So, you know the old classic Dracula story, right? You know, Prince of Wallachia, Vlad Tepes, war hero and loving husband and father, only wants to protect his people from the invading Turks. He must desperately find a way to fend off this Ottoman horde. With much tortured internal debate, he succumbs to the only option he feels he has: make a pact with evil forces to become powerful enough to save his people, while also trying not to succumb to the darkness himself.
Wait, that’s NOT the old classic Dracula story? Oooh, right, that’s the fluffy bunny and rainbow version of Dracula. The one that’s not quite sparkly, but certainly not the ominous, duplicitous, creature of the night we know from the original story. Oh, sure, there’s an element of dark romanticism involved, but let’s face it, Dracula was not supposed to be the character that everyone identified with and pitied like he is here in Dracula Untold. He was dangerous. He wanted to suck your blood and either kill you or make you an agent of his will. Aaaw, poor Vlad. Let’s hug the guy whose nick name became “Vlad the Impaler” because he impaled everyone he killed onto tall spikes. So many, in fact, that the Ottoman armies referred to encountering “forests” of his impaled victims. Yeah, not so fucking sparkly now, is he?
Dracula Untold is not good, but it is sort of interesting in the first act. We’ve seen Dracula remakes, and retelling of his story, and some people have tried to include some of Vlad’s real history into their films. None have really been all that accurate, which just makes them more annoying. Strangely, this film actually uses an amount of fairly accurate historical information regarding Vlad Tepes’ life. But only to a point. And only in an abbreviated way. They give us some interesting history, then they go off the rails, both on historical accuracy, as well as film watchability.
Ok, Luke Evans is Vlad/Dracula and he’s fine. Except that he has a British accent instead of a Slavic one. Many of his subjects and soldiers have the correct accents, but not him – or his wife Mirena, played by Sara Gadon, who also has a sort of British accent, though she is Canadian. Huh? Whatever. Dracula Untold releases any historical anchor as we find Vlad making a drastic choice to have a chat with the only really interesting and frightening character in the film, the Master Vampire that is cursed to reside in a mountaintop cave because he made some deal with a demon.
Charles Dance plays this Vampire, and he is what I want to see more of in the vampire genre. That is, IF we’re going to continue to be subjected to this genre, and it appears we will if Hollywood has anything to say about it. He is scary, feral, a MONSTER. And he’s great.
Here, he gives Vlad the lowdown on the deal. You want the power to defeat your enemies? Fine. It’ll cost you. You’ll have power over the night and all it’s creatures, etc., you’ll be strong as 100 men, yada yada. But you’ll need to drink human blood to survive, pretty much everyone you care about will likely die, and no more sunlight for you, bucko. However, if you can keep yourself from drinking blood for the first three days, you can go back to being your regular old self. I think we already know how that works out.
They do, of course, try to show us how much he loves his wife (and son). That gives us the whole love never dies aspect in here. And they use it somewhat effectively near the end in a very pivotal scene. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t have the weight it should for a story like this.
And as you see in the trailers, there’s a LOT of CG bats. Hordes of them. So many that Vlad can smash whole armies. It’s a bit much, and frankly it turns what should be a deep, dramatic, atmospheric film into a big computer-generated action film with no real substance. If they had taken the interesting historical stuff early on and run with that, you know, make a more Gothic historical epic sort of film, that might have been more engaging – and original.
Ultimately, Dracula Untold feels like fast food when they tempted you with a sumptuous multi-course meal. I can’t justify more than two kittenhands. Two and a half would be pushing it. Just go back and watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola. Ok, just try to forget Keanu Reeves is in it. Other than that, it may still be my favorite contemporary retelling of the Dracula story.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, thinking it would be better still to just go watch the original Dracula with Bela Lugosi, or even Nosferatu with Max Shreck.