Sony Pictures finally decided to jump on the Dolby Atmos train, but with a bit of an odd first choice. Instead of choosing one of their modern blockbusters, the company instead decided to reach deep into the vault and create a new Limited Edition Supreme Cinema Series line-up with Francis Ford Coppola’s 23-year-old Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The disc arrives in a gorgeous “clear case” package that resembles a hardback book and features 24 pages of glossy photos, a written introduction from Coppola and some lengthy production notes. The packaging materials remind me quite a bit of what used to be included with Collector’s Edition Laser Discs back in the day.
According to the press release, the new “Supreme Cinema Series is a premium, limited edition collection befitting beloved cinematic favorites and modern classics. Each film is presented with pristine high definition picture, enhanced sound and a collection of new and/or archival special features, creating an ultimate edition for first-time viewers and fans alike.”
Why Sony would choose Dracula for this treatment and to launch this new series—as it was neither much of a commercial success or nor seems to have a major cult following—is anyone’s guess, but Sony did a really great job on the disc, including numerous special features like deleted/extended scenes, featurettes, documentaries, and two commentaries. The big story is the 4K video restoration and totally remixed 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos soundtrack.
“The new Dolby Atmos audio, remixed specifically for the home theater environment, delivers captivating sound that places and moves audio anywhere in the room, including overhead,” Dolby states in its press release for the new disc. “Dracula won three Academy Awards including “Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing.”
Due to budgetary requirements, Dracula filmmakers relied almost entirely on practical, in-camera effects, and because of this the film has a “realness” to it that so many of today’s modern films lack. This filmmaking style also gives the movie its signature creepy quality with shadows often acting of their own accord and things around the Count rarely as they appear.
Considering the age of the film, the 4K mastered video looks terrifically clear and detailed for most of the movie, while showing a lot of grain and noise at others. Generally the image is very clean and free of noise, however certain scenes—particularly nighttime exterior shots—show the age of the print or the limitations of the original production. The new Atmos audio mix is also stellar, really amping up the scare factor with lots of subtle atmospherics and things skittering and crawling around the room. The audio designers really took advantage of every opportunity to expand the audio mix and fill the listening space with sounds both subtle and overt to capture the on-screen ambience and action. Sonically this 7.1-channel TrueHD Atmos mix is as modern as any blockbuster, and for a film that is 23 years old, the transfer is mostly first-rate and I dare say it’s the best you’ve ever seen the film.
***Spoilers Ahead*** (But, seriously, the movie is coming up on 25 years old…)
You get a real sense of the enveloping audio that is going to be on the disc at the three-minute mark when Elisabeta (Winona Ryder) throws herself into the river, with water sounds filling the room, and then the massive sounds of the castle doors opening and closing as Count Dracula (Gary Oldman) enters the castle.
At the start of chapter 2 we see Renfield (Tom Waits) talking to an unseen master at the lunatic asylum. While he is talking you can track the progress of a fly buzzing clearly around the circumference of the room. And then you hear the fly distinctly buzzing up overhead, directly over the listening space to the right of the room, as Renfield reaches up to pick the fly off the ceiling and eat it. In the background emanating from all the walls are the moans of other unfortunate souls.
At 10 minutes in, a coach drops Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) off in the middle of nowhere with the sounds of desperate, hungry wolves crying and growling all around the room as they stalk the coach. Thunder booms and cracks overhead, and when the coach pulls into Dracula’s castle, the heavy iron gates roll closed from the floor to ceiling and ceiling to floor, closing us off from the outside world. As we get our first look at Dracula and his castle, the room is filled with tons of atmospheric audio effects. Throughout our time in the castle, we hear the constant sounds of wailing souls traveling around the room and overhead, the drip of water, the groan of walls, and the skittering of rats and other unseen, nasty creatures around the room, from side to side and overhead. Much of it is subtle but it does a wonderful job of creating the eerie, other-worldly soundstage of the castle.
At the 31-minute mark, Jonathan explores the castle and we get a lot of eerie, room swirling audio—Perfume that drips up to splash onto the ceiling, Mina’s voice swirling, ghostly and effervescent around the room.
At 37 minutes at the end of chapter 5, we get a rainstorm that starts up, with thunder and rain pelting all around the room. The scene transitions to the Demeter, the ship carrying Dracula to London. The storm rages on for several minutes as we cut to different areas—the rain and thunder continuing to beat down, a constant reminder that Dracula is all around. At 40 minutes, Dracula in wolf form races overhead, summoning Lucy (Sadie Frost)—and her laissez-faire attitude toward bras and tops—to the garden maze. The storm and wind swirl around the room, the Atmos audio putting you right in the midst of the torrent.
Near the end of Chapter 9, after they transfuse Lucy, there is a lengthy outdoor conversation during which the room is filled with the sounds of chirping bugs and night sounds. While the dialog remains anchored to the center speaker, the rest of the room is transformed into an outdoor London evening in the 19th century. At one point while Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins ) is talking, he disappears and his voice takes on a diffuse quality that moves around the room. At 1:03 a crow flies across the front of the room and then circles up the right side and into the back. The scene moves into Dracula seducing Mina (Ryder) over a glass of absinthe, the green fairy, as light music dances and plays and spins around the room giving the scene a dreamy quality showing how easily Mina could be drawn into the Count’s charms.
Chapter 12 has Dracula coming to finish his conversion of Lucy. The room is filled with blowing wind and the distant mournful howls of wolves. The scene cuts back and forth to Jonathan and Mina’s wedding, the interior of the church having a wonderful echo and reverberant quality to the space with the priest’s voice bouncing hard off the side and rear walls. Dracula in wolf form attacks Lucy’s guards and charges into her home, ravaging her in her bed and turning her into one of the undead. The scene ends with a huge crescendo of music and a splashing, drenching wave of blood that washes the front wall.
In chapter 13, at 1:34, they start destroying Dracula’s crypts and purging the evil from the earth. In bat form, Dracula descends from the ceiling straight onto the listening position. Dracula then comes to Renfield in a green mist, his voice emanating from the ceiling channels.
The film concludes in the big showdown between Van Helsing and Dracula outside the castle, with Mina caught in the middle, torn between whom to support. The scene begins with a race to the castle, as the gypsies with Dracula in his coach race home with a team in pursuit, trying to beat sunset. Mina summons clouds to darken the sky, with lots of thunder and wind gathering over the listening position as the sky darkens. Dracula finally succumbs to a sword plunged into his chest as wind and snow swirls around the room. In the final climactic scene, we are back inside Dracula’s castle, the voices echoing nicely off the hard stone walls, and then—in a suggestion by Coppola’s friend, another filmmaker you might have heard of by the name of George Lucas—Mina plunges the sword into Dracula and then cuts his head off as choir music swells into the room and up to the ceiling. Love never dies, indeed…