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Sony Picture Classics presents
Bram Stoker's Dracula/Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1992/1994)

"I shall arise from my own death to avenge her with all the powers of darkness!"
- Dracula (Gary Oldman)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: December 27, 2005

Stars: Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder, Robert DeNiro, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hulce
Other Stars: Keanu Reeves, Sadie Frost, Monica Bellucci, Tom Waits, Helena Bonham Carter, Aidan Quinn, Ian Holm, John Cleese
Director: Francis Ford Coppola, Kenneth Branagh

MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, horror violence, horrific images
Run Time: 04h:10m:27s
Release Date: December 26, 2005
UPC: 043396131156
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BB+B+ D

DVD Review

This is a curious double bill, thematically engaging but technically lopsided. We get Francis Ford Coppola's brooding interpretation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, as well as Kenneth Branagh's well-intentioned but uneven literate spin on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Columbia TriStar calls this a "collector's set," when in reality it's a budget-priced two-disc set that includes a full-frame transfer of one feature, and the absence of a previously issued DTS track on the other. And what this set really represents is the pairing of a great film with a bloated one, priced to move for those who haven't already purchased the Superbit version of Coppola's movie.

Bram Stoker's Dracula
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Perhaps not the most literal translation of Dracula, though Coppola at least worked from the original material to cobble the screenplay together for this one. There really haven't been any truly flawless book-to-film versions of the book, and if you have read Stoker that's hardly news. For this 1992 film, Coppola cast Gary Oldman as Dracula in one of those chameleon-type roles the actor is so known for, and he undergoes a variety of physical transformations as he goes against God to avenge the death of his one true love, Elisabeta (Winona Ryder) for all eternity.

The visual scope of Coppola's film does do some justice to Stoker, conjuring up imagery that is properly disturbing, and the few dramatic downfalls in the way some characters (such as Ryder, pulling double duty as Mina) are presented—to say nothing of Keanu Reeves wooden surfer boy read as Jonathan Harker—are minor speedbumps in a film that otherwise operates on a fairly honest plane. Monica Bellucci shows up nude as one of Dracula's betrothed, plus there's a memorable performance from Gary Oldman here, appearing in an assortment of guises as the great undead throughout the film. but it is Tom Waits as the demented Renfield who manages to outdo Oldman and Anthony Hopkins' Van Helsing for pure Stoker-inspired dementia.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Directed by Kenneth Branagh

The words "Robert De Niro as The Creature" are just fundamentally wrong on so many levels that it's hard for me to get past that bit of surreal and bizarre casting to make that required leap into the story. Kenneth Branagh, after tackling a few Shakespeare works, took a bold stab in 1994 at Mary Shelley by directing and starring in this rather literate but ultimately overwrought translation of the classic. It's a noble attempt, with Branagh staying close to Shelley's original work, certainly more so than most past films have. Yet the film seems overdone in spots—in the bits in between all the build-a-creature parts—but the sequences in the lab are beautiful and dark, ranking up there with some of the strongest cinematic visualizations of a mad scientist's lair.

But it is De Niro who represents the dramatic stumbling block for me. I simply could not help seeing De Niro (as opposed to The Creature) no matter how hard I tried, and maybe that's just my own problem. The makeup effects are impressive, full of stitches and pieced together flesh, but the dynamic presence of the actor kept pulling me out of the moment. It's like De Niro is larger than the character of Frankenstein's monster.

I suppose for under $15 this isn't a completely awful set, because the drawing card is ultimately Coppola's film, presented in anamorphic widescreen with an above bar 5.1 surround mix. But seeing as this is far from the original release for either of these films, it is likely any aficionados out there already own one or both. The complete absence of any extras and a questionable presentation of Branagh's film makes this for late adopters only.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Bram Stoker's Dracula has been issued in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and is very comparable to the previous Superbit release. The presentation looks very, very solid, offering consistently vivid reds (a recurring element throughout) and a level of sharpness that never loses any significant detail even during darker sequences. It does not appear that this one went through any major restoration process since its Superbit incarnation.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, on the other hand, drags down the overall appeal of this set by showing up as 1.33:1 fullframe, despite having appeared in prior anamorphic widescreen releases. The print itself is not in particularly bad shape, but the cramped fullframe constraints put an understandable damper on the presentation. Colors and fleshtones look strong, with decent black levels throughout, while image detail is fairly sharp and well-defined.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dracula disc contains a primary English language 5.1 Dolby Digital surround track (the same one found on earlier versions), and additional 2.0 surround options in English and French. Missing is the Superbit DTS track—itself a moderate improvement over the 5.1—but the depth of the presentation still delivers a pleasing surround experience that has moderate sub activity throughout. Dialogue is clear at all times.

Frankenstein also contains a fairly aggressive 5.1 Dolby Digital surround track, as well as 2.0 options in English, Spanish and French. Bass presence is somewhat more pronounced on this disc, though still far from wall-rattling caliber. Dialogue clarity is crisp and evenly mixed, but the strongest feature is the richness of the Patrick Doyle score.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 80 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Korean, Spanish, English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Awakenings, Much Ado About Nothing
Packaging: Nexpak
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The only extras show up on the Branagh disc, which carries three trailers (Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, Much Ado About Nothing, Awakenings).

Dracula is cut into 52 chapters, with optional subtitles in Korean or Spanish, while Frankenstein is split into just 28 chapters, with subtitles in English, French or Spanish.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

If you own the Superbit release of Coppola's version of the Dracula mythos then this modestly priced double feature really isn't necessary, because there are no extras and the version found here is minus the DTS track, while Branagh's Frankenstein is regrettably presented in 1.33:1 full frame.

Coppola's is easily the better of the two, a visually rich horror film with one of Gary Oldman's signature performances, and the cheap price on this set is really what makes it attractive, though if it were up to me I'd just pick up the Superbit of Dracula and be done with it.


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