Film Review: ‘Dracula Untold’

'Dracula Untold' Review: A Tale of

This dull origin story about history's most famous vampire suggests some tales are indeed best left untold.

There’s nothing new under the moon in “Dracula Untold,” a decorous but dull origin story that attempts to turn history’s most famous vampire into a kind of male Maleficent — a misunderstood husband/father/ruler who turned to the dark side out of the noblest intentions. What next? “Freddy Krueger Meets Dr. Freud?” Lavishly mounted by first-time feature director Gary Shore, minus the cheeky good humor that propelled his 2006 creature-feature short “The Draft,” this Legendary-Universal co-production (which opens today overseas, 10 days ahead of its domestic bow) looks to scare up only modest Halloween-season biz amid competition from Warners’ “Annabelle” (out Oct. 3) and U’s own “Ouija” (out Oct. 24).

Like Bram Stoker before them, screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (the forthcoming “Gods of Egypt”) take their inspiration from the real historical figure of Vlad Dracula (aka Vlad the Impaler), a 15th-century Transylvanian prince, taken hostage as a teenager by warring Ottoman Turks and trained in their military ways (events recounted here in a visually striking prologue comprised of three-dimensional static images). We then pick things up a couple of decades later, where an adult Vlad (Luke Evans, suitably glowering and downcast) has returned to his people, who maintain an uneasy peace with the ever-looming Turks. When the new Sultan, Vlad’s childhood frienemy Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), demands 1,000 Transylvanian youths as conscripts for his army — among them, Vlad’s own son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson, cementing a very conspicuous “Game of Thrones” vibe) — the war-weary prince sees no option but to defy the Sultan’s demands. And so the outnumbered, out-sworded Transylvanians prepare for battle.

But lo, all hope is not lost for ye who enter here — here being a mountain cave stumbled upon by Vlad and two adjutants, wherein lurks an ancient ur-vampire (a lip-smacking Charles Dance) who, after making mincemeat out of the prince’s traveling companions, offers him a special trial membership (who knew?) in the cult of the undead. Drink his blood, says the vampire, and for three days Vlad will possess the strength of 10 men, along with a voracious craving for human blood. If he succumbs to that temptation, then vampire he shall remain for eternity. If he can resist, then at dawn on the third day the curse will be lifted.

This being an origin story whose outcome is pretty well known, “Dracula Untold” doesn’t really have anywhere to go from there, save for a couple of frenetic, large-scale battle scenes designed around Vlad’s newfound ability to shape-shift from human form into a colony of bats — a special effect that wears out its novelty while Shore is still playing with it like a shiny new Christmas toy. (Most of the time, it looks like a flurry of dirt particles in front of the lens.) The only real suspense here isn’t so much whether as when Vlad is finally going to sink his pearly whites into the jugular of his devoted wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon, so pale, trusting and beautiful that one knows it can’t possibly end well for her). Well, that and how a creature with a marked aversion to wood can continue to spout Sazama and Sharpless’ dialogue.

Whereas Francis Coppola’s 1992 “Dracula” (a veritable golden oldie in today’s short-term cultural memory) was a baroque, high-fashion free-for-all, “Dracula Untold” opts for the stately, staid approach, and even at a mere 85 minutes (sans credits) it’s something of a bore — neither scary nor romantic nor exciting in any of the ways it seems to intend. The Irish-born Shore, who’s also logged a lot of hours as a commercials director, certainly knows how to frame an attractive shot, and cinematographer John Schwartzman has accommodated him lushly by shooting in 35mm anamorphic widescreen. But the movie never finds its own style, or feels like more than a mashup of outtakes from “Thrones” and the entire Peter Jackson catalog (with a nifty but fleeting infrared vision effect borrowed from the urban werewolf classic “Wolfen”).

“Dracula Untold” is too high-minded to let go into the kind of energetic, B-movie escapism a director like John Carpenter or Paul W.S. Anderson might have brought to the same material, while the material itself is too thin to support the heavy-handed Wagnerian approach. The result is finally something neither here nor there — a vampire movie with nothing at stake.

Film Review: 'Dracula Untold'

Reviewed at Universal screening room, New York, Sept. 30, 2014. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 92 MIN.

Production

A Universal release presented with Legendary Pictures of a Michael De Luca production. Produced by Michael De Luca. Executive producers, Alissa Phillips, Joe Caracciolo Jr., Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni.

Crew

Directed by Gary Shore. Screenplay, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless. Camera (color, Panavision widescreen, 35mm), John Schwartzman; editor, Richard Pearson; music, Ramin Djawadi; production designer, Francois Audouy; supervising art director, Paul Inglis; art directors, David Doran, Heather Greenlees, Michael Turner; set decorator, Paki Smith; costume designer, Ngila Dickson; sound (Datasat/Dolby Digital), Mervyn Moore; supervising sound editors, Per Hallberg, Karen Baker Landers; re-recording mixers, Frank A. Montano, Jon Taylor; visual effects supervisor, Christian Manz; visual effects producer, Fiona Campbell Westgate; visual effects, Framestore, Level 256, Windmill Lane VFX; stunt coordinator, Buster Reeves; assistant director, John Wildermuth; second unit director, George Marshall Ruge; second unit camera, Patrick Loungway; casting, John Hubbard, Ros Hubbard.

With

Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance. (English, Turkish dialogue)

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  1. mary says:

    I really love this movie. But as a fan I have to say that it was not necessary to use Muslim symbols and names such as Mohammad, Alla, or Tork. The movie it self is a legend so the names could be imagenary too.
    As whole i appriciate the hard work bihind it.

  2. George says:

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  3. Lu says:

    I thought the movie was amazing. Really enjoyed it and the actors were terrific and believable! Sometimes a revamped old school story is needed for new generations. I think this Dracula version is a GREAT version for the new generation of Vampire fans. I was impressed with the historical facts they incorporated into the film that many of the previous older movies did not. Great movie ALL around.

  4. sepakushite says:

    saw this the other night and it was absolutely abysmal – terrible writing and direction – Gary Shore has alot to learn and may have been saved here by his cinematographer as its at least pretty – but my god its so average, like The Wolfman – such great monsters yet how can you f#ck this up!?

  5. Leischer Maela says:

    Reading first few paragraphs and thinking… *Theon Grayjoy*

  6. Marius says:

    Vlad the Impaler was born in Transylvania (a medieval Romanian province ruled by the Hungarian Kingdom) but he, like his father before him, ruled in Wallachia (Tara Romaneasca), an another medieval Romanian province.
    Come on, this is basic history!

  7. Jared K. says:

    This guy (Scott Foundas) sounds like he has a huge ego, and his review just sounds more annoying than informative. I didn’t think it was going to be terrifying or have any humor, but a pretty cool and sleek vision of Dracula’s origin. And guess what? That’s exactly what it looks like, with some big battle scenes and Luke Evans giving a damn good performance as usual, who is also always overlooked, no matter what movie he’s in.

  8. The Kingslayer says:

    I reckon if you leave your brain at the door you could probably enjoy this.

  9. Tony Casci says:

    Such a trashy review. Please get a new writer.

  10. Looks like you missed Zach McGowan (Shameless, Black Sails) who plays the part of Shkelgim. Not sure about you guys but I’m going to watch this film just because he is in it!

  11. Chelsea says:

    I wonder what Grace Randolph and Jeremy Jahns says about this movie.

  12. century says:

    It may or may not be a good film; I will wait to decide until after I see it. However, I understand that it is supposed to be more close to the story of Vlad the Impaler.

  13. valhallaarwen says:

    I hated Coppola’s Dracula, I still want my money back because that is not Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Where the fuck is the love story in that book? Not between Dracula and Mina for sure.

    • mad says:

      Leave Dracula alone, its a monster, if you want romance and shit now you have Twilight ;)

      • valhallaarwen says:

        Mad, I didn’t want a love story, read my comment. I asked where was the love story in the book Dracula. There was none, it was bullshit that Coppola made up. If you read my comment, I was stating that I hate director’s who use an author’s name on a movie and then butchers it. Obviously he didn’t read Bram Stoker’s Dracula because he would know there is no love story. I am not some stupid ass Twilight lover, I wanted Dracula to be the monster we all know and love.

  14. cigar, towelette? says:

    “Vampire movie with nothing at stake”
    Ha! Ha! You slay me Scott Foundas!

  15. cadavra says:

    In my case, it’ll be DRACULA UNSEEN. :-D

    • ha,ha, this!

      Variety review is way more fun that the movie ever hopes to be. “Male Maleficent”, “What’s next? Freddie Krueger meets Dr Freud?” are all awesome pans.

      This drek-ula looked like I Frankenstein sequel so no susprise reviews are in the same range.

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