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Review: Dracula Untold (2014)

Dracula Untold (2014)

Directed by: Gary Shore

Premise: A reworking of the vampire myth. In the Middle Ages, Prince Dracula faces an invasion by the Ottoman Empire. Upon discovering a vampire living in a cave, Dracula samples the creature’s blood to gain supernatural powers but risks turning into a vampire himself.

What Works: Dracula is one of the most frequently dramatized characters in all of the movies. Like any other characters that has been brought to the screen this many times, some of Dracula’s cinematic incarnations have been terrible but there are also several that are really great. The key in reinterpreting a character like this is for the filmmakers to reimagine him in a way that is relevant to the contemporary audience. The makers of Dracula Untold have done that for their film; this is a Dracula for the age of the superhero movie. Dracula Untold is really a superhero origin story in the mold of movies like Batman Begins. The Dracula of this film is a fundamentally good man who fights for his family and for the wellbeing of the people in his charge and he is willing to endanger his soul to do so. As a vampire story, Dracula Untold also channels the trends in recent vampire stories like Twilight and Let the Right One In; these recent tales reimagine the vampire as a sympathetic, tragic, and even romantic creature and Dracula Untold is in step with that trend. Understood in that context, Dracula Untold succeeds in being a mainstream, audience pleasing story of supernatural action and adventure. Despite the horror origins of its title character, Dracula Untold is really an action movie and as that it generally succeeds. The emphasis is on heroics and the filmmakers devise battle scenes that are appropriately scaled and sufficiently exciting. One way in which Dracula Untold is notable among other superhero movies is in its brevity. It seems as though it’s impossible for an action movie to be less than two hours and twenty minutes long these days but Dracula Untold clocks in at just ninety-two minutes and its conciseness is welcome.

What Doesn’t: Dracula Untold is a curious movie in that it utilizes the history of a vicious warlord of the Middle Ages and the name of one of the great villains in the history of both literature and film but does not get nearly as much substance out of either of these sources as it ought to. Those familiar with the historical Vlad Dracula and fans of Bram Stoker’s vampire novel will find this film to be a missed opportunity. The historical Dracula is a fascinating character who lived in complicated times. The movie does not really take advantage of that. This is evidenced in part by the portrayal of Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), the sultan of the Ottoman Empire. In history, this is the leader who took Constantinople and who had a long and complicated relationship with Dracula. For this film he’s reduced to a mustache twirling villain. More fundamentally, the filmmakers of Dracula Untold miss the possibilities of their central premise. This movie presents a character who is using powers of evil in order to do good but that paradox is never explored and Dracula’s corruption is never really an issue. The film sets itself up to be a story of temptation in which a character risks being seduced by the power of evil but that’s never accomplished in this film. That is another of the fundamental flaws of Dracula Untold – none of the characters are very interesting. Virtually everyone is a stereotype from sword and shield movies and none of the characters break out of their roles. The movie also suffers from some silly or stupid devices, most notably the Ottoman soldiers marching into battle with blindfolds over their eyes so that they won’t be frightened by Dracula’s power.

Bottom Line: Dracula Untold succeeds in telling an action-based reinterpretation of the character. It’s never much more than just okay but at the very least the filmmakers have created a version Dracula that is very different from any version seen before.

Episode: #513 (October 19, 2014)