Saturday, September 5, 2009

Adapting "Dracula"...

Something that's been on my mind for...well, ages. How should the next major adaptation of Dracula be done? Or, more to the point, if given the chance how might yours truly bring Bram Stoker's famous novel to the big screen?

Assume here that we're talking about a major motion picture--with a budget, sfx and cast akin to the Francis Ford Coppola version, or some other adaptation of a period novel. But that brings with us some limitations. At two and a half hours max, this means some streamlining. Nothing odd about that, really. Most versions eliminate several characters at least--Arthur Holmwood and Quincey Morris most often and obviously. But there are other considerations to consider. How to make this version fresh is one of the first questions. How indeed? Well, we might begin by jettisoning some bits that are, quite frankly, overdone. So...

Dracula is not pursuing a long-lost, reincarnated love. Dracula is not, despite the name, the infamous Vlad the Impaler. Nor, most movie versions to the contrary, does Dracula burn up in sunlight. And just for variety's sake, let us not put Dracula into a cape nor a white tie and tails. I'll go one step further--and this is a departure from the book--I don't want Dracula turning into a bat. Real bats are tiny things, and next-to-impossible to get right anyway. Wolves, yes. Mist, yes. But no bats.

My version would be framed with Bram Stoker himself examining the documents brought to him--a collection of diaries, letters and other records. In effect the film is one long flashback. But the conceit is that here is the unedited version--what really happened as opposed to the novel Stoker composed. In the process, we get some answers to questions that have puzzled readers for years.

I'm not going to go blow-by-blow, describing a plot that most readers will already know. Here instead are some differences I'd introduce--and there's little doubt some will firmly disapprove. Remember the central conceit--the novel was Stoker's re-telling of the true events, altered not only for dramatic purposes but to suit his personal prejudices as a deliberately (if not genuinely) conventional Victorian Gentleman.

1. Mina and Lucy are lovers. By this I don't mean they're some kind of proto-feminists, but that as virtually cloistered friends for many years the two have explored each other's sensual natures. Not unlike what happens in English Public Schools between boys. None of the other characters know this, and any clues that present themselves will be resolutely ignored. For that matter, we needn't go all L-Word about it, but a few subtle suggestions here and there can make things clear to the audience.

2. Renfield is psychic. More, visions of what dangers await certain people is what brings him to Dr. Seward's attention, and earns him a quick commitment to the asylum. Frankly, what passed for psychiatric medicine in the 1890s would not make him better, and if Seward were in any way inclined to experiment, the poor wretch would end up far worse than when he went in. By the time the Master Vampire shows up, any wonder he'd be looking for someone to "save" him? This neatly explains the "coincidence" of Renfield being in an asylum right next to Carfax--and just to lock that up neatly I'd say Seward recommended Carfax as a property to Harker.

3. Seward and Van Helsing don't get along. This is much more dramatic, if the old man has come to embrace faith late in life (the book mentions his son is dead and his wife insane) while his student remains rigidly rational. More, this creates a genuine problem for the vampire hunter, forcing him to extreme lengths to try and prove Lucy's peril. Seward might humor his former mentor for a bit--and then come apart at the seams upon seeing the corpse of his beloved feeding upon a child! Especially if said child (or children) ended up DEAD.

4. Harker was less than heroic at the Castle. Lets face it--Harker is the most thankless role for any actor. Nine times out of ten (at least) he comes across as pretty much either a fool or a cardboard figure. But imagine this scenario: Harker arrives at Castle Dracula, only to be attacked instantly by the ravenous Brides. Dracula rescues him, but demands the solicitor's help in return for continued protection. Harker gives in almost instantly, offering all kinds of practical advice to the Count. When the Count leaves, Harker knows he will proceed to feast upon the blood of England--just as the Brides will devour Harker himself. So the young man tries to commit suicide by leaping from the Castle. He survives by the merest chance, and later tells lies about what really happened. Isn't that more interesting? Honestly?

5. Dracula himself is a tragic monster. I know, this sounds like the ultimate stereotype, but hear ( me out. Lets face it--a vampire is a walking cadaver addicted to human blood. Suppose his "real" form reflects that? A whizened Thing like a mummy, with demonic glamor hiding that face and replacing it with a semblance of what he once was. He is tired, too tired for words, but lacks the willpower to do anything about it. Not because his will is weak, but because his condition is beyond that. How humiliating for a once-mighty Lord of Nations! To be so reduced! And that justifies one of the most intriguing bits from the novel, one rarely if ever used in adaptations--that Dracula looked at peace when finally destroyed.

6. Mina is the one giving Stoker the manuscript. She's doing so a few years after the events described, following her husband's eventual successful suicide. Seward was killed in the final struggle with Dracula (like Quincey in the book) and Van Helsing has finally passed away. She is the last survivor and intends to go abroad, to start a new life. She isn't even sure why she's giving these papers to him. Maybe there's a hint that she is becoming a vampire herself. Or not. Maybe that is only Stoker's imagination...

Some will complain about this vision's faithfulness (or lack thereof) to the novel. Others might quite like it. No doubt some will just not find the premise at all appealing. And who am I to say they're wrong. Submitted as an idea, little more. I've lots and lots and lots of ideas. Only a tiny few get the full treatment of actual writing. But does yours truly possess enough vanity to want to share some of these notions?

What do you think?

Finally, methinks I'll end this bit of speculation with some casting...

Viggo Mortenson as Dracula.
Felicity Jones as Mina.
James McAvoy as Harker.
Toby Stephens as Seward.
Michael Gambon as Van Helsing.
David Tennant as Renfield
Rachel Hurd Wood as Mina

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