Steve Daly
June 25, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Francis Ford Coppola, TV director? Now that his Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992, Columbia TriStar, R, $95.98) is on video, it looks just like an especially artsy MTV offering. From the concert lighting to the confusing editing to the pop anthem Annie Lennox sings over the closing credits, this Dracula consistently junks logic and story sense for oodles of mood. That’s exactly why it plays better on home screens than it did in theaters. Scaled down to less bombastic dimensions, the most jumbled passages-among them a storm at sea that’s murkily intercut with the vampire’s arrival in 1890s London-don’t seem as annoyingly frantic. More surprisingly, since tape usually can’t handle strong reds without fuzzing out, the most crimson- besotted set pieces-the first visit of Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) to the count’s home, a sexy-scary seduction by three of the dark lord’s brides- actually seethe with cleaner, more vibrant color than in theatrical prints. In fact, everything about Dracula’s visuals reveals that Coppola is now much more interested in framing his work for video’s square confines than for sweeping theater screens. He monitors every shot on a TV set when he’s filming, and that seems to encourage him to use lots of close-ups that read easily on the tube. And since he keeps the cast all huddled in the image’s video-safe center, there’s actually very little difference in the look of the cassette version and a simultaneously released feature-packed wide-screen laserdisc (The Criterion Collection/Voyager, $124.95): The former displays a little more of the actors’ bodies at the top and bottom of the image; the latter, a hair more decor on the sides. Ironically, the Voyager disc’s notes make much of the package’s fidelity to the ”original” theatrical experience-but Coppola has taken great pains to make this laser edition a far more definitive experience than any multiplex screening could be. (Two other wide-screen laser editions are also available from Columbia TriStar-but they don’t have the same generous array of extras.) As you watch the movie, you can listen to the soundtrack or select an alternate audio track with running commentary delivered by Coppola, his son, Roman, who supervised the special effects, and makeup supervisor Greg Cannom. The commentary’s focus on technical matters can occasionally underscore the movie’s thematic anemia, as when Roman congratulates himself for an ”unusual and intriguing” shot combining the face of frail young Mina (Winona Ryder) with a locomotive. Fine, Roman, but does it mean anything? Yet Coppola Senior’s remarks are wonderfully revealing about the perils and pressures of making big-budget movies. ”You wind up becoming an administrator,” he sighs at one point, and his constant struggle to balance wild ambition and practical restraint comes across indelibly. If the movie itself never coalesces into a satisfying story-we never do learn exactly how Dracula (Gary Oldman) wills himself immortal to pursue his suicide bride’s reincarnated soul-the laser edition revels so infectiously in the process of filmmaking that the flaws matter less. The supplemental segments appearing after the movie include a catalog of the other vampire films Coppola raided for images, videotaped footage of early rehearsals (Oldman’s intensity is almost frightening), and hundreds of stills examining details of costumes, storyboards, and FX shots. But the showstopper of this package is a segment presenting a finished scene from the movie, in which Reeves takes leave of Ryder to journey to Transylvania, and atomizing it back into dailies: two and three takes of each shot that you can combine on your laser player to your own directorial specifications. The difficulty of choosing a final six takes that blend together well, camouflage these two actors’ inability to affect English accents, and look graceful on screen is a magnificent lesson in the mechanics of moviemaking. It makes the artistic challenge Coppola faced a more thrilling, spine-tingling tale than the movie itself. Tape: B Voyager disc: B+

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