Dracula 2001



aka Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000
USA 2000
director : Patrick Lussier
producers include : Wes Craven, Bob & Harvey Weinstein
script : Joel Soisson (story by Soisson and Lussier)
cinematography : Peter Pau
editing : Lussier, Peter Devaney Flanagan
lead actors : Jonny Lee Miller, Gerard Butler, Justine Waddell, Christopher Plummer
98/9 minutes

It’s the most terrifying word in the movies, sure to strike fear into the toughest audience: PRESENTS! As the original title proclaims, Wes Craven just presents: he isn’t the director, having handed over the reins to Scream series editor Lussier. He isn’t the writer, either, nor does he appear on screen to ‘introduce’ the movie. He’s just the producer – or, more accurately a producer among many, and if the studio bosses are so keen to advertise Craven’s limited involvement, it doesn’t say much for their faith in the movie.

As it turns out, Dracula 2001 (as it’s called in the UK) will be of interest only to fans of a certain pair of fictional, undying European gentlemen with a ‘license’ to kill: the title character, and also, thanks to a casting quirk, James Bond – the movie’s two main stars are, if insider info from Pinewood is to be believed, two of the leading front-runners to step into Pierce Brosnan’s brogues.

There’s not much reason for anyone else to sit through this by-the-numbers update of the horror legend: the Count (Butler), freed by bank-robbers from his London resting place in an underground vault, makes his way to New Orleans in search of Mary (Waddell), daughter of old foe Van Helsing (Plummer). Van Helsing, who’s been keeping himself alive for 100 years with injections of vampire blood, sets off in pursuit, aided by hotheaded young sidekick Simon (Miller).

Aficionados of the genre will, as usual, lap up the ludicrous dialogue (“Aramaic? That’s been a dead language for over 2,000 years!”) and enjoy ticking off the laborious in-jokes: “I never drink. coffee,” Dracula deadpans. But having Mary work at the New Orleans Virgin Megastore crosses the line from sly wit into ham-fisted product placement – she even wears a staff t-shirt in bed.

And if we must have Dracula lurking in London at the turn of the new century, surely there’s room for a satirical swipe at the Blair government’s ‘stakeholder’ society, not to mention the administration’s own indefatigable ‘Prince of Darkness,’ Peter Mandelson. Instead, we get low-level ‘wit’ along the lines of Jeri Ryan (of Star Trek – Voyager fame) as a vampirised newsreader, asking a potential victim if he always wanted to be ‘bitten by a TV star.’

Towards the end, however, you start to suspect that this clumsiness is actually a front for some surprisingly subversive plot developments: the script sets up a startlingly cheeky version of Dracula’s true identity, only to pull back at the last moment and settle on a less controversial historical figure. It’s as unconvincing as it is disappointing, and ruins the climax of what could have been an welcome twist on a very tired old tale. Were they scared of a moral-majority backlash? It could hardly have done any harm at the US box-office, where it faded quicker than a vampire at dawn.

So, what of those would-be Bonds? Well, Butler – Gabriel Byrne crossed with a McGann brother – plays Dracula straight, all Byronic gloom and staring eyes, striding around in a long coat in a manner presumably designed to please fans of TV’s Angel. On this evidence, he’d be a step back to the bad old Timothy Dalton days.

Miller, however, seems to have strayed in from a Guy Ritchie set, all bull-necked street swagger and Cockney attitude. As befits an actor who rose to fame impersonating Sean Connery (In Trainspotting), he’d be closer to the original Bond than to any of his lukewarm successors, and an energetic change of direction for a series struggling to retain its edge in the era of Mission Impossible and Austin Powers. Then again, given the risk-averse attitude of the Broccolis towards their golden-egg franchise, a bland, low-cost Butler Bond might seem be the answer to their prayers.

14th June, 2001

by Neil Young
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