For our American cousins, the reason I have reviewed this under the title “Dracula 2001” is because that was its UK release name, having been released a year after the American release. This was Wes Craven’s foray into vampirism (as executive producer) and what we ended up with was what I would call an “MTV” movie – but more on that later.
The film modernises Dracula but actually begins with scenes, from 1897, of the Demeter the ill fated ship that brought Dracula to England in the novel. The reason 1897 was chosen was because that was the year the novel itself was published – a little note that we shall have a look at the dating of the Dracula story in a book review that is due in the near future. We see the wrecked ship, the Captain lashed to the wheel and the dead crewmen (who shouldn’t be there as only the deceased Captain made it to port) and paw prints turning to footprints in the sand.
Cut to 2000 and Carfax Antiques looks somewhat incongruous as the Gothic building has been built around by a modern glass building. The business is owned by Matthew Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer). His employee Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) has just bought an antique crossbow, one used (Van Helsing informs us) for firing silver bolts. Simon quips that Van Helsing’s grandfather would have used it but the older man counters that his grandfather was a simple country doctor and he doesn’t know why he inspired Stoker’s character.
Having failed to flirt with secretary Solina (Jennifer Esposito), Simon leaves. That night thieves raid the business. These are high tech thieves, able to crack the security in the building and it is here that the cracks in the film begin to show. Somehow they are able to get past handprint scan, voice recognition and retinal scan. Whilst getting the voice would be no problem one does wonder how their accomplice was able to get the hand cast and retinal pattern. I do have to say that direction showing the retinal pattern turning into the safe opening was excellent.
As they go down into the vault we see Van Helsing upstairs take a leech and, through the scene we see him draw blood from it and inject it. One thing this does well is introduce new lore and I’ll break from the opening blow by blow for a moment to discuss this. Van Helsing is the Van Helsing. He has Dracula (Gerard Butler) in his vault and has been using leeches to filter the vampire’s blood and injecting it to stay alive as guardian of the vampire. You see, he hasn’t worked out how to kill him and refuses to die until the evil is taken care of.
The thieves descend into the vault, followed by Solina who is the accomplice. This scene highlights one of the problems with the film – it lacks atmosphere. Fanged skulls placed in the walls does not generate a spooky atmosphere by themselves. The film is very slick and the effects well done but the atmosphere is lacking – either here or, for example, in a misty cemetery later. It feels like a music video, artificial is probably the word I’m grasping for, hence me calling it an “MTV” movie.
Of course the thieves have assumed treasures aplenty but what they find is a fiendishly sealed coffin. When they try to open it the coffin shifts, spikes drop killing a couple of thieves (the blood from one is sucked into the coffin) and sounds an alarm. The thieves make their escape by blowing a hole in the wall, now given they do this, and it leads into sewers (one guesses) and they know which way to go, one wonders why they didn’t enter by breaking the wall open in the first place. By the time Van Helsing gets there they have scarpered and are quickly on a plane heading to the Caiman Islands with the coffin.
Van Helsing heads after them – for reasons soon to be revealed he has a shrewd idea where Dracula will be heading – and Simon is on his tail (how Simon managed to land in New Orleans – Van Helsing’s destination – at the same time and not be spotted on the plane is a mystery never tackled).
Of course the thieves continue to try and open the coffin whilst on the plane and succeed in freeing Dracula. This ends up with the plane crashing close to New Orleans with the pilot strapped to the controls (in a mirror image of the landing of the Demeter). Why New Orleans? Mary Heller (Justine Waddell) lives there. She is Van Helsing’s daughter, taken by her mother when she realised what the old guy was up to with the leaches. Of course this has led to Mary sharing Dracula’s blood – she is not bitten but born as Dracula later says, and he wants her.
One thing I really did like about this movie was the new lore, including a new source for Dracula. Dracula was just one of many names he has had and his ultimate identity is… Judas Iscariot. This explains why he hates crucifixes (we’ll get to the lore of these in more detail soon) and why silver is an anathema (30 pieces of silver). It seems when Judas hung himself the rope broke and then he found he could never die. He feels that God betrayed him as what he did, by betraying Christ, was preordained and yet he has suffered more than any man.
In a very nice scene, when Dracula attacks news anchor woman Valerie Sharpe (Jeri Ryan), we see that vampires cannot be captured on film as the camera man sees a wound opening in her neck by itself and then looking without camera sees Dracula. Dracula is shown to be seductive and this comes across in the reaction of every woman he meets, they just cannot resist him. In one scene he walks through a Virgin Megastore (we’ll get to that in a sec) and every woman is panting after him. He can manipulate storms, turn into a wolf and a flock of bats.
As for the other vampires it is fairly standard stuff; stake, behead or sunlight. One bite turns. There is a nice line when Simon holds up a crucifix to erstwhile thief and now vampire Marcus (Omar Epps). Marcus shrugs and states he is an atheist. “God loves you anyway,” quips Simon as a blade flicks out of the cross and he rams it into the vampire’s eye. There was another holy icon moment where Simon opens a bible and the pages fly at Dracula, bursting into flame on impact – strangely it felt almost like a Chinese Vampire moment (with the prayer scrolls often used in those films). Oh yeah, Dracula picks up a collection of three brides.
However, aside from the interesting lore there was the awful product placement. Honestly the film turned into an advert for Virgin Megastores at one point – it was just too much. I’ll also mention how much it bugged me that the decided to throw in characters called Lucy Westerman (Colleen Fitzpatick) – too close to Westenra – and Dr Seward (Robert Verlaque), there was no need and it smelt of desperation. The acting wasn’t fantastic but worked for what the film was, just don’t expect the world. This wasn’t high art, it was an “MTV” movie and the acting was good enough for that. I should, however, mention Jeri Ryan, in a cleavage-full dress with fangs – woot.
So a muddled story, in places, and average acting met with great lore. Slick production was in place but the film failed to produce a palpable atmosphere. All in all this is not the greatest movie in the world but, you know what, I can sit and watch it with impunity – if you take it for what it is, and remove the hyper critical part of the brain in fairness, its slickness can carry you through the experience. All in all, I’m going for 5 out of 10, could have done better, see me after class.