October 10, 2014
Luke Evans as Vlad
Sarah Gadon as Mirena
Dominic Cooper as Mehmed
Prince Vlad is the desperate ruler of Transylvania who seeks to save his people from the oppression of the Turks. In addition to the usual tribute, Sultan Mehmed is demanding 1000 boys to train as soldiers for his elite Janissary corps – including Vlad’s son. The prince knows all too well the horrors that await the boys in the training camps and on the battlefield, for he was the only one of the complement his father sent that survived the ordeal. After pleading with the sultan to no avail, the prince slaughters the Turks who come for his son. Without any hope of defeating the sultan in a war, Vlad seeks the help of a ‘vampire’, who offers him his blood: Vlad will have the powers of darkness to fight his enemy for three days before the effects wear off. But if he gives into the irresistible temptation to feast on human blood… Vlad will be a vampire forever.
In Dracula Untold, Universal Studios attempts a compelling prequel to the story of one of the most iconic monsters in horror – the one whose dramatization became the first success of the studio in 1931 (Dracula). Yet instead of sticking to the dark lore of the count’s romantic beginnings – as laid out by Bram Stoker – they fuse the fictional past of Dracula with the historical one of Vlad the Impaler, but – for good measure – also add in some Batman and Lord of the Rings. The result is a principle character who has the bloody early life of Vlad the Impaler (which we don’t see) before beginning his transformation into a vampire to presumably become the fictional Dracula. But he also is a superhero who can morph into hundreds of bats, or control thousands of them – all for the sake of his kingdom whose pitiful people are beset against the forces of darkness in the form of a Turkish army.
If the concept alone doesn’t make viewers skip this one, they will be treated to poor character development, inconsistencies at multiple levels and lack of any attention to detail. These burdens detract from all but those few scenes exclusively dependent on effects – most of which have already been showcased in the trailers. There is a satisfying vampire attack scene towards the end, but by then most will be immersed in a game on their smartphone – long since losing interest in how Universal took an idea about Dracula’s early years – one rich with potential – and flushed it away with god-awful execution.
As for the characters – there is only one: Vlad. The story centers on him and the difficult decision he must make to give himself to darkness in order to save his family and kingdom. Unfortunately, Vlad is not developed very well and our allegiance to him or sympathy for his predicament is non-existent. Other characters theoretically exist, but they lack even hints of personality. Vlad’s wife and son only serve as accessories to the prince and his plight. As a result, although there is a fair degree of family time, it drags and even bores at times. Vlad also has close advisers and maybe a brother, but it’s difficult for a viewer to tell since even less time – almost none at all – is spent meting out these relationships – to the point where viewers don’t even know if they are supposed to feel bad when one of them dies.
But despite a lack of development, many characters still manage to be inconsistent (an impressive feat!). For example, Vlad’s wife insists that Vlad honor his promise to defend his son at all costs. Next she has remorse about what Vlad is becoming and makes him swear to avoid the temptation of blood so he will not be cursed forever. But shortly thereafter she offers him her blood to apparently break the vow he made to her less than a day before.
Even the vampire mythology couldn’t escape the plague of inconsistencies that swept across this film. Vlad seems to have no issue with crucifixes displayed in churches – but doesn’t like them at other times. Meanwhile other vampires in the film are mortally terrified of them. Plus, for some reason, vampires in this version of ‘Dracula’ can’t tolerate silver. And neither can Vlad – accept at the end when that intolerance disappears (who knows why).
As one would expect with such a ridiculously executed storyline there are also plenty of content-based holes. For example, one day there are only the sultan’s scouts about. The next an entire army with some hyper-accurate cannons is besieging the Castle Dracula – which seems to be where all the inhabitants of the kingdom are gathered. In another instance, Vlad’s wife is plunging to her death, until Vlad manages to save her… Or maybe he doesn’t. Either way she didn’t splatter, but – without any hint of physical ailment – is ‘dying’ in his arms in the next scene. (If that sounds confusing and difficult to wrap your mind around, you’re not alone.) It’s almost an afterthought that the battles don’t really have beginnings or conclusions they are just there – suddenly. Then after some CGI – suddenly – everyone’s dead.
Bottom Line: Poor writing detracts from what could have been a very fruitful concept. With the CGI of Batman Begins (2005) and the story quality – to include character development – ofTransformers 2 (2010) most fans of – anything – can skip this one.