Monday, November 01, 2010

A Modern "Dracula"

There really hasn't been a theatrical adaptation of "Dracula" in a while. The last high-profile effort was "Bram Stoker's Dracula", which is mainly remembered for not being much like Bram Stoker's "Dracula". There have been some TV versions since then, and there may or may not be a film in production for 2011, but it's a story that could stand another remake. Like "Hamlet" or "A Christmas Carol", it's a story that seems to reflect timeless themes and lends itself to a variety of interpretations--none perfect, but all interesting.

What might such a remake look like? Honestly, it'd probably look a lot like the recent "Sherlock Holmes" movie: A glossy, high-energy, high-budget version of the classic story with some big-name stars in the major roles. (I'm thinking maybe Viggo Mortensen as Dracula, perhaps?) And such a movie could be very good, just like "Sherlock Holmes" was. (Or, of course, it could be very bad, just like "Bram Stoker's Dracula" was. Big-budget Hollywood movies can be a crapshoot like that.)

But I think a more interesting approach would be one similar to the approach taken by Steven Moffat's "Sherlock" TV series. For those who haven't seen it, the show completely abandons the Victorian era that the character is synonymous with to jump into the present day, updating Watson to a military doctor wounded in the present-day Afghan conflict who blogs about his encounters with the eccentric, almost-sociopathic consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. It's a little difficult to wrap your head around the idea of a world where nobody knows Holmes' name, but the series works magnificently.

Taking "Dracula" into the modern day...many people don't know it, but the original novel was written as a collection of letters from various people, compiled by Mina Harker (nee Murray) into a statement of evidence against the vampire, Dracula. A modern-day version of this might take the form of video footage--news reports, candid shots, home movies and the like--that Mina compiles after the death of her friend, Lucy, to show to van Helsing. Then the second half of the movie would involve van Helsing filming his vampire-hunting efforts, or at the very least getting one of the others to do so on his behalf, in order to prove to the world that his theories about vampires are real. It could have the potential to be the next "Quarantine", a found-footage movie that has a reason for its central conceit. You could do a lot of interesting things with Dracula's image on the video...perhaps it doesn't quite behave like a normal picture does. Maybe it flickers, or moves in strange ways, or changes when others aren't looking...something like the way things worked in "Paranormal Activity".

Of course, it could wind up more like "The Zombie Diaries". Found-footage horror movies can be a crapshoot like that.


Dean H. said...

I think that you are under-rating "Bram Stoker's Dracula". The performances were uneven, but it was visually thrilling. It has the plot holes that every version has, but the story actually moves better than the Hammer Dracula for me.

As to a modern day take, we have seen an awful lot of modern vampires in the last decade. It would need to be a very fresh visual and/or thematic take.

John Seavey said...

The performances were uneven, but more than that, I thought the story received short shrift. It felt almost like they were doing a surrealist version of Dracula--lots of interesting nightmarish visuals, but nothing that actually held together as a movie. (That, and the decision to make Mina and Dracula's relationship into a romance, based on their past-life experiences, was off-putting and ineptly executed.)

Matthew Johnson said...

Of course, to really update the novel Dracula would have to be a Muslim (to include that whole fear-of-the-East motif.)

Michael Hoskin said...

I can never forgive FFC's Dracula for excising the voyage of the Demeter from the story. Not just because it's my favourite part of the novel, but because I instantly realized he'd eliminated it to avoid making his Dracula do anything truly unlikeable.

Brendan said...

All I know is I want to see a Dracula movie where he keeps the giant rockin' mustache he had in the book. almost every movie adaptation ever has had him cleanshaven, except for one with Christopher Lee, and he only had the mustache for the first half of that.

Part of it is Lugosi's insistence that the Dracula role be sexy when he first signed on to the Broadway play. In most modern depictions, Dracula is generally quite attractive, which makes the whole semi-rape motif seem more like seduction. But the original Dracula was less a suave, well dressed gentleman who ravished women and more of a hairy foreigner who forced himself upon them quite brutally.

I guess my point is that Dracula is monstrous in the book, but he still appears mostly human. On the rare occasions movies try to make vampires monstrous, they tend to overdo it with lots of prosthetics and effects. I'd really like to see a movie that kept Dracula's monstrosity intact, but relied more on theme and behavior to establish it.

Erin said...

...That could be really cool, especially considering the technology vs superstition themes of the novel. And, done right, it would preserve the awesomeness of Mina Harker nee Murray, which is always a good thing.
I admit i may also want to see a proper vampire on screen again.

Rob Bartlett said...

I also disagree with the assessment of BSD, to an extent. It had a lot of problems, and was not the epic masterpiece Coppola intended, but it's probably considered the second most definitive of Dracula movies, for what that's worth. (Most modern Dracula based artwork draws a lot of cues from it) In any case, I don't think the recent Sherlock Holmes was miles above it. It was entertaining, but it was largely propelled by the chemistry of the two leads. I think it's primarily viewed like the first X-Men movie--a decent set-up, with good characters, but let's see where they go with it.

Dracula himself has been propelled to the modern day quite a few times, because he's conceivably ageless. It's also for that reason, people have not seen the point in doing a straight re updating like the BBC Sherlock. He'd been terrorizing people well before his sojourn to London, so there's no reason not to make that part of his background. In any case, modern settings usually use the same plot/cast of characters.

- The cowering retainer.
- The more airheaded girl Drac snacks on and sets off alarms
- The more demure girl Drac want to make his undead steady
- Said girl's concerned, and possibly dull boyfriend
- Expert on vampires, who may or may not be Van Helsing following the count through time.

Brendan said...

For the record, a new Dracula movie is in the works, but it runs in the exact opposite direction Seavey was discussing:

It's about Dracula/Vlad the Impaler's origins and stars Sam Worthington.

A.J. said...

RE: Brendan:


RichardAK said...

See, the problem with all Dracula adaptations is what Rob Bartlett just mentioned: they portray Jonathan Harker as Mina's "concerned, and possibly dull boyfriend." That's not what he is in the novel at all.

In the book, van Helsing is not the hero. He's the sage, elderly advisor to the hero. Harker is the hero, and Dracula's arch-nemesis. And he's not dull at all. In fact, he's basically the good version of Dracula.

Anonymous said...

There's no reason a Dracula set in modern times couldn't be good, but I don't see it as having the punch updating Holmes does. Mostly, as other commenters pointed out, there's lots and lots of present-day vampire stuff and even present-day Dracula stuff, so I don't think updating adds that much fresh.

Austin Gorton said...

I was *just* thinking, whilst watching the new Wolf Man from last year, that's it been awhile since we saw another take on doing the "definitive" or "straight" Dracula movie. Crazy.

I'd love to see one.

Talk Without Rhythm said...

You may see something similar to what you're talking about in 2011. John Carpenter was set to direct an adaptation of the Fangland, which is essentially Dracula set in modern New York. Of course it may not come about, seeing as Carpenter has attached himself to the Darkchylde film.

Lovecraft In Brooklyn said...

Have you seen Moffatt's 'Jekyll'? it's what you're talking about, kinda, only based on The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

John Seavey said...

LOVE 'Jekyll'. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE. The ending is ever so slightly weak, but I chalk that up to the fact that Moffat was setting up a second series that never happened. Even so, the show as a whole is gorgeous. Just thinking about it makes me want to grab the DVD off the shelf right now.

But actually, it's not quite the sort of thing I'm talking about. 'Jekyll' is set in the present-day, sure, but it doesn't pretend that the original 'Jekyll and Hyde' never happened. (In fact, big chunks of the plot are based on the fact that the story is common knowledge.) 'Sherlock' is a better example, in my mind.

Jared said...

The funny thing about vampires is that it's almost like the subversions and deconstructions of the original concept have themselves become the mainstream.

Whether it's Bela Lugosi making Dracula more sensual and attractive, Ann Rice's writing from the vampire's point of view, Joss Whedon giving us vampires that are either good or so bad they're good in Angel and Spike respectively, and now Stephanie Meyer making them sparkle in the light, vampires have become more and more humanized and sexualized.

Hence why making vampires sadistic murderers and killers akin to intelligent zombies would almost be a subversion in and of itself. Vampires who become almost mindless predators, without any pretense to refinement or angst, who cannot love and who only feel joy in causing suffering and pain to the living, who cannot be redeemed and are fit only to be destroyed, would be far more interesting to me than their counterparts in the worlds of Twilight, Buffy or The Masquerade.

Now *that* would be a radical departure.

Voodoo Ben said...

Have you read THE HISTORIAN? Because if you haven't DO NOT READ THE HISTORIAN. It tried to do a modern Dracula story using the original formula (letters, interviews, and the like) and smash-cut it with THE DA VINCI CODE.

DM1813 said...

I agree with you. Dracula certainly needs a new look. The last one was too old for my opinion.