By Shane M. Dallmann
I don’t know… I saw the trailer for I, FRANKENSTEIN and immediately decided “No way.” On the other hand, I saw the trailer for DRACULA UNTOLD and thought “Well, maybe…” You never know (or at least “I” never know) how the mood might strike; and even though I figured this for more of a CGI-fest than a horror movie, the opportunity to take the family presented itself, and…
I’ll leave the debunking of the “Vlad as Dracula” historical argument to the scholars… it’s scarcely worth debating in this context as this is a minor fictional film that takes the connection for granted like just about every other take on the material.
So… Luke Evans (get used to having him around–he’s going to be the new CROW next) is the legendary Prince Vlad the Impaler, who grew up knowing nothing but brutal soldiering under his Turkish taskmasters but prevailed as one of their greatest warriors, feared by nations, etc. etc. Well, Vlad is enjoying the tenth year of peace in Transylvania following his brutal campaign… but then the Turks come knocking again and they want more than their annual tribute–this time they want a thousand more young soldiers, plus Vlad’s son (Art Parkinson–you’ve seen him on GAME OF THRONES but I have yet to catch up with that series).
As you’ve gathered from the ads, this inconvenience (provided by slimy Sultan Dominic Cooper) coincides with Vlad’s discovery of an ancient vampire hiding somewhere in Brokeback… er… Broken TOOTH Mountain. And said ancient vampire is willing to fix Vlad up–for a price. (This vampire is played by Charles Dance, but they might as well have cast Tobin Bell for all of his “Let the game begin” delectation.) If Vlad can kick the Sultan’s ass and go without blood for three days, he gets to return to his mortal form…
Okay, I’ll just stop. We already KNOW Vlad is destined to become Dracula, so bang goes any of that suspense. What follows is a typical mix of things that work and things that don’t work. Good stuff includes Vlad wiping out a thousand soldiers acting alone; a sequence where his horrified subjects, upon learning of his nature, attempt to burn him out of his shelter–ironically snuffing out the sunlight with the smoke in the process; and the use to which the Sultan puts those many years worth of silver coins bearing Vlad’s likeness.
Bad stuff? The PG-13 rating which severely compromises our understanding of how truly monstrous Vlad was as a soldier… sure, they TALK about it and you do see the silhouettes of many a staked body, but you’re supposed to like and sympathize with him as he adores his family. You never get to see Vlad actually DO the horrible, evil things his enemies know lurk beneath his surface, and that’s a huge point against this entire enterprise. The newly anointed vampire waking up in the middle of a RIVER and crossing the running water without incident. The overemphasis on 3-D effects (I’ll take that for granted–I saw this in 2-D and was rewarded with a dark, grimy image all the same; and so many action scenes that could have been terrific were ruined by a pointless change in perspective) and especially the super-corny turning point that resembles nothing less than the big moment in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (which ALSO happened to feature actress Sarah Gadon, but NOT as Gwen Stacy). All together now: “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!”
DRACULA UNTOLD isn’t completely awful, but it still ranks as a disappointment especially when one considers all that COULD have been done with this timeless material. Enough said.