Saturday, November 14, 2015

Dracula 3D

Among its laundry list of problems, Dario Agento's Dracula 3D's (2012) biggest drawback is it doesn't have a clear grasp of what it wants its Dracula to be. Depending on the film and the actor, Dracula can be a cadaverous monster, a romantic seducer, an Old World nobleman, a fallen Christian warrior, a tortured creature, and any number of possibilities and combinations. No one ever confuses Bela Lugosi's portrayal with Christopher Lee's or Lee's with Gary Oldman's and so on and so on. There's no one "correct" presentation of Dracula; everyone can have their own favorite, but I only ask that, whatever the concept in a given movie, Dracula be interesting.

Played in Argento's film by Thomas Kretschmann, Dracula is - I hate to use the word - boring. I can't think of any other way to describe him. He speaks flatly, his movements are stiff, and there is so sense that he is a cunning predator or a suave gentleman. He doesn't have a distinctive look or presence, and that's fatal to any movie about Dracula. True, he gorily murders some people, ripping out throats and cutting off heads, and he tries to convince Mina Harker she's the reincarnation of his lost love, but there's no passion or energy; it feels perfunctory.

Perfunctory, a word I never imagined using to describe a Dario Argento movie, but there you have it. No one watches an Argento film for the plot or acting. His movies (Suspiria, Inferno, Opera) were always style over substance, but what glorious, confident style. His films dripped with atmosphere, surreal nightmares captured on film. Yes, they're filled with blood and gore, but the movies were stunningly beautiful, the colors so vivid, the compositions so striking and offbeat, and the camera movement so fluid and hypnotic. Take all that away, and you're left with a poorly acted, clumsily plotted, horribly dubbed mess of like Dracula 3D.

Over at rogerebert.com, Peter Sobczynski runs down everything wrong with the movie - weak performances, bad CGI (the scene where Drac transforms into a giant preying mantis has to be seen to be believed) - but most potently, he notes that Argento seems to be going through the motions, apparently uninterested in telling this particular story. Watching the movie, one can't help but think Sobczynski hit the nail on the head; nothing in the film indicates Argento had any special desire to make this movie.

If Kretschmann (who Sobcyznski called the least frightening Dracula since Leslie Neilson) is stiff and flat, Argento's direction is languid and pedestrian. The period details are nice, but much of the movie looks cheaply over lit, eliminating shadows and sense of menace. I once heard this type of direction referred to as "directing traffic:" people enter and exit, move along, nothing to see. Moments that might have had some oomph, like Dracula flying in through a window and materializing out of flies, are undercut by terrible special effects. When Dracula attacks people, Argento speeds up the frame to suggest his supernatural power, but it looks hokey.

Dracula 3D has its share of blood, gore, sex, and nudity. These elements briefly give the movie some life, but I think we expect more from Argento. Rutger Hauer has some fun as Van Helsing, but he's limited to a third-act appearance. It's always nice to see Asia Argento, but she's given little to do as Lucy, and while she does get naked, if you're like me, it'll weird you out because her father is the director. How awkward was filming those scenes?

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