When Francis Ford Coppola, the
Oscar-winning director of Godfathers 1 and 2
was approached to film Dracula, he took on the
job with two steadfast goals. He would stay as true
as possible to the source novel, Bram Stoker's 1898
classic, and he would complete the film under budget
and on schedule.
Francis needed a hit. He assembled
an impeccable team of seasoned professionals to collaborate
on his embryonic vision, instigating freewheeling brainstorming
sessions wherein no idea was rejected without consideration.
According to the film's project conceptualist, Jim Steranko,
"the idea in working with Francis is to throw as
many ideas as one can think of into the brainstorming
session and then it's up to Francis to select what he
wants and what he doesn't." Among the more exciting,
if ultimately impractical, suggestions was the notion
of filming key sequences in 3-D.
"The idea of applying the
3-D process to Dracula was Francis' idea,"
says Steranko. "Francis and I talked about it extensively.
It really came from his desire to use the 3-D process
on the screen and use it well -- as many filmmakers
have not." Steranko set about developing a series
of paintings and written treatments, each reflecting
his provocative approach to storytelling. "I did
a number of production illustrations and wrote even
more material ... I probably spent more time writing
and re-writing scenes."
Perhaps the most interesting
of Steranko's proposed 3-D set pieces, was a masked
ball to be staged at London's legendary Crystal Palace.
"I thought this was particularly suitable for Francis
because many of his films have a festive occasion. For
example, the marriage in the Godfather. He liked
the idea. As a matter of fact, he said 'we could set
it at Easter -- a carnivale.' " Masks with 3-D
glasses would be distributed to audiences for viewing
the scene. Further enhancing the spectacle would be
the presence of several Victorian celebs such as Oscar
Wilde and even Stoker himself covering the event as
a newspaper reporter.
In all, three major sequences would utilize the 3-D
process. As described by Steranko, "one was a dream
sequence aboard a train when Mina and Van Helsing are
traveling to Transylvania." According to the conceptualist's
memo to Coppola, "as Van Helsing sends Mina into
a hypnotic trance, sections of the railroad car vanish,
beginning with the roof. Overhead we see clouds . .
. rushing past in accelerated motion, phantasmagorically."
Last, the climactic chase to the gates of Castle Dracula
would be enhanced by the process. In Steranko's pitch
to the director, "Dracula, being a master of the
elements, created a kind of earthquake. He commanded
the ground itself to open up. There was a scene where
Dracula rallies the elements [lightning, fire] ...
and this had to do with the sun going down -- because
they could get to him and stake him through the heart,
cut off his head if they could get to him before sundown."
But the notion of filming these
potentially dynamic scenes in 3-D was somehow lost in
the shuffle. "My guess is because Francis was determined
to bring this picture in on schedule and under budget,"
says Steranko. "There were numerous problems along
the way that probably could have changed that. But my
guess is that, shooting in 3-D, the manufacture of masks,
the distribution of them to the audience to put on --
that whole process would have complicated the filmmaking
schedule perhaps to the point where it would have jeopardized
his requirement that he bring the picture in on time and
under budget. The picture was already complicated."
The film, which in the end grossed
over $100 million, proved to be the hit Coppola needed.
Whether or not 3-D would have inhibited its profitability
is anyone's guess, as is speculation to whether filmmakers
will ever again shoot in 3-D.
We offer the following examples as
proof that producers are not adverse to subjecting major
properties to gimmicky treatment, provided a profit is turned:
Phantom of the
Rue Morgue (1954)
Based on Poe's
immortal Murders in the Rue Morgue, the film is splashy,
stylish and ultimately boring. Karl Malden lends just
a hint of artiness to the proceedings as detective Dupin,
and Patricia Medina is even more ravishing in 3-D.
Miss Sadie Thompson
That's right, Somerset Maugham's classic morality
tale, Rain, began filming under this title in 3-D
but was, ultimately, released flat. Rita Hayworth as the
slatternly Miss Thompson must have been breathtaking in
three dimensions. Aldo Ray's performance is stubbornly
All artwork copyright Jim Steranko,
used with the artist's permission. Visit Steranko's Entertainment
Express web site.