I know what you’re thinking: That Dracula movie with Keanu Reeves? Yes, that one, but hear me out. There’s more to it than Reeves attempting to do a British accent.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and was released in 1992, the year after Terminator 2: Judgement Day. What’s so special about that? Since Terminator 2, the film world has relied more and more on CGI for its special effects, but this version of the Dracula story went in the opposite direction. Since the novel was published in 1897, right around the time of the birth of cinema, Coppola decided to use classic in-camera techniques to achieve the look and feel he wanted. These naive effects complemented the practical makeup of Greg Cannom and the costumes of Eiko Ishioka, both of whom won Academy Awards for their creations.
For inspiration, Coppola looked to artists like Gustav Klimt and Edvard Munch. He put together a book of these different artists’ work to inspire his design team. This wasn’t a computerized previsualization. This was the 90s, long before Google, so he had to look through actual books to find the pictures and text he needed. For all you millennial filmmakers, just take a moment to process that.
As a textbook of in-camera effects, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is brilliant. The entire film was shot in a studio. They used miniatures, models, forced-perspective shots and double exposures to create movie magic. In fact, if you get the DVD or do a little YouTube searching, you can find the special features.
With digital movie making techniques and effects becoming more and more dominant in cinema, this film serves as a reminder of a craft we may not see again. It’s real old fashioned movie-making at its best. It’s a shame this style of filmmaking isn’t done anymore. There is something magical about it, a charm and a mystique that you just can’t get from a computerized image. I’ve watched the film over and over, and each time I see something new in it. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a must-see. If you haven’t seen it in a while, it’s worth a second viewing.