Dracula Untold (2014, 1 hr, 32 mins)
Dracula Untold brings us yet another interpretation of how the iconic vampire came to be. This time, the story focuses on the historical figure of Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, and how he turned from warlord to the bloodsucking bat-loving creature of the night.
Once a child slave and soldier for the Turks, Vlad (Luke Evans) becomes a ruthless warrior and then prince of Transylvania, bent on never being at the mercy of his Turkish captors ever again. When the boys of his kingdom, along with his precious son, are threatened by his childhood comrade-cum-nemesis, Turkish commander Mehmed (Dominic Purcell), he vows to conquer them and foil their plot to create 1000 boy soldiers. Vlad enlists the help of an ancient evil, yes a vampire (Charles Dance), to battle the Turks. Of course there is a catch, and Vlad has to deal with his people’s fears and the lure of his curse.
This big budget treatment of the Dracula legend was entertaining but missed the mark. I liked the storyline loosely based on historical fact combined with the vampire legend. The relatively new writing team of Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless tried to infuse some emotional content and sympathy for Prince Vlad’s motivation as he tried to save his family and people. Humanizing the iconic bloodsucker kind of fell flat, however, especially with some of the scenes involving Vlad’s inner conflict and those with his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon), whom I thought was miscast. Gadon seemed too innocent and lacked the maturity that a wife of a ruthless warlord would have. The role required someone darker and more conflicted like perhaps Imogen Poots or Gemma Arterton because after all, she is the wife of the Impaler.
I did enjoy the scenes with Vlad and the vampire. They were dark, tense and Dance’s portrayal of the ancient vampire was mysterious, nefarious and left a lot of wiggle room for a franchise. One of my concerns is that Dance might go the way of Bill Nighy from the Underworld series. While I enjoyed those films, Nighy is starting to be typecast, for instance, when he played Naberius in I, Frankenstein, who is basically the same character in Underworld. It’s a little too close for comfort, and along that same vein, Evans’ look in this film gave me flashbacks of Gerrard Butler in Dracula 2000. Evans did an admiral job as an action hero though, and he was also real easy on the eyes. Real easy. Other attention grabbers included the swirling bat effects, huge battle scenes, and the elaborate sets and costumes.
There were some reviews that wanted more sex appeal from Vlad. I disagree because this treatment gives us the origins of Dracula and the first few days of his newly found supernatural state. His monster mojo would come in time, and sexy Dracula has been done, so it was refreshing to see something different.
If you can get past the epic video game look, the liberties taken with the actual historical figure of Vlad the Imapler, and the fact that this is the latest addition to the lineup in the franchise horror machine, check it out. It’s a decent first big budget film for director Gary Shore, and everyone has to start somewhere!