Please Note: I will not be comparing this film to the novel since I have not read the novel...yet, perhaps one day. I will also not be comparing it to other Dracula films (I may review other ones at some point), as I try to judge any movie as it's own thing no matter how many versions of it there may be.
Count Dracula is a household name to pretty much everyone. If you've never read Bram Stoker's novel, seen any film adaptation, or have never even seen any sort of spoof, portrayal, or rip-off of the character of any kind, you must either be really young or living under a rock! The character of Dracula has become a pop culture icon that is guaranteed to live on forever. This is a story that has been retold time and again, and a character that has been played by numerous people on film including Christopher Lee, Klaus Kinski, Bela Lugosi (arguably the most popular portrayal), and in this 1992 version, Gary Oldman.
The film begins with Dracula leaving his wife behind to go into battle against the Turks, she receives a false message stating that Dracula has been killed and shortly after she chooses to end her own life. Dracula returns only to find his beloved wife dead and her soul damned for committing suicide. He then renounces God, stabs the cross with his sword which begins to bleed, drinks the blood and declares that he will rise from the grave after death. More than 400 years later, Jonathan Harker (played by Keanu Reeves) must travel to Transylvania to meet with Dracula, as he is now his client, to close a sale on properties that the Count has purchased. Only then does Dracula see a photograph of Harker's soon to be wife, Mina (played by Winona Ryder), who Dracula believes is his own wife reincarnated.
For anyone who is not familiar with this film at all, it should be a bit obvious by my short description of the film's set-up that this adaptation is more of a romance story than anything else (something that a lot of people were not happy about apparently). Yes, there are still horror elements, such as the creepy gothic atmosphere, gore, and some pretty cool creature effects. However, Dracula is not quite the cold-blooded monster that many people may be hoping for. He does still have his sinister and creepy qualities for sure, but this film also makes this character out to be more of an anti-hero, as opposed to being just a villain.
Visually, the film is absolutely stunning! The set designs, costumes, atmosphere, and use of shadows (particularly Dracula's shadows during the castle scenes) are all pretty fantastic. The creature effects in the movie are top-notch and some of the best I've seen in this type of film.
The biggest problem that I have with the film is the acting. The acting really is a mixed bag here. Winona Ryder gives a mediocre performance; I've seen her in other films and I know she can do better. Keanu Reeves is god awful with his horribly fake accent and his occasional departure into "Bill and Ted" mode. Most of the supporting cast is about the same as Ryder. The only actors in the film that actually give decent performances are Gary Oldman as Dracula and Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, and even then their performances can be a little over the top at times. That being said, out of all of the Dracula performances I've seen, Gary Oldman's is probably my favorite (of course that could change in the future).
Overall, this is a pretty entertaining film that looks fantastic, and I could seriously watch it over and over for that reason alone. It certainly has some flaws and if you're a diehard fan of the novel it will probably piss you off. This really does seem to be a love it or hate it movie, but I would recommend it to just about anyone for the visuals alone. Even someone that may not care much for horror films could possibly find themselves engrossed in the love story here, or captivated by the production design and effects. Overall Rating: