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Dracula Untold Bares Fangs But Fails to Draw Blood

By Andrew Burgon / phoenix@projectfellowship.com
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October 16, 2014

Release: October 10, 2014 Worldwide
Running Time: 2 hours
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Gary shore
Producer: Michael De Luca
Screenwriter: Matt Sazama & Buck Sharpless
Starring: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance, Diarmaid Murtagh, Paul Kaye, William Houston, Noah Huntley
PG-13 (for intense sequences of warfare, vampire attacks, disturbing images, and some sensuality)

Dracula Untold Attempts to Humanize a Frightful, Otherworldly Being

Lord Vlad Tepes is the princely lord of Transylvania. A vassal of the sultan of Turkey, Mehmed (Dominic Cooper). It has been a peaceful rule that has lasted many years till one ill-fated day when the sultan asks a price he feels is to great to pay. Besides the usual tribute 1000 boys are also demanded for the sultan’s army and Vlad’s young son. The princely lord stands defiant.

Lord Vlad is no push over. He spent many years as a child and young man serving in the Turkish army. He became a warrior without equal decimating and impaling all those who were defiant of Turkish rule. With no army, however, he must resort to desperate measures and go in search of supernatural aid. For in the mountains there is a cave where a vampire (Charles Dance, Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones) dwells. One who would eventually offer him a trade. Power for damnation.

Vlad imbibes the blood of the vampire and unleashes his new supernatural abilities on his enemies. He can see in the dark and far into the distance. Turn into a flurry of bats and controls legions of bats in a way that Batman never could.

This ‘Dracula Begins’ movie attempts to tell us the origin of a supernatural being that we have come to know as fearsome and loathsome with a thirst for blood. It is somewhat of a hurdle for the mind to relate this loving and caring Dracula who does his best to abstain from the tasty red liquid with the original. Are we really to empathize with him? Isn’t that tantamount to drawing water from a dried up well or blood from an empty vein?  This vampire fights to protect those he loves and is imbued with perhaps a little too much warmth and charm.

I thought, however, that Luke Evans who portrayed the title character did a good job. Believable as a warrior and having the brooding intensity needed to take on the role of a supernatural being. He certainly had a huge challenge to hurdle. Portraying a character with a ruthless and cruel past who is a loving and caring family man who then takes on the dark, deathly mantel of vampire slaying his enemies. That is really too much to ask of any human!

Critics were quick to drive their wooden stake into the heart of this movie even to the point of impaling it. Many consider it a dull and drab retelling of Dracula’s story that has no reason for existing. One that defiles the character in it’s attempt to humanize it. A Dracula that bares fangs but doesn’t draw blood. On the whole, a rather anemic entry to the stable of films that have come before.

Despite the myriad flaws critics allude to my friend and I found ourselves engaged throughout the movie. There are some amazing visual effects. A cool scene with swarming bats being controlled by Dracula and wreaking havoc on the enemy. The falling scene where he uses his supernatural powers in an effort to save someone.

The scene towards the end where he fights the sultan in a tent designed to ensnare and overwhelm him was a nice touch. I felt though that the sultan’s death was strangely abrupt.

There were two other things that struck me a little odd about the movie. The first  is that with a few exceptions of the sultan, Vlad, his wife and child all the other characters feel like cardboard cutouts. It’s almost as if the director had told them, “You’re there but you’re not there. Play it somber and dead pan.’ The second was when his people turned on him and tried to burn him alive. When the sun went down and he came out it’s almost as if everyone thought,  “Well, that didn’t work! I guess we had better do as he says and pretend it never happened!”

This movie was made in the confines of a PG-13 coffin (I can see Dracula rolling his eyes at that!). Despite these confinements of movie making it never occurred to me that guts and gore were sadly missing! That could be partly due to being bedazzled by the chaotic frenzy of a vampire in slayer mode. The scene in which he slays a 1000 men was described by some as an incoherent mess with a lot of fast cutting with objects obscuring the camera’s view.

Dracula Untold certainly has it’s moments but while it aimed for the jugular it seems to have hit a capillary instead. I am interested though as to what the implied sequel will be like especially in regards to what the Master Vampire has in store for Dracula so I’ll be staying in tune especially since it will involve actor Charles Dance.
 
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