Dracula Untold Blu-ray Review
Directed by Gary Shore
Written by Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless and Bram Stoker (characters)
2014, Region B, 92 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Blu-ray released on 9th February 2015
Luke Evans as Vlad
Sarah Gadon as Mirena
Dominic Cooper as Mehmed
Art Parkinson as Ingeras
Charles Dance as Master Vampire
Diarmaid Murtagh as Dumitru
There's a good reason the 'untold' part of Dracula went as such for so long: no-one cares about Dracula before he became Dracula. It's the same reason you won't see Freddy Krueger: Playground Weirdo or Friday the Twelfth: Pamela Voorhees, Single Mother troubling DVD shelves anytime soon. Even that's not entirely true though. Just as many would love a Freddy Krueger prequel, there's a truly awesome film to be made about the life of Vlad Tepes, impaler, sadist and to-be famous vampire. I, for one, would love to see a dramatisation of that time he nailed some rude guests' hats to their heads as a result of their not taking them off in his presence. Unfortunately, Dracula Untold is not that film. So, to be specific, no-one cares about this Dracula.
Welsh Dragon botherer and Fast & Furious foe Luke Evans is Dracula, sympathetic father, family man and wise leader. Sure, he may impale a few (thousand) innocent people every now and then, but no-one will believe this film's insistence that Drac is as big and bad as his reputation suggests. Like Superman's infamous 'S stands for hope' line, the name Dracula now means dragon, or hero, instead of devil. The film tries to have its cake and eat it by re-inventing Dracula as a hero while also trying not to undermine his legend as an utter bastard and blood drinker. Neither facet of his personality convinces.
When the Turks threaten Prince Vlad's kingdom and demand his young son as a hostage (in a tactical Game of Thrones kind of way), Vlad takes desperate measures to ensure his kingdom's survival – namely turning himself into an immortal monster in order to fend them off. Buried deep in the Carpathian mountains, Master Vampire Charles Dance is on hand to assist. The Master offers Vlad a Little Mermaid type deal – his transformation will only be temporary unless the Impaler should give in to true love's kiss (blood drinking, to you and I) before his time is up. This being a prequel to one of the most famous horror novels of all time, the ending is a foregone conclusion. Ultimately, Vlad's biggest battle is with the story's inherent redundancy. Well, it was never going to be with Charles Dance (around for less than ten minutes) or Dominic Cooper, was it?
The career of Dominic Cooper, by the way, continues to befuddle. With nothing against the fellow, quite how he manages to keep getting such high profile acting gigs is beyond me. Here he plays a Turk called Mehmed, which is only marginally less silly than when he played Uday Hussein in The Devil's Double. Want a whitewashed version of a Middle Eastern despot? Dominic Cooper's your man, apparently. He's not bad here, but nor does his bland performance warrant his face repeatedly showing up in films you can actually see at the cinema. At least Evans keeps the ship afloat, joining Gary Oldman in the pantheon of good actors cast in bad Dracula movies. If only they'd let him play Vlad Tepes, mad bastard instead of Dracula, dull tragic hero, Dracula Untold could have been a prequel worth seeing. As it is, we're left with something that's only slightly better than I, Frankenstein or Van Helsing.
The movie is left wide open, begging for a sequel. For everyone's sake, we should hope that particular story remains untold. Had Bram Stoker started with this beginning, even he wouldn't have gotten a sequel out of it.
Video and Audio:
The Blu-ray version of the film looks wonderfully sharp, even if that does make the artifice of its sets more obvious. At least it goes relatively easy on the CGI though, for a modern blockbuster. It sounds just fine, if wholly unremarkable.
The DVD and Blu-ray releases come stacked with plenty of special features, all of which have plenty of Luke Evans, being so charming as to make me feel bad that I didn't enjoy his movie more. Even worse, he keeps begging for a sequel which we all know will never exist, casting a faint whiff of embarrassment that's hard to shift, no matter how lovely he might be. Dracula Retold is a history lesson on Vlad the Impaler, narrated by Evans, while Slaying 1000 walks us through the making of its big battle sequence. The Land of Dracula is a niftily animated run-through of the film's main locations, with the actors popping up to retell the story yet again. An alternate opening and deleted scenes add little of interest. Best of the bunch is Luke Evans: Creating A Legend, in which Evans talks us through the whole movie, scene-by-scene. It's like watching the real thing, but with even more Luke Evans and the bare minimum Dominic Cooper.