Friday, 13 February 2015

Dracula Untold

Here in Dublin I live pretty close to the birthplace of Bram Stoker. I've never been a fanatic of all things Dracula, but after reading the original book, seeing all the moves and dressing up as the guy for Halloween way back when, the idea of living close to where Bram Stoker created Dracula is awesome. Though I've seen many Dracula movies, the one that stands out in my mind is 1992's Bram Stoker's Dracula, which starred Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker and Gary Oldman as Count Dracula. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, I've always found the movie to be a flawed masterpiece. Sure, Keanu Reeves' English accent is utterly abysmal and there are a few hiccups along the way, but it also contains an Oscar worthy performance by Gary Oldman, a dark chilling soundtrack by Wojciech Kilar and incredible consume and set designs. As far as I'm concerned Bram Stoker's Dracula is up there with the best Dracula adaptations. So when I had a chance to review this latest Dracula centric movie I cautiously proceeded, especially since Universal Pictures want to make it into a franchise, including Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolfman. 


Directed by Gary Shore and out now on Blu-Ray and DVD comes Dracula Untold, a movie that's bland but enjoyable. Compared to pretty much every other Dracula movie out there, Dracula Untold decides to purely focus on the story about how Vlad the Impaler became the creature known as Dracula. Vlad III ?epe?, aka Vlad the Impaler, has put his days of impaling behind him and is now the prince of Wallachia and Transylvania. He has a wife and a family and is an all round good guy. However, after the Ottoman Empire, which has an army that could wipe out Vlad's people, wrongly blames him for slaughtering one of their scouting parties, he must turn to the unlikeliest ally- a vampire. Hidden away in Broke Tooth Mountain, Vlad confronts an ancient vampire and asks for help. The vampire offers Vlad some of his blood, which if consumed will grant Vlad the powers of a vampire, and these dark abilities are the key to annihilating the Ottoman army. There's a catch- if Vlad fails at resisting the urge to drink human blood for 3 days he will become a vampire forever, destined to watch his loved ones die of old age, be fixated on drinking human blood and unable to survive in sunlight. 


Here's the main problem with Dracula Untold, and it's a problem that has plagued many prequels. The main hook of the movie is the fact that Vlad must refuse to drink blood for 3 days, and that will-he-won't-he question runs throughout the movie. But how do you think it turns out? Prior to even seeing this movie you'd have to be an idiot not to work it out. The movie is called Dracula Untold, it's about how Vlad the Impaler became Dracula, and the focus of the movie is if Vlad will, what, become Dracula? That's like if the Star Wars prequels toyed around with the question of “Will Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader?”, as opposed to just assuming the audience knows he does and then just dealing with that downfall. Essentially this emotional hook in Dracula Untold is entirely negated by both the name and premise of the movie itself.

The film itself falls right into the fabled category known as “Meh”, but there is some fun to be had nonetheless. First off, Luke Evans is actually fantastic as Vlad, as he brings a performance that is part tortured soul, part action hero. He's badass, looks the part and genuinely gives the pretty ludicrous script his all. From the action set pieces to the smaller, more personal moments with his family, his performance holds the movie together. No one else really shines in Dracula Untold, perhaps apart from Charles Dance who plays the Master vampire in Broke Tooth Mountain, a role that is both creepy and unnerving. The scene between Vlad and the Master vampire in the cave, while rather brief, is excellent, as you really get the impression that the Master vampire has a larger grand plan in the works, with turning Vlad into a vampire only being the first step.

The movie often jumps between having too much CGI and being a pretty stripped down action movie. The costumes and sets are great, and the CGI-less fights are awesome. But then the shit hits the fan and CGI is dumped by the bucket-load onto your face. From Vlad turning into a flock of bats to him using his vampire powers to wipe out thousands of Ottoman enemies, large scale battles are just a bunch of CGI enemies dicking about. But that's fine, as at the end of the day I don't think anyone was expecting a deep introspective take on the character of Vlad the Impaler. No, we were expecting vampires, dudes with swords chopping other dudes, badass armour that looks great but technically has no protective qualities, Charles Dance as the motherf*cking Master vampire and over-the-top souless CGI moments of bizarreness. I got exactly what I expected.


Overall Dracula Untold is a decent movie for a Friday night in with a take-away. It's not high art but neither is it trash. There was no real reason for this story to be told, and though anyone with half a brain cell will work out how it ends even before they watch it, I'm glad it was made nonetheless. I like vampires movies. I like movies where big armies fight other big armies. I like movies that know exactly what they are. Dracula Untold knows exactly what it is- fun, entertaining and not exactly true to Bram Stoker's novel. But that's OK. As far as the idea of turning this into a franchise- sure, bring it on!

Dracula Untold is a fun Friday flick and gets a 3/5.

★★★☆☆

Denis Murphy


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