Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review Day: Dracula by Bram Stoker + Dracula Film Versions

Two quick notes before I get to today's review:

1) I'm trying to promote my two most recent books, Dark Remnants and Quantum Entanglement. There are lots of sites where you can list them for promotions, but most of the Amazon ones require that you have a certain number of reviews on Amazon. Unfortunately, because my books are still so new, I'm falling a bit below the bar. So, if you've read either and feel so inclined, could you cross-post your reviews to Amazon? It would really help me out. Also, if you'd be willing to read either in exchange for a review, I'd be happy to send you a free electronic copy. You can contact me at my email, lkhillbooks@gmail.com for questions or inquiries.

2) I finally got the cover for book 1 of my historical fiction trilogy, entitled Citadels of Fire. This is the saga set in Russia in the middle ages. Guys, it's AMAZING! I'm so pleased with it. I'm going to do a cover reveal the first week in November. I'm thinking the 6th or 7th. If anyone would like to help me do a cover reveal blitz, let me know. I'll be sending the stuff out in the next few days. Just email me, again, at lkhillbooks@gmail.com.


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Okay. Onto Dracula by Bram Stoker. I've read this one before, but I decided to read it again for Halloween this year. I totally love this book! It's one of my favorites.

Plot: I probably don't need to say much about the plot, as most people have a pretty good idea. I remember being surprised the first time I read it how great it was. I expected it to be stiff and outdated, the way much classic stuff that's WAY overdone in our pop culture is. Not so with Dracula. It's still powerful and creepy, even a hundred and thirty years later! I will say that I've never seen a film version that does the book total justice. Stoker was a genius in his own right that immortalized himself with this work. If only we could all be so lucky. It's worth noting that, in the original book, there is no romance between Mina and Dracula. None. Whatsoever. I get a bit annoyed that EVERY other version does that. I mean, I suppose I get why it might enhance the story, but I'm a bit of a Stoker purist and in the book, Dracula only goes after Mina to spite the men who are trying to kill him. To have versions where he's in love with Mina--or worse!--she's in love with him, seems a perversion of Stoker's original intentions.

Characters: I love the characters in this book. They're simple, but totally believable. Still classic personas, even after all this time. And be advised, in the book, there is nothing even remotely redeeming about Dracula. He's a monster through and through that the good, decent men of the time must kill to keep him from harming others. This is like a great action film disguised as a historical, gothic novel. Gotta love it! I love that Mina is smart and innovative, but also a dedicated wife and friend. I love that, even aside from her husband, who of course loves her in a romantic sense, the men in the book all adore her. I love that they all loved Lucy, but had a gentleman's agreement to abide by whoever she chose, and weren't bitter about it. There's just so much genuine goodness in these character that you don't see very often in literature today.

Creep Factor: As I said, it's huge for a classic novel. Much creepier than you'd think. There's a reason this is the primary source material for all things vampire in our culture. As creepy as this is to me, I can't imagine how much it must have scandalized society in Stoker's time to read it. I love the bit with the wolves, and how creepy Transylvania is. Such a great setting to match the plot and the undead villain.

Ending: I won't give spoilers, but I love the ending of this book. It ends on such a high note of action and glory. Stoker really knew how to craft a story, and he did a supreme job. If you decide to read this book, the ending will not disappoint!

Overall: I think everyone should read Dracula at least once. If not for the fun of it, do it because it's an education, historical novel. Or something. Just read it! :D


Dracula Film Versions:


So as I said in the above review, I've never seen a film version that's done the book justice. For the sake of (relative) brevity, I'll just address two relatively recent versions here.


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Hated it! (Coppola Version).

I saw a trailer for this version on some movie I owned not long after I first read the book. The trailer makes it look amazing. The scenery, the feel of the movie, even the look of the actors in it, all make it look like this version stands by the book and is going to be awesome.

Yeah...not so much.

Don't get me wrong. The look and feel was right, and I even thought the actors did very well, but the interpretation was TERRIBLE. Maybe it's a Coppola thing, but everything and everyone in this version was vastly over-sexualized. There was a great deal of people running their hands over their own bodies and ripping open their own shirts/bodices. I just didn't like it. Look, I get that many people believe the bite of a vampire is symbolic of sex, and I even understand why they think it. But even if that's what Stoker was going for, even if he wanted Dracula's attacks to be symbolic of sex, I believe it was only mean to be that: a symbol. He didn't mean for all of them to actually be having sex in the book. I don't believe that the only reason it's not written that way is because the conventions of the time didn't allow it. Unlike many popular books to day, Dracula doesn't need an NC-17 rating to be a great story. It's unsettling enough on it's own. So, that aspect of the film was extremely annoying.


Gary Oldman as Dracula
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But it was more than even that. Despite having many actors whose work I usually love, I didn't like the interpretation of the characters, either. Lucy was an out-and-out slug, which is horrible given how sweet she was in the book. Mina is portrayed as smart, but easily seduced by Dracula, which just kind of makes her wishy-washy. Not the devoted, strong heroine of the book. And as much as I love the work of Sir Anthony Hopkins, his Van Helsing came of as...ridiculous. In the book, Van Helsing is the Gandalf character; the Dumbledore character. He's the sweet, wise, elderly leader of the team that has all the knowledge and guides everyone. This team of people trying to defeat Dracula all love and respect one another. To make him this eccentric weirdo just...didn't sit right with me. I don't know if that was a choice of the actor or the director, but I was really not a fan.

Overall, I obviously wouldn't recommend this version. Look, the problem with trying to get Hollywood to put out a great version of Dracula lies in the fact that Stoker was an in-your-face Christian. In the book, there are blatant Christian themes. That's why vampires are thwarted with crosses and Holy Water. Dracula is seen as the embodiment of the devil, which is why these good Christian men must kill him before he drags more souls down with him. They often call upon God to protect them and such. It's just a bit too conventional for today's Hollywood, which frustrates me. A lot. But there it is. I wish someone would do honor to Stoker's vision, but I doubt we'll ever see the real version of it because people today are just too threatened by that kind of religion. Not much to be done about it. So, spare yourself the disappointment and skip this version.


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Loved It! (Van Helsing, 2004)


Trust me, no one was more surprised than I was that I loved this film. I remember hearing the concept long before it came out and laughing. It sounded half ridiculous and half awesome. But it works in the same way Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter works. I mean, why wouldn't a dude this awesome have been hunting monsters in his youth, right? 

Plot: This is the Van Helsing of the book, but as a young man. He's an action star in his own right, portrayed by (who else?) Hugh Jackman. He helps Anna (Kate Beckinsale) hunt Dracula, as it's her family's responsibility to kill the vampire, and she's the last of her line. Van Helsing has no memory of his origins, and they are never fully explained, which normally would bug me but it works surprisingly well in this film. I'll admit that the first time I saw it, I only sort of liked the plot. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't hugely unique, either. But, then I got to the end. I don't mean the part where the action climaxes, but the VERY end. As in the last 120 seconds of the film. It's so sweet and heartfelt, and the setup pays off wonderfully. The end of the movie made the film for me, and I've loved it ever since.
Hugh Jackman as Van Helsing with Kate Beckinsale
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I think the film got the feel of Dracula right, including the creepy Transylvanian landscape, the air of mystique and darkness, and the great eastern accents.

Understand that this doesn't try to be terribly Gothic. There's a lot of humor in it, and that's kind of the point. The film feels distinctly like steam punk, even though we don't actually see any steam-powered contraptions. There is a rapid-fire crossbow and something that looks suspiciously like a mini gun. In 1880. In the basement of a monastery, no less. Obviously, film makers weren't super concerned with reality. But my point is, the film doesn't take itself uber-seriously, so you don't have to either.

If you want a fun Dracula story that preserves the spirit of Bram Stoker's Dracula, if not the exact plot, and has a PG-13 rating (a bit scary at times, but mostly kid friendly) then watch Van Helsing. I probably watch it once a year and always enjoy it. Plus you get to stare at Hugh Jackman for two hours. Win-win, right? Oh, and be sure to watch the bloopers if you can. They're hysterical!

So, sorry for the long post, but...
What's your favorite version of Dracula (book, film, or other?)

5 comments :

  1. I read Dracula for the first time last year and was completely blown away by it. I loved it's structure, using journals and events to actually piece the plot together. I think many people focus on the vampire part of the story but they leave out all the other interesting parts of the story. Like you said, Dracula is the embodiment of evil but also all that is foreign. He hardly speaks at all in the book but is just there a lingering figure in the dark. Here's hoping to a better adaptation and I really don't think the NBC show Dracula is doing the book justice either.

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  3. It's been years since I read Dracula.
    Had to laugh at your views on the movies though because we have the exact opposite opinion.
    Be glad to help with your cover reveal. November 6 is IWSG day - lots of traffic.
    (Sorry, typo in my first comment.)

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  4. I haven't seen Van Helsing in ages!! What brought me here was NBC's new Dracula, I wanted to know what better adaptations were out there. Would you believe I haven't seen the Bela Lugosi one?! I might, now. I love love LOVE this book; especially the way it is narrated. I know what you mean about the ending; it took me a while to finish the story, but the ending was worth it.

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