"Apocalypse Now" worked due to its hazy, surreal vision of a hellish world. Coppola returned thirteen years later and created a similarly haunting and poetic so-called "masterpiece," a supposed truthful adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula tale - when, in fact, the truth is that this movie is no more faithful to Stoker than the (superior) Universal Pictures original.
The hazy film-making is visually satisfying, and some of the special effects are - simply put - amazing. Coppola's backlighting and use of shadows is creative and unique. But, unfortunately, after a while his emphasis on style over content begins to eat away at the film's other strengths - the relationship between the heroine (Winona Ryder) and Dracula (Gary Oldman) is weak. Many story links are completely nonsensical and people appear and disappear at whimsy. The heroine's fiancée (Keanu Reeves) writes to her from Transylvania, asking her to depart at once to marry him; in a matter of one or two scenes she has suddenly traveled a vast distance and is standing at the alter prepared to wed. It seems like Coppola loses a grip on his characters and plotting very early on.
Oldman gives a chilling performance but isn't given very much to do, because he's set aside and the special effects take over. The opening scenes of his battle and his motivation to become the King of the Undead is very enthralling - if Coppola had maintained this mixture of style and content the movie would have been far better.
The casting of the weak Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder in leading roles harms the impact of the film as well. Reeves sounds like a Californian pothead imitating a Brit; Ryder treats the material as if it is a dramatic, over-the-top theatre rendition; every line she speaks is sickeningly cheesy.
Anthony Hopkins turns in a disappointing performance as the utterly forgettable Van Helsing, who is given very little to do in this particular film apart from show up when convenient and sprout fancy little one-liners, most of them dramatic closers to scenes (e.g. "We are dealing with a demon!", then a cut-away to another scene.) Overall, "Dracula" is a good film and is worth seeing for its visuals alone. It is not, however, the strongest adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel; given the hype surrounding its release in 1992, the completed effort is rather lackluster in the story department.