Saturday, November 04, 2006

Excessive Adaptations 101 and November Challenge


Sometimes the worst you can do when in the euphoria following the reading of a good book, is watch the adaptation of the book you have eagerly wanted to see on film.

Tonight's movie was Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) which I had heard to be the closest interpretation of the novel I had read earlier this week. Instead what I stumbled upon was 2.5 hours of werewolf orgies, gushing blood, stigmatism and head-chopping and lots of bare chestage that had little to do with the book itself.

My mental checklist noted the introduction of Dracula as Vlad the Impaler, fiend and Crusading soldier, proudly brandishing the crest of the Order of the Dragon ( that templar-like society one now associates with the historical figure Dracula ). What it didn't mark so highly was the appearance of Winona Ryder's Mina clad as a Transylvanian Princess and Anthony Hopkin's Van Helsing as one historic incarnation of mentor/sage/spiritual advisor. All of this before the opening credits.

From there, it took any creepy and harrowing subtleties and bashed them over the head with lavish excess. In fact, I thought I was watching a kaleidoscope.... or carnival at best.... a campy, colourful affair that built no character further than its sexual desire or need to chop off people's heads.

The Dracula I read was erotic by default: lace pulled back to reveal an exposed white neck, a strange caped figure lurking near an open window, the touch of a hand, the thirst for an embrace. This adaptation left nothing for the imagination. In fact, I believe Coppola refused to believe we had any imagination at all the way he blatently stripped the text of any hauntingly mystic quality. Mystery? I think not. It was all laid quite bare on the table.... as bare as the well-endowed vampire brides who spent most of the film feasting on Keanu Reeves' pant legs and causing him such distress (?!) his hair was spray painted white for the rest of the film.

Even the Victorian scenes were bashed to shoddy death with Dracula and Mina rendevouzing in the Lyceum theatre toting a rather bawdy spectacle of women in corsets and each in turn strangling the fur of a wolf with gloved hands.

It was a stupid and ridiculous movie and I laughed throughout. How could they butcher such a book to that extent? Butcher seeming the appropriate word because the prop people had lots and lots of red paint to throw around the limestone bricks of Dracula's decaying castle.

I am a firm believer in subtlety. In Dracula's case, less is definitely more. Think of a character... when presented with hallowed grace; sliding mistlike into rooms and vanishing as an apparition, touching no part of skin but the side of the neck and leaving his two pin-pricked calling card, he is a creepy and volatile not boring and disturbingly malleable.

There was so much wrong with this movie it was hard to know where to begin my dissection of it......

The diary sequence voice-overs were true to form, but spoiled alas by Keanu Reeves and Wynona Ryder---neither possessing credible English accents. Lucy, draped in red like flowing blood was more than the Jezebel..... her figure was the first to disturb me.

Gary Oldman does what he can but the whole thing is so dreadfully misconstrued.

Poor Bram Stoker.... I bet you tons of wooden stakes he didn't want his name attached to this atrocity.


Kailana has come up with an excellent November reading challenge in honour of Remembrance Day. Having already partaken of most of the books she listed as her roster, I came up with a few of my own:

Megiddo's Shadow by Arthur Slade: a YA novel currently nominated for the Red Maple award which has a Saskatchewan farmboy experiencing the desert warfare of the Great War first hand.

Night Watch by Sarah Waters : Booker finalist that paints London during the Blitz years ( literary Foyle's War ... hmmm!)

The Sojourn by Alan Cumyn. I have heard this is one of the most beautiful Canadian novels of the past couple of years.

Here are some recommendations for your own November Challenge lists:

Deafening by Frances Itani

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

The Wars by Timothy Findley

The Russlander by Sandra Birdsell

All Quiet on the Western Front by Eric Maria Remarque

Regeneration by Pat Barker

Selected Poems by Wilfred Owen

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

The Boy in The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne


The Traveller said...

I've more or less given up on cinematic adaptations of books. I think mostly they just don't translate well, but I found your views on this film pretty amusing!

Anonymous said...

That it, Rach. Forget getting into publishing - go for becoming a screenwriter, and right (write? ah, horrid pun.) all the wrongs that have been made with adaptations thus far!

Kailana said...

Happy to hear that you are joining in on the November Challenge! All I seem to be doing is adding more and more books to my want to read list... :)

Anonymous said...

I tried to watch that version of Dracula last Halloween, and shut it off halfway through because I was both annoyed and bored stiff.

I'm still absurdly fond of the super old Bella Lugosi version, for all its faults. "I never"

Anonymous said...

I just popped over from Danielle's blog and was immediately sucked in to your feelings about Coppola's 'Dracula'. :-) I saw it long before I read the book (also recently, but with less enthusiasm than it deserved I think), and thought it was a ham job even then. Keanu Reeves was terrible, and Anthony Hopkins was at his worst. *shudders* Horrifying for all the wrong reasons methinks.

You're right that 'Dracula's horror is all in the subtlety...but perhaps this is difficult to see, because the plot points have become cliche almost? I found it interesting how far 'Dracula' (and 'Frankenstein' too) have been colonised by 20th century cinematic culture...

Great list of War Reads too - 'Regeneration' is probably amongst my top ten favourite novels. 'The Night Watch' is excellent - you should enjoy it - but, isn't 'All Quiet on the Western Front' by Erich Maria Remarque, rather than Marquez?

Anonymous said...

I've discussed before my opinion of Coppola's version. It would have been much easier to stomach if he had left off Bram Stoker's name.

Saw your comment on Danielle's blog about Melrose Plant and had to come visit. I'm a great fan of his!