Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Superbit

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Superbit (1992)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves

Since its release, Francis Ford Coppola’s artistic and dazzling approach to the classic gothic tale about the bloodsucking prince of darkness has found a place in the hearts of many film fans. Not only is it a very beautiful version of the story, heartfelt and emotional, but it is also one of the most faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, although it still strays quite a bit. "Bram Stoker’s Dracula" was one of the first DVDs Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment ever released and despite its age, the disc holds up very well still, with a clear and detailed image and good audio. Nonetheless, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has decided to make the film part of their "Superbit" collection, which means viewers will be treated to a visual and sonic feast, with increased bit rates for the best possible DVD experience.

"Bram Stoker’s Dracula" is not the usual monster movie you would expect at first. Instead, it’s a very romantic story, portraying the vampire count as a tormented being with emotions that, like his body, never die. Suffering from his existence, Dracula is tracked by his nemesis Dr. Van Helsing and hunted down for a climactic finale in the yard of his own castle. The lush and colorful production design, shot almost entirely on sound-stages, combined with the vivid and sometimes surreal imagery created by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, made this movie a cinematic feast in 1992 — a feast not only for genre lovers. Don’t be fooled, however; despite all its splendor, romance, and charm, Dracula still remains a horror movie with plenty of blood and gore.

The movie starts before the actual novel from 1897 takes place, showing Dracula (in true powerhouse performance by Gary Oldman) as a Romanian knight fiercely battling the Turkish Empire. A false letter from the Turks sends his wife Elisabeta (Winona Ryder) to her premature death. Leaving the battlefield after a premonition, Dracula finds his beloved wife in a pool of blood and condemns life and God Himself in a very spectacular, blood-soaked cinematic moment.

Four hundred years later Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves), an aspiring real estate broker travels to Transylvania in order to sell an old London abbey to Dracula. Chased by wolves and strange glowing mists, he finally arrives at the towering castle, only to find a weird and seemingly frail old man. Soon enough, he finds out that this man has more power then he could have possibly imagined. When Dracula finds a picture of Harker’s wife Mina (Winona Ryder), he sees his lost wife Elisabeta in her and decides to travel to London, leaving Harker back at the castle at the hands of some of his lascivious vampiric minions. The rest is almost history and features some of the most memorable moments in movie history, including Anthony Hopkins’s brilliant portrayal of Dracula’s nemesis, Dr. Van Helsing. Focusing mainly on the romantic aspect of Dracula’s tormented soul and his eternal love for his wife and her reflection in Mina, this movie has a completely different tone than any other incarnation of the vampire theme.

"Bram Stoker’s Dracula" is definitely a tough nut to bust when it comes to capturing all the details and delicate shades of the movie. Coppola’s production is rich and colorful, reveling in shades of blood-red and night-blue, challenging any video format. Presented in the movie’s original 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio, the <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer found on this Superbit release is once again marvelous. Out of all the comparisons I have made so far between regular releases and their Superbit counterparts, this title reveals probably the most striking improvements. The new version of the movie has noticeably improved clarity and sharpness, as well as a more faithful color reproduction. Evident as soon as the start red opening credits, the red is boldly rendered without bleeding or noise while the letters are absolutely sharp. Throughout the film the image is showing noticeably better detail and most importantly a much sharper reproduction of the film. Look out for the scene of Harker entering the castle, Mina and Lucy in the garden or any other richly textured scene in the film, and you will quickly see just how incredibly sharp and detailed this version looks. Ultimately it makes "Bram Stoker’s Dracula" such a satisfying experience to watch on this DVD. Needless to say that the DVD is entirely free of compression artifacts.

This Superbit version of "Bram Stoker’s Dracula" now features a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track, as well as a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DTS,DTS> track. The Dolby Digital bitrate has been upped to 448kps for this release, giving the audio slightly more beef and subtlety. The surround usage of the audio is very good and the film makes effective use of the wide soundfield. The whispering surrounding Harker in the castle, the snarling of the wolves, and galloping of the horses and not at the very least, Wojciech Kilar’s remarkable score are all beautifully integrated to engage the viewer. The high dynamic range of the tracks give the movie the necessary punch to make it the ultimate experience and the wide frequency response help to make Kilar’s menacing celli even more foreboding while the crystal clear violins and choirs help to build tension for the movie’s breath-taking finale. The DTS track is able to bring out even more of the subtle instrumentations in Kilar’s score while also adding to the ambiance definition of the sound effects. All in all, this is a high end audio presentation on this disc.

It has to be made clear that the Superbit collection is not for everyone, but has been created to satisfy the most videophile and audiophile demands, and once again Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment lives up to the promise. Once again we get to see a DVD presentation that is out of this world, this time improving so significantly on an existing release that it makes you wish every DVD would look like this. Since the original release came without any extras, this new Superbit release effectively replaces the previous DVD, and well-deservedly so. This DVD is as good as it gets.