I applaud Universal for trying to create a new unified monster film universe using their classic monsters as the source material. I also very much think the idea of Dracula Untold was excellent on paper, but lost everything in the execution. By taking one of literature’s greatest monsters and further tying him to his historical roots, the story of the origin of Dracula is perfectly suited for the jumping off point in Universal’s grand plan. Unfortunately, the movie isn’t very good.
Luke Evans (Fast And Furious 6) plays Vlad Dracula, a family man and ruler of a small group of Transylvanians that resides in his castle in Europe. As a boy, Vlad was given to the Turks to be trained to fight their wars and his bloodlust turned him into a military genius that saved Transylvania and made him a legend as “Lord Impaler.” As the story begins, Vlad and his retinue discover a turkish scout’s helmet on Transylvanian land, which causes the Transylvanians to fear another invasion. Vlad already pays silver to Mehmed (Dominic Cooper), the Turkish sultan in charge, and when Mehmed asks for 1,000 young boys as tribute to be trained like Vlad was, the Impaler refuses, inviting the Turks to war. Severely outnumbered, Vlad seeks help from a monster who lives in a cave (Charles Dance) and a deal is struck that will change history–and college lit classes–forever.
The story is strong in Dracula Untold. The problems lie in the casting and the lack of any authenticity to the production. Mehmed’s assassin is played by blond-haired, blue eyed Thor Kristjansson, and the only actor playing Turk who actually tries a turkish accent does so horribly. Even the original Universal Studios Dracula had extras speaking with Wallachian accents, yet the accents of Vlad’s people vary from English to Irish (where the production was filmed) and anything and everything between. In fact, it felt very much like a high school production of Dracula with the director just telling his cast “I don’t know, speak however you want.” Why Gary Shore, in his first directing effort, chose to abandon accents is puzzling. Luke Evans doesn’t even try an accent as the lead, and it is very distracting when Dracula himself doesn’t replace his “W’s” with “V’s.”
The chemistry between Evans and Sarah Gadon, who plays Vlad’s wife Mirena is uncomfortable to watch. This is not the woman worth the deal that Dracula made to save her and his mop-headed son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson). When the audience can’t buy into what the story is hinged on, the whole film suffers. To add insult to the injury, the final battle between Dracula and Mehmed was laughable, as the Sultan just happened to know all of a Drac’s weaknesses to use against him. If Mehmed would have pulled out a garlic clove, I swear I would have walked out of the theater.
Dracula Untold also relies on lots of CG, usually in the form of a swarm of bats. Dracula is the master of all the creatures of the night (“what sweet music they make”), yet all we see are bats. I would have liked to see a pack of wolves, or even some pestilence or something in addition to bats. Always bats.
Also, the PG-13 rating really holds the film back from being either gory or scary. It’s a shame, as Charles Dance’s (Game of Thrones) Master Vampire could have been an even more terrifying character. It was a missed opportunity to give the story some scariness and the film some much needed weight.
Lastly, the very end of Dracula Untold borrows heavily from a certain Konami video game that came out in 2010, and the game did it infinitely better.
Dracula Untold, on paper, could have been an excellent entry into a new age of Universal Monsters. The pieces are there, the casting of Dracula was inspired and the sets and locations felt truly gothic. Instead, we are given a poorly directed, acted, and cast, effects-driven schlock flick that would have been better off not being told.
Dracula Untold is rated PG-13 and is in theaters now.
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