"Blah blah blah!!!"
After rediscovering this score on vinyl a few days ago, I finally got around to seeing the movie. It was pretty much massive amounts of Velveeta, but the cast and John Williams' score keep it entertaining throughout.
Frank Langella is great as Dracula, managing to be charming and seductive while still animistic and creepy. He remains the classiest Dracula I've seen yet. Langella's committal to the role is palpable, but Laurence Olivier seems to be cashing a paycheck as Van Helsing. Donald Pleasance is delightful; in the commentary track and documentaries, John Badham and Walter Mirisch lament his scene-stealing behavior, but from an audience point of view it is quite enjoyable.
Badham wanted to tone down the color for the video releases, and as a result, despite the fact that the DVD's anamorphic transfer shows a razor-sharp Panavision image, the colors are very inconsistent, sometimes seeming like footage from two different films edited together. The sound, on the other hand, is pretty decent, replicating the original theatrical Dolby Stereo mix with plenty of dimensionality and surround activity (the laserdisc must have sounded amazing).
Williams' score is glorious, taking center stage in several sequences (most notably in the much-maligned Maurice Binder dream sequence that I actually thought was pretty cool, if a bit out of place in this movie). The filmmakers are clearly aware even now of the contribution that Williams made to the film, and his work takes up a decent chunk of the (rather sober) production documentary on the DVD. The interaction between the music and the images is very operatic, the impressive Gothic surges are gripping, although they sometimes serve to emphasize the aforementioned cheese factor today.
There was a nagging feeling at the back of my mind that seeing the film and hearing the complete score chronologically might make me more critical of the soundtrack album, but I found to my surprise the opposite to be true. Having heard the music in its original context, I had a new appreciation for the programming of the album. There are a few moments in the film I would like to have someday (and a few alternate takes between the film and the record), but the album as it stands is a very good representation of the score, and it is a phenomenal listening experience.
Williams' score may be my favorite for a vampire picture.