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.

Acting: B+
Atmosphere: C+
Fun: B-

Miss Sadie Thompson (1953)
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 two-dimensional.

Acting: B-
Atmosphere: C
Fun: C-

All artwork copyright Jim Steranko, used with the artist's permission. Visit Steranko's Entertainment Express web site.

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