ParaNorman

ParaNorman posterThis movie is stupid. Worse than stupid, it is probably the most retched piece of filmth I have seen in a long time (and I have seen some doozies). It offends on all fronts. It’s badly written and badly directed. On top of that, the story is just plain stupid and it insults anyone who knows something about history (admittedly a minority). And finally, it perpetuates certain misconceptions that are very dangerous and damaging.

The movie opens with Norman sitting on the floor, watching a movie, while he talks to his grandma. Then his father enters the room and tells him to take out the garbage. Norman walks into the kitchen, and we meet his parents and teenage sister, Courtney. We immediately notice one thing: everyone in this family is butt-ugly. Both the mother, Sandra, and Courtney have hips in different time zones, Perry’s (the dad) gut fills up the room, and all their faces appear to have some deformity. Norman tells Perry that Grandma is requesting he turn up the heat, and we get the big surprise: Grandma is dead. Norman has the ability to see and talk to ghosts. (Why does a ghost

The ghost of Norman's mother, who's head was tragically crushed ... what? She's one of the living characters? Yikes.

The ghost of Norman’s mother, who’s head was tragically crushed … what? She’s one of the living characters? Yikes.

need the heat turned up?) So of course, his family encourages him to mourn the loss of his grandma in his own way, and gently directs him to some more constructive occupation of his time. No, I’m kidding. They’re total dicks to him and call him a freak.

As the movie goes on we see that everyone in town (Blythe Hollow, apparently someplace in Massachusetts) is the same way. There’s not a single attractive OR likable character in this whole movie. To be sure, Hollywood deserves criticism for being obsessed with appearance and filling its movies with impossibly beautiful people, but this movie goes to the opposite extreme. If they didn’t care how their movie looked, why didn’t they make it live action? Give some much-needed work to all the aspiring actors who don’t meet the usual standards of perfection? Almost every character looks like something I’ve seen dangling from a Q-tip, and has a voice to match. It makes the whole movie downright painful to look at and listen to, even before the dead start crawling out of their graves. Directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell seem to have a particular obsession with women with huge butts. One of the most (sigh) memorable scenes in the movie is of a black, female cop on a motorcycle, using her butt to force a van off the road.

Most of the first act revolves around Norman getting picked on by everyone in the world. We sit through a lot of bad dialogue and toilet humor, all delivered with painful awkwardness. Most of the scenes open with a close-up on the face of some hideous grown-up we are supposed to hate. Norman eventually learns from the ghost of his uncle that he is supposed to use his gift to avert a super-natural catastrophe. A young girl was hanged as a witch in 1712 in Blythe Hollow and at midnight that night, her ghost is going to wake up and reek a terrible vengeance upon the town. What is she going to do? Spread a plague? Set the town on fire? Nope. She’s going to raise the bodies of the six witnesses and judge who convicted her. And then … well, we never really get any explanation of why this is such a big deal. The zombies don’t really do anything but stagger around and moan for the whole movie. It’s about like a Scooby Doo cartoon; it’s all about running from the zombies, but there’s never any indication of what will happen if the zombies catch us. We’re just supposed to run because … they’re scary because … the script says so. Even if we grant that the zombies will perpetrate some standard zombie fare, the mention of which is omitted from a PG movie, we’re talking about seven dilapidated corpses versus the world. What’s the big threat? Sure there might be some casualties, but there’s not a single character in this movie I’d lament being rid of.

scooby doo

If you squint your eyes, you literally can’t tell this isn’t Scooby Doo.

And in fact, when Norman is finally cornered by the zombies, they don’t try to eat him but rather speak to him, asking him to read from a certain book, which will effectively send them back to the grave. This is supposed to be a big moment where we realize the zombies, now repentant for killing the girl, aren’t dangerous, after which Norman comes to their defense and berates a torch-bearing mob for being fearful and reactionary. But if the zombies are good guys, how do they serve the witch’s purpose of revenge?

As for the witch, a word needs to be said about the portrayals in popular culture of Puritan life and thought, and of so-called “witch hunts” (unlike a lot of mainstream movies that exploit the stereotype, this one actually accuses the Puritans by name). Unfortunately I don’t have the time or the space here to give a full treatment of Puritan history. It will have to suffice to say that, unless you have done serious independent research on the subject, you should forget everything you think you know about the Puritans, as they are probably the most unfairly maligned group of people in history. They possessed a truly rare understanding of the world and of human nature that allowed those that came to this continent to create stable and sustainable societies with very few resources. They were passionate about education and were one of the first groups to require by law that all children be literate. They eventually founded a number of the most venerated colleges in America, including Harvard. Alexis de Tocqueville would later write that Puritanism was the very thing that provided a firm foundation for democracy.

I bring this up because popular culture, when it mentions the Puritans, always tries to get us to laugh at them as superstitious nincompoops, and hate them as religious nuts whose zeal gave way to atrocities, the symbol of which in movies is usually an exaggerated version of the infamous Salem Witch Trials. But here’s the thing: in popular entertainment, they are always real witches. How many movies try to get us to believe that witches are real, and can do so many cool (if terrible) things? Movies like Sleepy Hollow, The Blair Witch Project, or this one always want us to scoff at the simple mindedness of colonial peasants, but their witches always turn out to be real witches, whose powers are indeed a great danger to everyone around them. In which case, why shouldn’t they be outlawed and eliminated?

The reaction of the audience, upon realizing they paid to watch ParaNorman.

The reaction of the audience, upon realizing they paid to watch ParaNorman.

Anyway, we get a cheesy climax, where Norman confronts the witch and she turns the landscape into a really blasé field of yellow smoke and floating islands that was probably easy and cheep to animate. He’s able to get her to stop by, I don’t know, being nice to her or something. The various dead characters all go back to their graves and the living get various trite comeuppances, good and bad, according to their sympatheticness.

I tried to find something good to say about this movie, I really did. I suppose the animation is okay, especially considering that they did it with models. In this age of computers, that deserves a nod just for being there. I think I did laugh at a line once or twice, maybe three times. But I couldn’t tell you now what the funny lines were, because the memory is buried under two hours of agony and regret of my wasted time and money (I only paid $1.28, but the movie sucked so much I’m still depressed about it). At least I can spare you from repeating my mistake. You owe me one.

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Mega Piranha

Piranhas are found in a handful of rivers  in South America. They are usually slightly bigger than a man’s hand, and are widely feared for their ability to eat a 400 pound animal down to the bone in minutes (they occasionally eat the bones as well). Now, what would happen if they started to grow to hundreds of times their normal size? That’s right. They would choke the river with their bodies and die of asphyxiation, and the worst part of it would be the cleanup. Problem is, that doesn’t make for much of a movie, which is why, when he saw a script with the title Mega Piranha, any director with half a brain would have run the other way. Apparently, Eric Forsberg wasn’t that smart.

This movie has the same basic strategy as the Megalodon films; take something people are scared of and make it even bigger. Except that, unlike sharks, piranhas are feared for their tendency to attack in groups, each one taking many little bites. You might as well make a movie about giant germs. This might be the worst movie I have ever seen, but it’s so much fun to make fun of; an excellent candidate for Deathstalkering. So prep your air tank and leave the cap off your de-skeletonizer ointment as we tear into the bloated, drifting carcass that is Mega Piranha!

It starts the way all monster movies start, with a couple picnicking next to the Orinoco river. They go for a swim and get eaten. So far so good. But then, with no break, Forsberg shows us a boat going down the same river. On board is an American ambassador and some other bigwigs. The piranhas actually attack the boat, sinking it. Mind you, we’re less than five minutes into the movie. We then meet Jason Fitch (Paul Logan), some special forces-type guy (that’s all the explanation we get) who is dispatched by the U.S. Secretary of State to investigate the ambassador’s disappearance. Logan has the body for playing a special forces guy, but we’re going to spend most of the movie wondering who taught him to act. It’s as if he watched 30 seconds of a John Wayne movie and tries to recreate it over and over. He doesn’t say his lines so much as bark them out, and every single line is awkward. He makes Gerard Butler’s performance in 300  look subtle and understated. To his credit, though, he does manage to keep a straight face when he delivers the line “It wasn’t terrorists. It was giant piranha.” Fitch has to sneak out of the Venezuelan base where he is staying in order to do his job without a corrupt colonel interfering. He walks around half-bent over in order to show us that he is sneaking, and that he is a sneaky special forces guy. To further emphasize his sneakiness, Forsberg fills this scene with totally random (and pointless) camera wipes from all directions. These wipes cause the guards to go blind right before Fitch walks by. You can actually see guards start to look at him and then quickly turn their heads away.

Following this death-defying escape, Fitch meets Sarah Monroe, a scientist (former pop princess Tiffany, trying desperately to slow the aging process. You can almost hear her thinking “Oh, and I used to sing to sold-out shows. Sob …”). She tells him that the boat was sunk by piranhas, who are getting bigger by the day because they were injected with a serum called O-Hucares, and they will keep growing exponentially until they are (I’m not kidding) the size of a whale. So Fitch teams up with Monroe and her team of nerdy scientists to fight the potentially world-destroying phenomenon of giant piranha.

The abomination that is the special effects in this movie deserves a section all its own. Also ala Meg, Forsberg relies completely on CGI for the visuals. No miniatures, no

Oh, yes they did.

animatronics, just cheesy, pixelated images, clumsily bolted over the footage. I don’t hold that a film has to have seamless special effects to be worthwhile, but that shouldn’t be an excuse not to try. And even with a limited budget, a resourceful filmmaker can make decent effects. James Cameron and his crew built only six Alien models for Aliens, but with some creative camera work, they made us believe there were hundreds of them. Similarly, our first ever glimpse of a face-hugger in Alien is simply Ridley Scott’s hands in a pair of gloves. CGI has become an excuse for a lot of wanna-be directors to be lazy. Were model piranhas so hard to come by? Would it have been so hard to use a few five-dollar air hoses to generate the thrashing in the water? Was it so prohibitive to rent one helicopter, instead of the computer-generated blob that we see, then use a split-screen to reproduce it?

Then there’s the editing. Countless times, we see the same footage used over again. At one point, when Fitch’s phone battery dies, Monroe tells him to suck on the battery. We actually watch him do this for close to two minutes.

The stupidities just keep piling up. Once the piranha problem is known, the Venezuelan government actually tries to eradicate the plague by firing lots of missiles into the river. (And you thought W was trigger-happy.) Later, Venezuelan soldiers interrogate a prisoner by smacking him with a phone book. Toward the end, the piranha seem to have not only grown to enormous size, but developed a death wish, as we see them leaping out of the water, and crashing into buildings, resulting in huge explosions! One fish actually impales itself on a light house!

The one thing you can sort-of feel good about in this movie is that nothing was wasted. No good actors poured their talents into a hopeless script. No quality special effects were wasted on a stupid concept. All the components of this movie deserve each other.

There are a couple of lessons we should take away from this. One is that, as we saw in Meg, bigger does not mean scarier. Many things, piranhas included, are scary for their speed, their efficiency, and above all, their invisibility. When they grow to such size that they have to leap out of the water to do anything, and then they explode, it’s stupid, not scary. The other is that incredibly lame monster movies were not limited to the days of the Blacklist. The only thing Mega Piranha has that, say, Invasion of the Saucer-Men didn’t is bad CGI. Hollywood has always spat out tripe, regardless of the political landscape.

As much as I complain about this movie, I have to admit, we had a great time making fun of it. It’s perfect for lampooning. It’s stupid, it’s over the top, there are countless opportunities to insert lines or jokes, and these opportunities are extended by bad editing. And of course, just when you think it can’t possibly ask you to swallow anything more ridiculous than what it already has, it does. From Fitch ninja-kicking a school of piranha back into the river (I’m not kidding) to a school of piranha actually eating an entire destroyer (I’m still not kidding), this is one of those movies you have to see to believe. The one thing that is kind of impressive is how actors say things like “Florida is being attacked by giant fish!” without cracking up. I wonder how many takes they had to do.

I wanted to include one real mega-piranha, since it’s more interesting than the movie.

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Megalodon (times 2)

In the summer of 1975, people crowded into movie theatres to see the work of a young genius named Steven Spielberg. They watched as a young woman, drunkenly laughing, led her boyfriend to the water’s edge, then began swimming out to sea. She was having a great time – and then suddenly, she disappeared. A few seconds later she reappeared, screaming, gasping and trying to fight, and then she was gone again. The whole thing took maybe ten seconds.

Movie goers sat transfixed, still feeling the terror that woman felt in her final moments. For years afterwards, millions refused to go into the water. And they never saw a thing. Oh, sure, for the next two hours (and then for three inferior sequels) Jaws turned the sea white with thrashing and red with blood, but no one has forgotten that first scene to this day.

Naturally, a classic will have imitators, and shark films have abounded ever since, but none have ever figured out what it was that made Jaws great. Most have clung to the belief that “bigger is better.” This is probably why there is a whole subgenre of “Megalodon” films.

Carcharodon Megalodon is the designation given by many scientists to a number of poorly-preserved fossils. These fossils seem to be essentially identical to those of the Great White Shark – except much larger. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carcharodon_megalodon)

Megalodon, lovingly termed “Meg” by paleontolgists, is thought to have grown to 60 or 70 feet, and to have been extinct for 2.5 million years (Although a 60-foot Great White was reported around 500 years ago). So if a 25-foot Great White in Jaws was scary, a 70-foot Great White is even scarier, right? Sigh.

A meg mouth reconstructed in 1909.

I decided to get my feet wet in this world of the Hollywood Meg last night and came away with all my toes still attached. I first watched Megalodon, Dir. Pat Corbit, 2004 (hereafter Meg) and then Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, Dir. David Worth, 2002 (hereafter SA3).

Meg is actually not too bad. You kind of have to get past the fact that they used prehistoric CGI to go with their prehistoric monster, and the fact that the editing is never quite right for building suspense, but the plot is straightforward and not too implausible. Two journalists arrive at a new multi-billion dollar oil rig to cover its first bite into the floor of the north Atlantic. But of course (say it with me now) Something Goes Wrong and the drill sinks into a previously undiscovered subterranean ocean. A few hours later, the rig begins to shake as something big swims out of the hole. Several people go down to check it out and they don’t all make it back up.

Painting by Csotonyi of a meg attacking a mosasaur.

If Meg has a strength, it’s its simplicity. In a 90-minute film, no time is wasted on character development. They give us just enough scenes to understand the general situation and what equipment the characters have to work with before introducing the threat. We are then treated to shots of the shark swimming around, crashing into steel girders and ramming it’s head through ice caps, trying to get at the people on top. These scenes are kind of cool, and in an undersea story, it only makes sense that we see the shark. All this might sound like damning with faint praise, but Corbit does deserve a nod for not trying to do more than he could.

The biggest problem is that there doesn’t seem to be any miniature work in Meg. This can be a good thing only if the CGI is flawless, and this CGI is … not. Still, it’s fun watching a giant shark chase a submersible through a maze of I-beams.

If there is anything good about SA3, it’s that the overall plot is very well put together. The action centers around a seaside resort in Mexico. It’s not surprising that a millionaire communications CEO (George Stanchev) is staying at this resort. It’s also not surprising that the area happens to be the crossroads for his company’s trans-pacific cable. And it’s not too surprising that the cable’s electro-magnetic pulses have lured a prehistoric shark out of the Challenger Deep, which has followed the cable to this very spot. As parts of large marine animals, and then people, begin to wash ashore at the resort, Ben Carpenter (John Barrowman), a life guard, begins to worry about the safety of vacationers. When he finds a strange tooth in the cable, he sends the picture over the internet. A paleontologist in San Diego, Catlin Stone (Jenny McShane), recognizes the species and travels to the resort to study the meg. Thus it makes sense that all these characters are in the same place because they’ve all been drawn her by the effects of the cable. There’s plenty of conflict between them, too. Carpenter is intent on killing the shark, Stone wants to study it, and the rich guy just wants his system to get up and running.

Sadly, this movie has too many millstones around its neck to keep it’s head above water. It’s got the worst acting I’ve seen this side of grade school pageants. It’s downright painful to sit through scene after scene of cheesy dialogue, where you actually see actors turning their heads away from the camera right before they break out laughing (did they not have time for second takes, or what?). The low production values are also something to behold. If it hadn’t been for repeated references to the internet and cell phones, I would have sworn this was filmed in the ‘70s.

If you think this is real, you'll be terrified by "Shark Attack 3."

And of course, we have the token lack of subtly. Right in the first scene, we see a shot of the shark’s face rushing at the camera, and then chomping down on a welder. Later, a couple starts to make out on a water slide, which drops them into the ocean, and they are instantly attacked. No circling to be realistic or build suspense. We see the shark through the whole movie, and – get this – it actually growls! None of it is remotely plausible or scary, unless you’re the sort who has nightmares about being photographed and superimposed over a shark’s mouth.

The most pathetic thing about SA3 is that it tries so hard to be Jaws. The main characters go out on a boat and shoot guns and harpoons at the shark, the shark eventually sticks its head into the boat as in Jaws; the movie even copies Jaws 3, when the first meg is killed and then a bigger meg (possibly mom?) appears in the last 15 minutes to attack a cruise ship and swallow motorboats whole. It seems Worth was making it easy on himself with this one, counting on the principle that a movie doesn’t have to be good, as long as there are plenty of scenes of girls taking their bathing suits off.

Incidentally, don’t ask me what SA3 is a sequel to. A search of IMDB for “Shark Attack” turned up more movies than I could shake a stick at. Doubtless, the future will bring many more. Other marine monsters have made it to the movies from time to time (e.g. The Beast, Lake Placid), but none of them capture our imaginations the way sharks do. As the mayor explained in Jaws, “You yell ‘barracuda,’ everybody says ‘Huh? What?’ You yell ‘shark,’…”

Panic scene from "Jaws."

Megalodon

Shark Attack 3: Megalodon

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Wild Wild World of Batwoman

What could be better than kicking back with a good movie? Well, every so often, you don’t have the appetite for the meat and potatoes of a well-crafted film, and you just want a light cinema snack. Hence of the profitability of mediocre (and worse) films like Transformers, Twilight, and 300. Our culture has a fascination with bad movies (unlike with other mediums), and much has been written about which films are the worst of all time. In 1980, critic Michael Medved and his brother Harry published The Golden Turkey Awards, in which they listed their picks for the worst movies of all time. They ultimately selected Plan 9 from Outer Space (Dir. Ed Wood) as the Worst Movie Ever Made. People tell me I’m competitive, which might be why I felt compelled to find a worse one. Recently, I did.

For an unending source of putridly bad movies, it’s hard to beat Mystery Science Theatre 3000, a serial in which host Mike Nelson (usually) and two robots are silhouetted in front of one of the worst low-to-no-budget flops the producer can find. Mike and the ‘bots make the movie bearable by inserting lines, yelling out jokes and generally lampooning the movie. It turns what would be a traumatic experience into a load of laughs. Usually.

Even Mike’s sense of humor was no match for the horrendous work of Jerry Warren, however, as shown by the colossally bad movie The Wild, Wild World of Batwoman (1966).

WWWB is about … well, that’s the problem, you really can’t tell. The character who seems to be the lead (Katherine Victor) wears a costume, vaguely reminiscent of a superhero costume, complete with a bat logo painted on her breasts. She doesn’t do much to fight crime, however, throwing one punch in the entire movie. Her response to “crisis” situations is usually to call bureaucratic meetings with her underlings, a cult-like troupe of teenage girls who carry guns but spend more time dancing the Jerk than anything else.

All this dancing makes them vulnerable because the “super villain” in this movie, whose costume basically amounts to a bowler hat and a ski mask, and who has an equally ridiculous name (Rat Fink), attacks them by serving them drugged drinks that make them begin dancing uncontrollably. There’s one particularly painful scene in which Batwoman confronts Rat Fink (Richard Banks) while one of her sidekicks is slowly doing an involuntary jig in the background – for about 10 minutes. These “Batgirls” are always doing odd things in the background, e.g. fighting over a horseshoe, and are sometimes more interesting to watch than the characters in the foreground.

Warren offered the role of Batwoman to Victor, but, having worked on Warren’s  Teenage Zombies and The Curse of the Stone Hand, Victor was not eager to work with Warren again. To convince her, Warren promised Victor large production values, color photography and her own bat boat in the film. None of these promises were kept.

Our herione.

Our herione.

Our Mystery Science heros are clearly overmatched by this one, as evidenced by Mike’s sudden plea (whether to the director or God, I’m not sure) in one of the most pointless scenes “Please, God, cut away to anything, please!” I felt pretty much the same way. Even Mike and the ‘bots’ lampooning wasn’t enough to ease the pain of this one.

As bad as this film is, you still might ask why I say it’s worse than Plan 9. With Plan 9, if you have the stamina to sit through it, you can sort-of figure out what it’s supposed to be about. It starts with an alien invasion, then we see the dead rising from the grave; eventually the movie sort-of  ties the two together, leading to a climactic scene inside a spaceship that looks oddly like a wood shop.

The villain.

The villain.

The production of WWWB was downright schizophrenic, largely due to the director’s egocentricism. Victor told Wikkipedia that, on set, if an actor rubbed Warren the wrong way, their lines would be cut out or given to other actors. Victor claimed “the pretty brunette who was kidnapped in the beginning of the picture was supposed to be the lead girl, but for some reason Jerry thought she was getting to big for her britches and gave all her lines to the girl in the leopard tights”. All of this sudden mind-changing by Warren left its mark on the movie. WWWB features, among other things, a man who wears a Hitler mustache for no reason, and another who shambles around the set like a dog, being treated like a pet by a guy who is apparently supposed to be some kind of mad scientist (George Andre). This mad scientist never really does anything, however. He does venture into a cave under his lab once, where he witnesses monsters that are just recycled footage from The Mole People. We see these creatures for two seconds and no explanation for their presence is ever given. At the end, Dog Boy comes off of … whatever he was on, and tells some kind of story about an atomic bomb made out of a hearing aide.

Warren first released the film under the title Batwoman. Then, after being sued, he re-released it as She was a Hippy Vampire (there is no vampirism in the movie). As you can imagine, the film suffered a quick and painful death at the box office. Decades later it was released on video under its current name.

If you’re someone who combs through vaults of old movies, looking for unsung classics, this is one to avoid. It’s astonishing production wrapped before too many cast/crewmembers simply stormed off the set. Even the MST3K version is unbearable. Ed Wood must be spinning in his grave.

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Bram Stoker’s Dracula

BSD posterIn one of the most important chapters in Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula,” Lucy Westenre tells the story of how she received three marriage proposals in one day. We gain a chuckle by reading it, but we also learn how good Lucy’s heart is and how kind and humble she is, as well as see the character of her suitors.

But there is a fourth man in Lucy’s life, a certain Count we all know. He visits her at night, and she begins to be found in the morning at the brink of death, almost totally drained of blood. Her three suitors rally around her and, with the help of Dr. Van Helsing’s transfusion equipment, literally pour their life into her. So it goes for many pages; the Count steals her life away by night; the men who love her exhaust themselves by day in a desperate battle to save her life. Van Helsing trims her room with garlic. The Texan suitor, Quincy Morris, patrols the grounds around her home all night. But the Count’s craft is too great and Lucy finally succumbs. By this point the characters are sufficiently developed that the reader feels their loss almost as acutely as they do.

But of course, Lucy becomes a vampire. She preys on local children for awhile until once again confronted by her suitors and Van Helsing. Dr. Seward, narrating this part of the story, describes “the thing in the coffin” as a “mockery of Lucy’s sweet purity.” They put a stake through her heart, and watch her turn back to the woman they once knew.  There follows a beautiful paragraph about redemption, eternal life and contrasting inner beauty with the perverse eternal youth of a vampiress.

Would that I had sufficient space to fully describe the literary riches in Stoker’s masterpiece, but that will have to do. Imagine then, my disappointment at Francis Ford Coppula’s attempt to film “Dracula.” To do justice to the book would have required a long movie; probably around three hours. Coppula seems determined to cut it off at two, so that the movie, even in its best moments, is nothing more than a watered-down version of the book. To make matters worse, Coppula crams in a sub plot in which Mina Murray dates Dracula while her fiancé struggles across Europe. Taking a page from “The Mummy” Coppula seems to imply that Mina is a sort of reincarnation of a bride of the historical Dracula. The movie never explains this, however. In fact, the editing of this film is downright schizophrenic. The story I told above takes all of 10 minutes to fly by in the film, and begins with a shot of Lucy lying on a park bench, apparently being raped by a werewolf (I can only assume this is Dracula in some other form, but this too is never explained). Far from being Stoker’s figure of “sweet purity,” Coppula’s Lucy is essentially a 19th century valley girl. Seward and Quincy are barely given any screen time, and with no back-story, Arthur’s lines about how he would give the last drop of his blood to save Lucy are as flat and unbelievable as anything in Hollywood. Even her two death scenes seem insignificant.

drac, mina

Gary Oldman sucks in "Dracula."

To be sure, a proper film version of “Dracula” would get slow at times, bogged down in dialogue and character development, but it was precisely these things that made the book great. It takes the reader through the loss, the grief, the struggle and the eventual triumph of the seven main characters. If we didn’t feel their bravery, their love for each other, and their iron faith, reading the accompanying horror story would have been a waste of time. Perversely, the only genuine affection in Coppula’s film seems to be between Mina and Dracula.

In typical Hollywood fashion, Coppula tries to compensate for this lack of substance with spectacle. Disembodied shadows creep across walls, water flows uphill and blood flows out of inanimate objects for no reason. This entertains for a few minutes, but it’s a poor substitute for a story. It might even be scary, if any of it looked real, or if there was any reason to care.

Coppula’s film is to Stoker’s novel what a vampire is to the person he or she was in life: the same thing, except stripped of its soul, its passion, its humanity, and marked by lurid signs of cruelty and bloodlust.

The book

The movie

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