By the very nature of the medium, a movie attempts to convey a wide range of emotions, images and sensations in a relatively short period of time. In the case of Bram Stoker's Dracula, the director faces a daunting task: he must convert a four hundered page epistelary novel into a film that conveys all the horror and suspense of the novel, without overwhelming the audience with length or minute detail, which can readily be found in any novel. Unfortunately, the subtlety that is inherent in Stoker's writing is lost in the translation. While the novel depicts the events surrounding the life of the vampire and the protagonists with a subtle power and gothic horror that drives the reader forward, the film is a blitz of intense imagery and sound which carries the viewer on a rampage through the world of Dracula. The differences between novel and film are most apparent in the openning scenes, when Harker visits the Castle Dracula.
As Jonathan Harker makes his way to Transylvannia, and to the Castle Dracula, he encounters many omens which foreshadow the horrific events to come. Upon his arrival at his destination, however, the Count makes every effort to make Harker feel welcome:
"Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own will!" . . . The instant, however, that I had stepped over the threshold, he moved impulsively forward, and holding out his hand grasped mine with a strength which made me wince. (p. 25)
The Count tries not to arouse Harker's suspicion or to alarm him during his sojourn in the castle, and only through careful observation of Dracula's activities and his peculiar physical attributes does Harker realize that he is dealing with a very powerful man -- if a man at all.
In the film, moments after setting down to eat his first meal, Harker makes a comment which Dracula feels slights the accomplishments of his ancestors. A moment later, Harker finds himself with a sword within inches of his throat. After appologies are exchanged, the Count explains that the ways of his people are not the ways of Harker's people and that he should take care not to offend through word or deed, lest some tragedy might befall him.
In the novel, through Stoker's writing, the reader's awareness of the danger that surrounds Harker grows gradually, along with Harker's, with each new discovery of the Count's power, untill Harker finally realizes that he has become a prisoner. The film replaces the unravelling of the mysterious ways of the Count with a brief, but intense depection of the Count's gruesome power through visual effects and images of him leaving the castle and of Harker's rather sexual encounter with the three female vampires. Unfortunately, by taking this path, the director must exclude the scene which marks the triumph of Dracula's subtle but everpresent power.
After a month in the castle, Dracula finally informs Harker that his coach will escort him to Borgo Pass, where Harker can begin his journey home. Delighted by this prospect, but very anxious to leave, Harker demands to be sent on his way that very night:
He smiled, such a soft, smooth, diabolical smile that I knew there was some trick behind his smoothness.
. . . The Count stood up, and said, with a sweet courtesy which made me rub my eyes, it seemed so real:--
"You English have a saying which is close to my heart, for its spirit is that which rules our boyars: 'Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest.'" (p. 58)
Dracula immediately escorts Harker to the door, but upon openning it a pack of wolves snap hungrilly at the threshold. When Harker concedes that he will not walk that night, the Count slams the great door in triumph.
At this point, the reader becomes fully aware of not only the Count's power, but also his cunning. The movie attempts to accomplish a similar goal, but the focus lies on the counts fiendish power and strength. Little attention is paid to the development of what Van Helsing later describes as the vampire's child brain.
Although the film exites the reader through a bevy of intense images and events, it can do no more than to condense Stoker's extensive novel. Unfortunately, many of the subtle details that make the novel so powerful are forsaken or lost in the condensation, or rather distillation, in the name of expedience.