Running time: 92 minutes approx
Vlad - Luke Evans
Mirena - Sarah Gadon
Mehmet - Dominic Cooper
Vampire - Charles Dance
Directed by Gary Shore Written by Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless
The Turks took Vlad from his family when he was just a child and taught him to be the ultimate warrior. Later, he returned home, founded his family and ruled his kingdom in peace. Then the Turks return and demand 1,000 boys from the kingdom to be treated as he was. Wanting to resist, Vlad visits a creature in the mountains, looking for power to destroy the Turk army. That power, though, comes at a price. If he drinks blood within three days, he will become a vampire for eternity.
Vampires have been twisted beyond almost all recognition into potential boyfriend material who glitter in the daylight and don't drink anything very much. They have been watered down by the likes of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and the TWILIGHT films until they are not even frightening any more. They are heroes and superheroes. The cornerstone of horror literature have been turned into the good guys.
It is fitting, then, that we return to the archetype, the original Bram Stoker vampire who has been reborn so many times in so many guises in the hope that he will bring make vampires frightening once again. Sadly, that is not to be. The Dracula here is a tragic hero as far from the bloodthirsty monster of the past as the most recent television incarnations. He strikes a bargain with the devil in order only to save his land, his wife and his child. He is honourable and brave and true and as repelled by the things that he is forced to do as those who see what he is turning into. Luke Evans, who took over the HOBBIT movies in the later stages, certainly has the bearing, the charm and the honour that the part requires. He easily commands the film, providing the good man and the brave leader with very little apparent effort. The pain of the darker moments also are projected by him as he fights the urge to drink blood as much as he fights the armies of the Turks.
Unfortunately, though the film has its great Dracula, the great Dracula doesn't get such a great film. This is a grand historic epic with hint of 300 and THE LORD OF THE RINGS wrapped around the vampire legend at the centre. It tries to carry out a similar trick as UNDERWORLD:RISE OF THE LYCANS and pretty much comes up with the same result. Yes, the setting is great and gothic and epic, but the story at the centre isn't so much a clever reworking as a compilation of cliches and overworked old ideas.
The action, when it comes, is pretty impressive and the battles are quite nicely done, but they aren't that much more impactful than anything that you've already seen on GAME OF THRONES. One thing that DRACULA UNTOLD shares with that show is Charles Dance. As the vampire in the mountains, his role is relatively minor, but pivotal and he handles it with the simplicity that easily convinces. What the film misses, though, is a strong villain. There is nothing wrong with Dominic Cooper's performance as the Turk Sultan, but he is lost in the hordes of men that he sends to kill Vlad. The armies are the threat, rather than the man himself. When it comes to the final duel in Mehmet's tent, though, one of the more original ideas plays out rather nicely. It is a shame that the rest couldn't be a bit more original like this. Sarah Gadon is a pretty unmemorable wife as well, hardly evoking the passion that would drive a man to the sacrifice that Vlad makes for her.
DRACULA UNTOLD is not a bad film. The sets are great, the action's pretty good, the central performance is good and the special effects are fine, but the sum of parts doesn't add up to anything special. Somehow, it just doesn't inspire or excite like it ought to.
Certainly, it's way better than the likes of I, FRANKENSTEIN, but the search for the production that will once again make the vampire scary goes on.
The extras available concentrate, very wisely, on Luke Evans and follow him for a day on set, get him to talk us through all the key scenes in the film and show him killing a thousand Turks as well as the usual deleted and alternate scenes.