Starring Gerard Butler, Jonny Lee Miller, Justine Waddell, Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Esposito, Jeri Ryan
Directed by Patrick Lussier
Distributed by Echo Bridge Entertainment
Dracula 2000 is a bit of a scatterbrained mess of a film. Its first act is rooted in the vein of a high-tech heist film, focusing on a group of professional thieves whose raid on the Van Helsing family vault inadvertently resurrects the legendary vampire for a modern day reign of terror. He’s played here by pre-300 Gerard Butler with a performance that never manages to leave much of an impression. Not because of anything the actor does or doesn’t do, but because director Patrick Lussier can never quite decide on a tone or focus for his narrative. There are moments throughout where this quasi-update of Bram Stoker’s novel feels genuinely inspired, and just about every one of them is undermined by a botched joke or a tired and telegraphed action sequence.
Act Two shifts the action to Mardi Gras and introduces our protagonist, young Mary Heller (Justine Waddell), a hapless Virgin (get it?) Megastore employee plagued by recurring nightmares of the titular menace. Naturally, Dracula takes a vested interest in her, stalking her from every shadow while simultaneously transforming New Orleans into a vampire breeding ground that includes three newly formed vampire brides and a whole swell of lackeys. Meanwhile, Christopher Plummer is the modern-day Van Helsing who arrives in town with an assistant (Jonny Lee Miller) in hot pursuit. Offering typical doses of exposition, these guys cut down any vagrant vampires left in Dracula’s wake with some nifty gadgetry and perhaps a bit too much know-how. Everything comes together in a third act plot reveal that offers a new spin on well-worn mythos, even if the film doesn’t bother to do much with it.
It never gels into a coherent success, but there’s some fun to be had throughout. Even if Lussier fails at maximizing Gerard Butler’s charisma, the actor seems to be having a ball in the central role; his Dracula is a delightfully evil member of the undead who enjoys tormenting his victims almost as much as drinking their blood. Whether he’s easing a hysteric victim into dying with dignity or seducing our heroine’s best friend in order to alienate her, Dracula is formidable villain here. The film never romanticizes him, which goes a long way in this day and age.
Dracula 2000 is also a very good-looking film, complete with lavish production values and impressive breadth. The globe-spanning narrative gives it an epic feel, and the period flashback sequence is equally impressive. It’s undone, though, by never giving us a character worth rooting for. Plummer is woefully underused as Dracula’s nemesis, Waddell is one-note and unremarkable and Miller is thoroughly bland in the role of reluctant apprentice. Couple that with a story that’s afraid to explore its most interesting aspects (far too much time is squandered on the opening heist), and you have a film that manages slight fun when it should’ve aimed higher. Dracula’s susceptibility to silver and crosses is explained in a plot twist that’s as inspired as anything in the vampire genre (ditto the surprise surrounding Van Helsing), but the majority of this feels like an afterthought. Instead, Lussier compromises his story with silly action sequences (apparently every vampire knows Kung Fu) and unfortunate CGI decapitations. Some may argue that it adds a bit of goofiness to the proceedings, but it comes at the expense of a really good movie that never quite finds its way to the surface.
But Lussier’s heart was in the right place, packing in some really great nods to Tod Browning’s original Universal film along the way. From Butler’s delivery of the ”I don’t drink …” line to the massive Bela Lugosi costume wandering the streets of New Orleans, Lussier relishes the material he’s working with and does his best to keep things fun and loose. He finds varying success along the way, but the lighthearted approach to the material makes it a hard film to outright dislike.
Echo Bridge Entertainment brings Dracula 2000 to 1080i high definition in a transfer that’s better than expected – with some reservations. First off, the film is inexcusably cropped from 2.35:1 to 1.78:1. There’s no real excuse for this across-the-board cropping that Echo Bridge seems to be employing. The draw of home video releases is to preserve the original vision of the director, but only the opening credits are in 2.35:1 here. A real pity. Other than that, Dracula 2000 looks pretty good. Colors don’t necessary pop – although it looks as if that’s by Lussier’s design – but detail is pretty good all around. Facial pores and stubble are plenty revealing, and backgrounds look nicely textured. Edge enhancement is occasionally visible but severe technical issues are kept away. Overall this is a solid image presentation that’s really only marred by the incorrect aspect ratio. It’s enough to make me wonder if Echo Bride isn’t somehow sourcing their Blu-rays from HD cable broadcasts.
Audio wise, things are also pretty good. As was the case with Hellraiser: Bloodline, Dracula 2000 features a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that has no real issue other than it isn’t as enveloping as it should be. Dialogue is clear and well-separated, while sound FX pop with more aggression than expected. Hopefully Echo Bridge will outfit its next crop of discs with 5.1 audio, as releasing newer movies with lesser tracks than what accompanied them in theaters is inexcusable – though this remains a more than adequate way to experience the film for curious parties.
Sadly, none of the supplementary material from the Dimension DVD survived the trip to high definition. We’re left with a movie-only presentation in which the greatest allure is being available for under $10 bucks. Fans will most likely enjoy the upgraded picture quality – although the lack of extras is a bit of a downer. Dracula 2000 isn’t going to win any awards for reference-quality Blu-ray, but high definition junkies with TV sets over 40” may enjoy the stable image quality offered here. Providing the cropped picture isn’t a deal-breaker.
3 out of 5
0 out of 5