With the release of Dracula Untold, Universal is supposedly looking to reboot their Universal Monsters franchise with this being the first chapter. To do so, they tapped Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless for scripting duties and Gary Shore to direct. During its first weekend of release, it is getting a lot of mixed to negative reviews for a variety of reasons. Some blame noticeable plot-holes, others the script and more the actual story. Sitting down to watch it though, there is enough on the screen to keep you entertained for its ninety-two minute running time, flaws aside.
The movie details Prince Vlad’s descent into darkness, which started when he was but a young boy and conscripted into the Turkish army. From there he eventually reached an age where he was freed and returned to Transylvania to take up the reins of leadership. But one day the Turks return and they demand one thousand new boys to join their army, and Vlad is not happy with that arrangement, to say the least. Thus it is that Vlad seeks out the means of defeating the Turkish power, be it evil or not.
Yes, the story of the film is quite different from the book originally conceived by Bram Stoker as it does try and humanize and create an almost contemporary hero out of the man instead of the monster he turns out to be. There are a lot of moments in the film where he spends time with his family so that the viewers will try and associate only the best things about the man, never mind the impaling of thousands of innocent people from his time in the war. Everything Vlad does in this picture is for his son and his wife, and Sazama and Sharpless try and put this across as much as possible, stressing the good over the bad. One of the biggest problems the film makes is having most of the characters end up being too lifeless. There is not enough in the script to make us care about any of them. You want to care when bad things happen to the various people, but you know so little about them and with their cardboard, cut-out status, there is no feeling one way or the other.
Luke Evans starred as the film’s lead, and he at least did as good a job as he could with the material given. Evans was captivating to watch as he went from man to monster until finally giving his soul over completely. Being surrounded by actors that had little or nothing to do or say though, did not really help matters. Except for his wife who was played by Sarah Gadon, nobody in the film had much of a substantial role. It is understandable that this is a vehicle starring the vampire lord, but a supporting cast is usually there to help flesh out your main character whereas here, they were used mainly for props. There seemed to be a lot of complaints about a lack of humour in the film, but if there is one thing Dracula is not known for, it is humour and it is a good thing that the writers at least had the common sense to keep the laughs far, far away from this picture.
The special effects were decent, with the makeup on both Dracula and the elder vampire in the cave, played by Charles Dance, being quite good. The scene with the bats was awesome to marvel at, but similar things have been done before in Universal’s Mummy films using both sand and water. Though it might not have been ground-breaking, it did add a lot of spectacle to the film, and these days, with modern audiences, the spectacle is what many feed off of. John Schwartzman did a good job with the cinematography as there were some eerie scenes, the cave specifically where Vlad goes to gain his powers, as well as the countryside altogether which really set the mood of the film. The score by Ramin Djawadi was also really well done, giving the film a bit of an epic feel, though most would not term this film as such.
As a rule, you cannot go into every movie expecting perfection or greatness. If you do, you will almost always be disappointed. Also, every person’s idea of what is good and what is bad is different and it always will be. Dracula Untold was a fun, albeit different take on the character everyone knows, making him more anti-hero than villain. It was not a perfect film, the script had a few problems and the supporting cast was essentially non-existent, but on the whole, it was an entertaining film with a pretty good performance from Luke Evans. It had a decent story, there was a lot of action and was paced well enough to never be boring. This Dracula was neither Bela Lugosi nor Christopher Lee, but it is a new interpretation for a modern audience and as such, should be given a bit of a break. Reboots happen all the time and if this one does not work for you, there is sure to be another soon enough.
3.5 out of 5