I should point out from the start that, generally speaking, I’m not into Vampires. I’ve never bothered with the Christopher Lee classics; and though I was tempted to turn off Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula as soon as I saw Keanu Reeves, it wasn’t until I saw how ridiculous Gary Oldman looked two minutes later that I stopped watching. These type of films do very little for me, and I much prefer the more vile and hideous nature of Bram Stoker’s original monster.
It may therefore come as a surprise that I bothered with Dracula Untold at all, but seeing as I was bored and it was on, I thought I’d give it a go…
For those of you who share my slight antipathy toward Transylvanian bloodsuckers, one aspect which automatically makes Dracula Untold more tolerable watching is no one is ‘velkomed’ into a castle more reminiscent of Trapdoor than a gothic horror, and thankfully Luke Evans doesn’t bother even attempting a dodgy Eastern European accent. In fact, he plays the role quite well, and is one of the best parts about the whole film. The second cliché avoided, as Dracula Untold is an origins story, is Dracula looks normal throughout the majority of the film; and his transformation and appearance thereafter, is far more subtle and monstrous than is often the case.
It’s a shame that no one picked up on the positives of Dracula as a monster, because the majority of the film’s strengths had a firm grounding in horror. Instead what could have been a more highly charged and ultimately more interesting drama, was washed away under a flurry of over-edited action sequences and budget special effects. The decision to focus on action over drama could have worked, but due to the surprisingly short running time of 90 minutes, there simply isn’t enough time for any real tension to develop. Dominic Cooper is very average as Sultan Mehmed II, and was shockingly unthreatening considering he was the main antagonist. Not even the size of his army, the crucial reason Dracula was forced ‘sell his soul’ in the first place, was allowed to display any real signs of menace. There was no desperate siege, no continued onslaught, and no grinding stalemate. Dracula simply steamrolls his way through the first wave of the Sultan’s army without so much as a how do yah do, and is not exactly what I would call suspenseful viewing.
The main problem with the film therefore, appears to be a lack of direction and passion for the story on behalf of Gary Shore. One of the principal reasons Batman Begins works so well as an origins story is that it is clear how much Christopher Nolan cares about the story he is telling. It is of course an unfair to compare Shore to one of the best Director’s currently working in film, but as it’s the basic underlying principles that Shore’s falling down on, in this case it is justified.
Instead of an interesting drama, with a heart of horror, and action-packed sequences designed specifically to heighten the story, Dracula Untold is little more than a largely forgettable and patchy action film, created with neither vampire-fanatic or sceptic in mind. It scratches away some of the more tiring and clichéd aspects from an age-old formula, but completely ignores the potential of the pulsating vein underneath.