Terrible Executions, Eh?
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The premise of Dracula Untold is really, really good on paper. Making a historical epic franchise of Vlad the Impaler and intertwining it with mythical legends of Dracula is ingenious and that is a series of films I would love to see. This is not one of them. There are so many little points in this film that point towards greatness but are undermined by a script that just waffles about, a pace that is incredibility frenetic, and a movie that is far, far too short to successfully deliver on basically anything. Luke Evans does as good of a job as possible considering the material that he’s given. The movie has the impeccable Charles Dance in it, which automatically gives it a boost to its score. This forgettable feature will ultimately leave behind two legacies. One, Evans can command a film as the lead. Two, this is exactly how not to start a franchise.
There are interesting ideas here, beginning with the concept of how Vlad the Impaler became Dracula. Adding the conceit that he became Dracula on purpose to save his own people but unknowingly condemned himself to a life of ignominy is exceedingly clever. The backstory of the Count being raised by the very Turks he will fight later to save Transylvania is a bit clichéd but a strong one. And the quandary that Vlad must face of what truly is too high a price to pay for victory is heartfelt – for the most part on paper. The inherent problem is that everything has to be clusterf***ed into ninety-two minutes, so nothing gets the appropriate time to breathe. The movie begins with the tagline that “Sometimes the world doesn’t need a hero. It needs a monster.” That’s great and all, but we never truly feel that transition without the film rushing throughout it. It certainly isn’t helpful to anyone that the characters besides Vlad are basically plot points. They basically exist because they need to in order to get Vlad somewhere, not because they have any volitions of their own. The potential is so rich, but it’s rarely tapped into.
There’s this irrational fear in Hollywood that is evident throughout this picture. A franchise beginner needs to be bombastic and have an origin story with a heartbreaking beginning. There needs to be some love interest, a wise old sage who takes the protagonist on a path. There needs to be an obligatory battle sequence, regardless of whether or not the story requires one. The film, to its credits, tries to subvert all of that on its head. But while it works on paper, it largely goes to waste here. What the first film should have primarily been about is Vlad’s childhood in Turkey that spans over about two hours. You would connect with the characters a lot more, you would feel that brotherly bond that Vlad has with his Turkish friend who becomes his adversary but you would also become privy to the pining he has for his homeland, where he truly belongs. The ending of the first film in a way would be Batman Begins-esque, with Vlad escaping into the realm he had always belonged to, a heartrending but necessary choice he’s forced to make. And then the sequels would tap into his ascension to Countship, the inherent threat faced to the kingdom by the Ottoman Empire, his desperation that forces him to make the decision to become Dracula, and then the subsequent fallout. It’s not the typical way to start a franchise these days, focusing on character and story development, but it’s the right one.
Technically, the film is marvelous. The visual effects in the film largely look stunning, capturing the Gothic feel of the tale. The battle sequences are brilliantly choreographed and executed, if appallingly brief. The makeup and vampiric effects done on Evans and Dance are especially impressive. Ramin Djawadi performs the score and it is certainly one of the best things about this entire endeavor. The costume design from NAME is impeccable. The story isn’t even problematic, it’s how the film is determined to shoehorn everything into one movie that barely lasts an hour and a half that kills the entire effort. Watch it if you must, but perhaps when it arrives on Netflix or the like.
Title: Dracula Untold
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Gary Shore
Producer: Michael De Luca
Screenplay by: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless
Based On: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Starring: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Samantha Barks, Charles Dance
Music: Ramin Djawadi
Cinematography: John Schwartzman
Editing: Richard Pearson
Production Company: Legendary Pictures, Michael De Luca Productions
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running Time: 92 minutes
Release Dates: October 10, 2014 (United States)
Image Courtesy: Comic Book Movies