Dracula: Untold (2014)
Editor’s Notes: Dracula: Untold opens in wide release this Friday, October 10th.
In recent years Universal Pictures must surely have been casting envious glances across the Hollywood lot toward Marvel, and to a lesser extent DC, following the astronomical success of their franchises. As they inevitably rummaged around down the back of their sofa they found a series of characters that could possibly rival the behemoths that are Iron Man and Captain America, a series of characters with more history and potential than anything owned by the comic book giants: monsters. The problem is that characters such as Frankenstein and The Invisible Man are in the public domain so Universal has had to get going pretty quickly and before The Mummy reboot lands in 2016 there is Dracula: Untold, the, well, untold origin story of Dracula. But will this new story satiate undead hunger or will it simply antagonise the angry mob?
Despite an impressive and respected background in advertising taking on one of cinema’s most iconic characters in your debut feature is always going to be a challenge …
With his kingdom under threat from insurmountable odds and merciless forces Prince Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans), a now peaceful ruler with a bloody past, seeks the help of an ancient evil being (Charles Dance). When the invading Turkish army led by one time friend and now sultan Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) demand a dowry of 1000 boys, including Vlad’s son, the prince struggles to resist the dark vengeance in his soul and ultimately becomes the creature of legend; Dracula.
Placing this huge reboot gamble in the hands of the inexperienced Gary Shore was an interesting one. Despite an impressive and respected background in advertising taking on one of cinema’s most iconic characters in your debut feature is always going to be a challenge and whether through studio interference or the pressure to succeed becoming too much, it is one that hasn’t worked. Dracula Untold is without doubt a visual feast to rival anything featuring the legendary bloodsucker before but there is a strange detachment to everything that is happening on screen, as if you are waiting for him to fully vamp up and get on with it. When he finally does the strength of his (fledgling) powers are so extraordinary as to render any resistance entirely futile.
Dracula Untold is without doubt a visual feast to rival anything featuring the legendary bloodsucker before but there is a strange detachment to everything that is happening on screen …
The film also carries a constant feeling of there being something missing, as if the editing process has removed anything remotely resembling a cohesive narrative and the focus has been firmly placed on memorable, awe-inspiring, yet ultimately shallow and confused set pieces. From the opening scenes it is clear exactly what will happen and this lack of intrigue and perceived threat makes for a wearisome experience at times.
Evans himself is impressive in a role that was always going to be more riskily troubling than career defining. He broods and bites with impressively conflicted reluctance but the spectre of Gary Oldman looms large over proceedings and while admirable that Evans has resisted any influence (including avoiding the traditional Transylvanian accent even though much of the cast have embraced it) from what is probably the definitive performance of Stoker’s nightmare, his incarnation is perhaps too far removed from expectations.
The greatest problem though, and ultimately the most dangerous gamble, comes in the nature of the film itself. It portraying a non-literary version of the story and leading up to Dracula’s full conversion Universal has cynically and commercially attempted to set up a series of films; the final scenes themselves are groan-inducingly uncomfortable and once viewed render the film somewhat trivial. In launching these new versions of classic characters with the biggest name of all, the studio have thrown all their amassed monster might into the ring in the first round instead of following Marvel’s model of a slowly developing, shared cinematic universe. If Dracula Untold is not a success, and there is every chance it won’t be, then they are immediately on the defensive and any films that follow have some serious ground to make up. Sadly, this film is just not good enough and no matter how much you’ll want to love it, it will simply disappoint with the final act leaving a very foul taste in the mouth.
Sadly, this film is just not good enough and no matter how much you’ll want to love it, it will simply disappoint with the final act leaving a very foul taste in the mouth.