of Count Dracula. This all can easily be attributed to James V. Hart’s screenplay being so rich in character, dialogue, and respect to its source material. Coppolla delivers quite the intriguing visual experience, and while many of the effects are dated by today’s standards, they fit in well with the style and tone of the film.
The tale of Dracula is one of love that endures through death. Dracula (Gary Oldman) was once a soldier fighting the Turks in war, and was a man of faith. Unfortunately, despite his victory over his foes, the Turks brought word of Dracula’s death at their hands, and his dearest love, Elizabeta (Winona Ryder) is stricken with such unbearable grief that she plunges to her death. When Dracula returns to learn this, he is driven into a maddening rage. He cannot understand how his God would allow this injustice to happen. He renounces God, shuns him, and practically declares war against him. Dracula vows that he will rise again from his own death to avenge the death of his beloved.
Flash forward to some centuries later, and Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is sent out to meet with a mysterious Count in Transylvania after one R.M. Reinfield has gone wholly mad. The Count is set to move into a new estate in England, and Mr. Harker is there to deal with the final paperwork and such. Jonathan must leave his beautiful wife-to-be Mina (Winona Ryder), but the Count becomes aware that his beloved has been reborn as Jonathan’s own. Harker is very mystified and weary about the strange happenings at the castle all throughout this land of Transylvania, and soon, he falls prey to the Count’s evil. Dracula soon begins his quest to reclaiming his eternal beloved, but as he moves in closer and closer, Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Sir Anthony Hopkins) is brought into the mix. Dr. Jack Seward (who has been overseeing a clearly certifiable R.M. Reinfield) calls him in, being an old student of the Professor. Soon, Van Helsing deduces the supernatural happenings, and concludes it is the work of the undead, a nosferatu, a vampire. Soon, the hurt begins, and there is much carnage left on the path to the ultimate confrontation between the living and the undead. The story comes together in a very unique way, and very fitting for this strange tale of love that will never die.
The creature effects here are outstanding! The creatures of the night are given a massive life of their own, and will frighten you to a great extent. The makeup effects on Oldman are stellar as well, making him look to be a very elderly Count, or the wonderfully young Prince Vlad. The transformations the character goes through are simply amazing, and just on these levels, it beats out all other cinematic presentations of Dracula (or most any other vampire). From wolves, to giant man-bats, to god knows what other unholy abomination. Coppolla and Columbia definitely spent their money well on the makeup effects. As stated earlier, the visual effects are rather dated, but they fit well into the overall look and style of the film. However, they were all created practically, in-camera without any optical or digital composites. Coppolla details this well in the special edition DVD release.
I’m really eager to speak about the acting in this film, but not for the reason you may think – Keanu Reeves. Okay, I happen to be a Keanu fan. I’ve seen many of his films from Bill & Ted to Point Break to The Matrix to Constantine to Street Kings, but frankly, hearing Keanu trying to pull off a genuine English accent is bad cinema, really bad. And him working off of Gary Oldman for most of the film only makes him appear worse than he’s being. Keanu can deliver a fun and/or interesting performance in the right film, but this just doesn’t play to his style. Reportedly, Coppolla cast Reeves just so he’d have a “hot young star to appeal to teenage girls.” Why he felt that was required, I don’t know, and again, I have nothing but respect for Keanu, but this just wasn’t his kind of role. Anyway, onto the strong performances. Gary Oldman is where it all lies here. A Dracula film hinges on the power of the actor in the title role, and you couldn’t get any better than Oldman. The man has proven his diversity in countless films, and is absolutely one of the greatest actors of our time. He plays the infamous undead Count with such insidious charisma and lust. As the elderly Dracula, he is very creepy, eerie, and devious. He plays it up so well that it’ll make your skin crawl. As the young Dracula who attempts to illicit the love of Mina (Winona Ryder), he’s very mysterious, seductive, and still rather creepy. All in all, it’s a masterful performance, and it baffles me why Oldman wasn’t nominated for an Oscar or a Golden Globe. He did win Best Actor at the Saturn Awards, though. Joining him on the darker side of things is Tom Waits as the delusional and especially crazed Reinfield – a wonderfully satisfying performance. He certainly brings a special flavor to his few scenes acting as a prophet of doom (kind of like Crazy Ralph in Friday The 13th, only completely out of his mind).
On the protagonists’ side, we have the ever impressive Sir Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs, The Mask of Zorro) as the venerable Professor Abraham Van Helsing. Hopkins’ performance is quite lively and jovial, but overall powerful. It’s a clever and endearing performance, and despite the character’s unorthodox, verbose style, he really makes himself a favorite. He portrays a very interesting adversary for the immortal undead Count of Transylvania. While Hopkins easily has the hero lead, you also have great talents such as Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Saw), Richard E. Grant (Warlock), and the female lead in Winona Ryder (Edward Scissorhands, A Scanner Darkly). Winona does a fine job in this role which requires strength, fear, vulnerability, and simple beauty. She’s the object of obsession for Count Dracula, and she is the woman he has renounced God for, and has forced himself into eternal damnation over. All of these marvelous talents are well handled by the very seasoned Coppolla who is no stranger to star studded cast overflowing with sharp talent.
The score from Wojciech Kilar is absolutely awesome. It’s practically operatic, and very dramatic stuff. It’s grand, it’s powerful, and scary all at the same time. It’s an absolute wonder to experience, and makes the film even better than it was. This music is so haunting at times, and frankly, this is how a classic horror film should sound. I can’t say anything negative about it because it makes the film so much larger than life. It enhances everything on screen.
The costume design is as intricate and detailed as you would imagine. It has depth and character to it as well as grace, and in other parts, a very strange appeal. Oldman’s wardrobe is especially impressive and has become iconic. Every character is aided and enhanced by their wardrobe, and it helps breath further life into the picture. In addition to the fantastically exhaustive production design work, it gives the picture a sense of texture, personality, and history.
All in all, every part of this film makes it live and pulsate with power. Aside from Keanu, all the performances are masterful, the makeup effects are absolutely amazing, and I challenge you to find a more intense classic horror film score than this one! Overall, this is one solid, taut, and frightening film from a master filmmaker in Francis Ford Coppolla. If you’re looking for a genuinely scary, haunting, and chilling horror film – you absolutely cannot go wrong here. Frankly, I do not have the knowledge to compare this to every other Dracula film that’s come around, but general consensus has left this fine film with a strong reputation that has endured. I am glad to contribute to that with a solid endorsement for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
With Alien: Resurrection, it became painfully obvious that Twentieth Century Fox was now less interested in making credible sequels and more so in just bleeding this franchise dry. Let’s try to put this into perspective. Joss Whedon, as many know, is the creator of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, Angel, & Firefly. He’s a proven great screenwriter and director. He is the screenwriter for this film as well, but by his own admission, the filmmakers executed every aspect of his script wrong. Everything imaginable was done wrong from Joss’ written vision. Various other aspects were introduced by the film’s shitty French director Jean-Pierre Juenet. This, mainly, includes all the bad, stupid humor. The worst part of it is the fact that he’s very proud of all the stupid comedic bits, thinking it makes the film more entertaining and fantastic. This is the sort of thing that flushes the film down the toilet. Watching the DVD Special Edition cut, other things become obvious. His originally intended main title sequence is stupid, irrelevant, and directly setups a terrible tone for the film. It comes off as total, stupid B-movie cheese, and the cheap CGI effects drag it down to even lower levels. The theatrical cut sets a much better tone, but it hardly sets you up for how abhorrent this film really is. So, by that train of thought, the Special Edition introduction fits the quality of this motion picture much better.
After killing herself to prevent the government from taking the monstrous Alien to Earth, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) awakens 200 years later to find she has been cloned in order for scientists to withdraw the Alien DNA living inside her. As the world around her begins to fall apart and the terror begins again, Ripley realises that the scientists who cloned her may not have fully removed the Alien from her, at the same time that she is, once again, perhaps the only one who can stop the horrific infestation from reaching Earth.
Alien had Ridley Scott, Aliens had James Cameron, and Alien 3 had David Fincher – filmmakers who have all gone onto very high profile, blockbuster, and critically acclaimed careers. Jean-Pierre Juenet is about third class next to them. Where the previous three films gave the franchise a real weight and emotional depth, this film becomes a badly done and clichéd comic book adventure. It shows nothing of subtlety or intelligent originality. It’s all BIG camera moves, BIG action, BIG (yet shallow) characters. It also features over-the-top and cheesy performances by all but two cast members.
Ron Perlman and Michael Wincott are exceptional actors who are always reliable for bringing the goods. Wincott tends to bring a mysterious and engaging quality to his performances. Top Dollar in The Crow is probably his most high profile role. Here, it’s more low key, but that just makes him more intriguing. I think he could shine well in a classic film noir feature. Unfortunately, he has very few scenes, and gets killed relatively early. Ron is a bad ass, plain and simple. There’s a definite reason why he got such a role in Blade II, and more importantly, as Hellboy. He’s good at ass-kicking, gung-ho roles. This outing is no exception. Although, most casting choices are uninspired. One might be used to Dan Hedaya in more comedic roles, but he has fit into a dramatic feature well, such as The Usual Suspects. Here, you might think that his character would be made to hold more dramatic weight, but it’s 99% bad humor. General Perez does not come off, remotely, as a serious military officer. He comes off as a mentally stunted fool. Compared with Apone or Hicks from Aliens, he’s a buffoon. I’d sooner be led by Bill Paxton’s Hudson. If Perez is representative of humanity’s military, then it’s a sad state of affairs for the human race. Winona Ryder is no Carrie Henn, in terms of a vulnerable female role, and is no Lance Henriksen or Ian Holm, in terms of a peculiar android (or ‘artificial person’). Simply said, she fails to provide Annalee Call with any true depth or fascinating quality. There’s no reason for her to be here, let alone anything for her to do in this role. Brad Dourif provides nothing but over-the-top goofiness. You can’t take him seriously for a second. Good over-the-top Dourif is The Exorcist III, this is Dourif on the opposite end of the quality spectrum. Doing it with all the weight of a feather, and being god awful in a role you want to forget in short order. So many of these roles are cliché, paper thin characters meant to fit a cardboard cutout archetype to service the poor plot. You need the evil military guys, the mad scientists, the gruff mercenaries – all check. So, there is a need to scrutinize Joss Whedon’s script. I know he’s capable of far more diverse, complex, and interesting characters than this. I just don’t understand how he was responsible for such a lightweight, flat, and uninspired script. I can understand the filmmakers botching up the execution of the script, but I can’t believe they drained depth and character from it to where Joss would still accept a screen credit. Much of it would have to be Mr. Whedon’s fault, unfortunately.
Now, you have to ask where does Sigourney Weaver fit into all of this? She’s not playing Ellen Ripley. Not the Ripley we came to know and evolve with through the first three films. This is a hollow shell of a character with the memories of Ripley, and slight emotional traces thereof. But she’s not the weary, battle hardened, desperate character that Alien 3 left her as. Nor is she the strong, assertive, and haunted woman of Jim Cameron’s film. Sigourney does give us a rather creepy character, but it’s nothing recognizable to the franchise’s fans. Her character is truly alien. The emotional state of this Ripley Clone is sporadic and erratic. It’s all over the map, not allowing an audience to connect with the franchise’s heart and soul. It also plants Weaver, firmly, in the mud. She has no place to expand or grow with this dead role. Ellen Ripley’s character arc concluded with Alien 3. Closure was had, even if it was bleak. She went through all kinds of hell, saw so many die, and the pain and loss was absorbed into every fiber of her being. She was as human as any character you will find, and her end came with pathos and poetry. You might not have liked it, but within the context of that story, her death was appropriate and purposeful. It should not have ended any other way. Then, they go ahead and piss all over that with this cold, hollow “resurrection.” It is D.O.A. Sigourney Weaver’s role is one you cannot emotionally invest yourself in because she has very little emotion to offer. It’s about the stark opposite of the real Ellen Ripley we saw in the first three films. Suffice it to say, this film easily could’ve been scripted and shot without Sigourney Weaver or anything including Ripley since this really isn’t Ripley, not in spirit. She’s a stranger amongst strangers, and a stranger to her fans.
Moving on, and as I said, the film is filled with BIG everything. Every shot in the film is something complex and highly involved. There’s always movement, and extremely little, if any, subtlety in its cinematography. This forces the film to be less grounded and more overly dramatic. Dutched angles are seen throughout. Some scenes have one after another after another after another, for no effective reason. Juenet and cinematographer Darius Khondji were painting with broad strokes to show off their budget and gimmickry. Just them trying to make the film look artistic and interesting while achieving neither. Furthermore, every action sequence is over shot. Push-ins, sweeping crane shots, steadicam madness, low angles, high angles, dolly tracks. Khondji just throws all the tricks into every sequence, turning them into a massively over worked mish-mash, and not trying to differentiate one from another. Once the action begins, it’s shifted into hyperactive mode. It’s like Michael Bay on steroids – everything done to maximum capacity and minimum reality. At least with Michael Bay, he does it to give his films an epic feeling, this all falls flat for me. Also, the film is saturated with this sickly green tinge that is simply too much, and makes the film exceptionally unattractive to watch. When it’s not green, it’s this deep brown which is equally unattractive. Just adds to the excessively stylized comic book visuals that only further flushes the film down the crapper. There’s no beauty or inspired photography in the look of this film, ever.
Like I stated before, there are stupid concepts in this film, some minor, some major. A minor one also shows the lack of thought put into the futuristic setting. In several hundred years, why would we still be using paper currency? Even today, in the early 21st century, we’re mostly relying on debit and credit cards. Most people don’t handle tangible currency, it’s mostly computer based funds. Bills are paid online, plastic cards are swiped to make purchases. Three or four hundred years from now, paper currency will be an ancient concept. Also, a pinhole crack in a space ship’s hull (or window) would not cause the effect seen in the film’s climax. It is simply against the laws of physics and intelligence. But it fits in with the complete stupidity of the film.
Far larger dumbass ideas culminate in the abomination called ‘The Newborn.’ I won’t even bother commenting on its design as I think ‘abomination’ says enough. It’s just pathetic that one of the most merciless, relentless, and fearsome creatures in the history of science fiction cinema is dwindled down to this lame ass, mutated, embarrassing mess. Twisting the knife further, it actually says, “Mommy.” A further slap in the face is how helpless the Alien Queen is depicted as, and the fact that this regurgitated beast bitch slaps her to death. James Cameron and Stan Winston have been insulted. As bad as all that is, the French hack makes it even worse – Ripley makes love to the damn Alien! You may vomit now. It’s nothing graphic in detail, but the implication alone is enough to make you sick. And the complete hack director of Catwoman, Pitof, is the film’s special effects supervisor. Seems French hack director socialize with other French hack directors, both destined for bankrupt American filmmaking careers.
The film’s effects are a divided issue. The CGI is obvious and substandard. I keep wondering how, in 1993, at the dawn of digital filmmaking, we got realistic, flawless, seamless computer generated dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, but over fifteen years later, we continue to get cheap, crappy CGI effects in countless films (even for high profile, big budget films). This film was all of five years later, and the computer generated Aliens and effects are hardly seamless. There is no effort involved in picking them out from their live action surroundings. The physical effects, on the other hand, are definitely up to standards. This is due to Amalgamated Dynamics Incorporated – mainly Allec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. They worked with Stan Winston on Aliens, and took over with their own company, ADI, on Alien 3. I’m not keen on the brown, veiny Aliens, but the quality of the physical and practical effects, across the board, are of a high standard.
You can talk about the film’s score, but it’s nothing exceptional. Standard fare, forgettable horror-action cues. Which rather sums up the film. The entire problem with this film is that it takes a fairly serious franchise constructed by three serious filmmakers who injected it with strong layers of suspense, terror, and character depth, and then, deteriorates it into one-dimensional, one note characters and over worked action sequences. Suspense and terror barely fit into the mix. It’s all replaced by poorly conceived ideas, and a badly interpreted and executed script. It is one bad turn after another that beats the credibility of a once great franchise further into the dirt until it’s six feet under, and then, spits on the grave for good measure. If this was some terribly troubled production with all kinds of creative differences (i.e. Alien 3), some of this might be forgivable, or at least, understandable. But it absolutely was not. Director Jean-Pierre Juenet loves this film with all his heart, and thinks everything he did was wonderful and fantastic. Perhaps, even brilliant. The reality is that he made an abomination of a film that drove the final, hot, sharp nails into the coffin of the franchise. It could’ve ended with Alien 3 without much argument, at least, in light of Alien: Resurrection, but alas, the Hollywood money machine kept on milking it. Paul W.S. Anderson went on to beat the dead horse further with AVP, and unfortunately, put a bullet through the heart of the Predator franchise as well (which hardly had been run into the ground). AVP-R, in my opinion, helped to turn the tide a bit, but it all remains to be seen.
This film, on its own, is pathetic and badly done. When compared to its predecessors, it’s a terrible piece of cinema that never should’ve been. A fourth Alien film, if it needed to be done (which it didn’t), could’ve been put into the hands of any number of far more credible, talented, and higher quality filmmakers. How it landed in the hands of a Frenchman who had never made an American film before, let alone anything in the realm of straight horror, is beyond me. It failed on every level. There are very brief bits of goodness here, but they are crumbs that will not satisfy your hunger for another well-made Alien film. This is a straight shoot ’em up splatter fest devoid of the suspense and character depth each previous entry had instilled in the franchise. Nothing is improved upon in the Alien Quadrilogy DVD Special Edition cut. It just prolongs the agony, and there’s not enough of a distinct difference to offer a separate review of it. This one review covers enough, and you can feel free to send it down the refuse, again. This could rival Highlander II, Freddy’s Dead, & Jason X as the worst genre sequel of all-time. It really was and is a letdown in light of where the film series began and evolved to. This sequel is a poor afterthought for a franchise that still had a decent measure of credibility remaining. Thankfully, you can still watch the first three films as a complete trilogy, and easily ignore Alien: Resurrection in its entirety.