If Dracula became a monster for a noble cause, could his dark power be used in the name of the light?
Raised by the Turks as a royal hostage, Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans) returns to his homeland years afterward to rule. With a wife and child of his own, the peace of his kingdom is threatened when the Turks demand not only their regular tribute of coin but also a thousand children to fight in the Sultan’s army…including Vlad’s own son. With no standing army, Vlad makes a Devil’s deal with a cursed monster (Charles Dance), but can the prince defeat his enemies with borrowed power without falling victim to the curse himself?
Attempts to make Dracula merely a monster at the box office the last two decades have gloriously failed, so why not restore his nobility as a man of hope rather than yet another villain obsessed with a Scooby-Doo plot to do evil? Enter Dracula Untold, a low to middle-budget monster movie with high aspirations. True, the idea isn’t without precedent: the killer with a conscious, the gun with a soul, and the monster more noble than a man. In the name of Hollywood, of course, power must be demonstrated, and what better way than with special effects? Fortunately, a tight plot that plays to its running time weaves a tale of people who choose to become monsters, even if it does lean heavily on computer-generated imagery to tell it.
Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Dracula was one of first films to recently paint the world’s most famous vampire as a tragic figure less bent on global domination (see the ridiculous Van Helsing for details). Dracula 2000 also tried to provide a little back story by suggesting the vampire was something more biblical, but this in no way redeemed the monster. Paranormal fiction since Twilight has more often suggested “hero vampires” in their tragic love stories, creating something worse to become the antagonist; while Dracula Untold is no exception, it does add a unique twist to that final fateful decision that truly remakes the Dracula of this story.
Sure, there’s a lot of green-screen work here, but the production also makes use of it. A cast of hundreds becomes an army of a hundred thousand, while Northern Ireland film locations become the Carpathian mountains of yesteryear dotted with magestic fortresses and monasteries. And what is Dracula without powers? Weather control, animal affinity, and transfomative abilities are shown on screen like never before. For those Dracula fans who’ve yearned for a bad-ass vampire laying waste to his enemies rather than talk them to death, this one’s for you.
Billed only as the nameless “master vampire,” Charles Dance makes for a menacing tempter, creating plenty of additional back story to be explored in the event this franchise goes forward; Luke Evans does an excellent job balancing the kingly protector with the monster waiting to be unleashed. It has long been known that Universal has repeatedly tried and failed to gain a foothold with their classic creatures reinvented for a new generation, but this Dracula lends itself to not only a new beginning for the vampire prince but also a future franchise for more properties to build on. Still, if you’re a studio trying to make money off a languishing property, it couldn’t hurt to put a little money into your production and show it a little love.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)
Addendum: a few have noted several of the historical inconsistencies concerning the Ottoman Empire Turks and in particular their golden-haired warriors. Firstly, it’s a vampire movie – crazy, right? – and secondly, remember when Vlad himself was taken and trained as a warrior? Budget problems be damned, there is a historical context for this – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janissaries – you’re welcome.