If Leonidas was King of the vampires…


by Jeff Boudreaux

“Dracula Untold” should have been titled “clichés retold.” Much of the film here has been borrowed from recent similar-themed movies. In what is expected to be a reboot of the classic Universal Monsters franchise, this film got nearly everything wrong. One notable exception is the performance of Luke Evans as Dracula. Evans, surely on his way to stardom, did the best job that he could with this lackluster script.

The film focuses on Dracula’s early years, when he was known as Vlad the Impaler, prince of Transylvania. His kingdom has come under attack by the Turkish army, led by Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper). The Turks demand 1000 young men from Vlad’s kingdom or there will be war. Well, since Vlad’s young son is among those possessing a likely one-way ticket to Turkey, for Vlad, war is the only alternative. Even though the “Impaler” handles a sword well on his own, Vlad knows that his skills won’t be enough and he turns to the dark side.

On a visit to Broken-Tooth Mountain, Vlad meets an old vampire that is supposed to have been the Roman Emperor Caligula (Charles Dance). I only realized this from reading fall movie previews. Since there are no vampiric orgies or “decapitation tractors” in sight, I’ll just refer to him as Caligula for argument’s sake. Caligula makes a deal with Vlad and allows him to drink his blood, which will give him the power of an entire army. He also explains that with that perk comes a most certain debt – an insatiable thirst – unless the impaler can resist feeding for three days. Upon his return, Vlad’s head lieutenant surmises that the war will last several months. Vlad informs him that he will defeat the Turks in three days.

All I can say is that the newly christened “Dracula” doesn’t need an army since he is constantly turning into a legion of bats and attacking his enemies in that nature. There is one scene in the film where he stands high upon a mountain monastery and conducts what I can only call a “bat symphony.” You will have to see it to understand.

Unfortunately, I am not exactly advocating that anyone go see this film. It looks like the glorified child of a History Channel special and an NBC mini-series. Don’t misunderstand me; the special effects are awesome. However, without the bat legions and the blatant nu-vampire abilities and nuances, this could have been presented as a decent historical drama. But, that probably wouldn’t have elicited a blockbuster in time for Halloween. For those expecting scares, it is about Dracula after all; get ready for an action-adventure film because there are barely any traces of horror here.

With that in mind, in melding the two genres of horror and adventure, first-time director Gary Shore significantly borrowed from numerous recent hits. The film plays as if Dracula were the main character of Zack Snyder’s “300” without that film’s style, substance, and directorial flair. I was expecting Vlad to scream out “We are Transylvania,” at any moment. There’s also a very long scene where a character falls backwards off of a cliff that looks like it was taken frame-for-frame from Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows.” Then there’s the legion of bats that just materialize from Dracula during every battle scene. They pretty much look the same as the birds that flew out of the wicked queen in “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Obviously Shore needs to create his own iconic moments after helming a few more features.

As unoriginal as this film was, it does contain some solid performances. Luke Evans (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) does a terrific job here. Sarah Gadon, who plays Dracula’s wife Mirena, also has a strong performance. Charles Dance, veteran character actor, stole every scene he was in as Caligula. But even though I like Dominic Cooper, his performance added some distracting campiness since he seemingly plays the same role that he did as Uday Hussein in “The Devil’s Double,” along with almost every other film he’s been in.

Since the producers of this film plan on remaking all of the original Universal Monster movies, I suggest they actually watch those classics to see what made them so great. Maybe then, they might become inspired and create something actually worth watching. Or maybe they just may realize that it is too hard to remake perfection. Since Halloween is right around the corner, I suggest that you all do the same and you may find that you actually like those classic monsters. Here’s a warning though: prepare to be actually scared!

** (2 out of 4 stars)

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