Dario Argento's Dracula 3D (2012) - This film is taking a lot of heat as it makes its round being reviewed by various horror podcasts and websites. It certainly does have its issues, the CGI is under developed making it look very cartoonish. Its a shame since there are many shots filling a good amount of the film. Most of the new tropes for the many forms of Dracula are primarily shown through CGI, the fly transformation, the giant pray a mantis, a wolf transformation and all are less developed than they should have been before releasing the film. Then there are script issues that add to the mixed reception of the film. Writers Dario Argento, Enrique Cerezo, Stefano Piani and Antonio Tentori decided to without major plot points until the final scene and by doing so created an incoherent collection of scenes missing a primary motivation. Now who is to say, who wrote what in this script, or how many revisions it went through but understanding what was done can only happen after seeing the entire film. The central character Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann), as well as Lucy (Asia Argento) had motivations that were left unexplained until the final conflict.
Then the knowledge that Mina (Marta Gastini), like in the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola version, is a look alike for Dracula's dead wife is also withheld. It is his primary reason for hiring Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) and thus luring his wife to the area but we the audience don't learn about it until the end of the film. So in that last scene there is so much exposition that it muddles everything that comes before it. I am sure the writers were seeing it a a big reveal but because of other issues in the film it just leaves the plot rudderless. More foreshadowing of the reveals would have helped. Then there is the strange weirdness to the dialog, not quite shooting for any region or time period, but sort of existing in its own world. The players have odd phrasing making the dialog ring false throughout the film. Add to it what I think were a incredibly moody performance by Thomas Kretschmann as Dracula. He goes all over the place presenting Dracula sometimes as a sad and depressed creature bored with his existence. Then at other time flashes into the monster with a violent streak that make an abusive drunk seem stable. Then at other times he is a driven man who knows what he wants and is determined to get it.It makes for a very convoluted image of the character that is not easy to connect with.
Now I will move a bit into some *** SPOILERS!*** in the writing so you have been warned. I know that you are thinking this is Dracula there just can't be spoilers but there are. The writing team changed the story and character arcs enough that it is possible to actually have spoilers. Lets start with the simplest of the changes that did not make sense. Renfield (Giovanni Franzoni) is not a want to be vampire eating bugs and doing the bidding of the vampire well at least at first. He is a neighbor in the opening scene where Tanja (Miriam Giovanelli) is attacked by Dracula, he knows she is having an affair with is married neighbor but does nothing about it. When she is killed, bitten and put in a grave he arrives in time to stop the locals from driving a stake through her heart. In the bloody exchange he is overpowered after killing another local. Although under the power of Dracula this character is a bit more sane than Renfield's who have appeared in other films. He is an improvement over past versions of the character, primarily obsessed with the lovely Tanja vampire he is a servant with size and power. She Tanja is herself a more active bride of Dracula. Like in other films she is a showcase of the seductress vampire but not one Dracula is interested in loving. Unfortunately this bride is young and petulant a child who can not handle the power that comes from being undead. Its a bit confusing whether Dracula wants her to be a vampire, we see that the locals are doing his bidding but when Tanja is bitten they bury her in a shallow grave with the intent to stake her before she can drink some of Dracula's blood to become a full vampire. Well so was it Dracula who sent them to do this? Then why in the very next scene is he giving her a drink of his blood. It's very confusing. The major characters are another story with the greatest change coming in the form of Lucy.
Of all the characters in the film poor Jonathan gets the worst deal. Hired to catalog the Count's library he is very quickly just a food source. Locked up and drained when he turns and is killed by Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer) it is a truly tragic ending for him. He really has no other purpose in the story so other than setting up Mina's arrival. So he is used to give us the story of Dracula when he reads the books in the library. After seeing the film the second viewing makes so much more sense. When Dracula is talking about Mina's arrival he says "A wife's place is with her husband." Knowing he envisions her as his long lost bride we can see the double meaning of the line.
Dracula feels a psychic connection to Mina and she to him, symbolized as a warning her her dream, she is running through the woods and comes across her own body laying on the ground, a wolf is feeding on her insides. Foreshadowing of the wolf threat she feels while riding to the castle. This connection is furthered in the later scenes as Dracula seems able to impose his will on her whenever they are together. The film sets up triangles in relationships, Mina - Jonathan - Dracula, Mina - Dracula - Tanja couples or desired couplings countered with established relationships. Again I can see what Argento is trying to do here the duality of the structure is useful but we are too distracted by the surrounding effects to really pay attention to the story.
It is Mina who calls Van Helsing and hires him to deal with what she thinks is a vampire. This is very much a change from the original. Also Van Helsing has a history with Dracula, as shown through a flashback. Dracula sends one minion after another to try to kill him unsuccessfully. Not the most well put together part of the story. Van Helsing does not show up until the third act and then he is all business. He puts an end to one minion after another and has a ridiculous preparing for battle montage before the final scene. In the end van Helsing is a bit old and frail for the job and it is Mina that strikes the vital blow to Dracula. Very underdeveloped as a character it is a real weakness instead of the amazing enhancement having Rutger Hauer could have been.
Considering that the bells and whistles of the film, from story to score to costumes to performances is all about the emotion the film itself somehow comes across without emotional impact. People also have been really critical of the lighting calling it too bright to create mood, but I believe a lot of that has to do with the 3D effects, comparing the 2D and 3D versions you can see that with the gray glasses used for the effects the colors are dulled enough to get good lighting and a decent mood. In the 2D version though it is a bright colorful film lacking a hint of the necessary creepy mood. Recommend a setup with recognized 3D for viewing this one. The effects needed to be better and this Dracula seems to have a shape shifter ability, he can be or maybe control most animals. We see him as an owl, a wolf, a collection of flies, a giant prey mantis, then there seems to be bug spies, rat spies all letting Dracula know what is happening in the town. Then there was that time where he just appeared in Lucy's room after a bolt of lightening. All this added stuff needing special effects to make it work does not work. It confuses the myth of Dracula and because of the less than stellar effects is a real distraction from the story. So too are the incredible number of 3D shots which are well done in the film. Watching in the format is a very cool experience because so many of the scenes were designed and shot for the effect. The problem ends up being too much of a good thing and when you add to it the effects on lighting it works against a story that is trying to be a new telling of an old tale.
With all of this working against the film it still manages to try to tell this well worn tales in a slightly new way. Think about how hard the task was for Argento. One one hand he is trying to tell a story we can recite by heart without effort while at the same time trying to find a way to make it compelling. If he had stuck to the story and character changes he thought of and did not bother with all the transformations and special 3D effect this could probably have been a very enjoyable version of the story. Unfortunately that is not the case. So no recommendation on this film but unlike a lot off the review I have seen and heard I think there is something here of value its just that the whole package does not work. I have included some screen shots of many of the effect here for your amusement.