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Dracula Untold (IMAX)

Universal // PG-13 // October 10, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]

Review by Jeff Nelson | posted October 9, 2014 | E-mail the Author

The vampire's reputation has been tarnished in the eyes of horror fans around the world. While pictures such as Universal's Dracula from 1931 is viewed as a classic, these creatures become all the rage since the Twilight franchise brought them into the spotlight. However, everybody has a slightly different opinion on what constitutes a real vampire, as different sources explain them as having a variety of abilities. Some have fangs and can turn into bats, while others sparkle and become obsessed with Kristen Stewart. Yet, the classic representation is quite rare to find among modern cinema, as filmmakers continue to try and alter the mythos. Director Gary Shore's Dracula Untold tries to return to some of these more classic elements by exploring this tragic story.

Vlad (Luke Evans) has had a reputation of being one of the most brutal soldiers on the battlefield. He has been tasked with keeping the peace for his kingdom and his family. Vlad is forced to make a deal with a dangerous supernatural force that has a curse placed upon it. However, this power doesn't come without a price, as he must keep the darkness at bay, otherwise it will consume his body and soul for eternity. He must find a way to keep this a secret, as it could cause his already weakened kingdom to explode into chaos.

Dracula Untold starts by telling us of Vlad's past as a dangerous warrior, who ultimately finds true love in Mirena (Sarah Gadon), with whom he has a child named Ingeras (Art Parkinson) with. Life seems to be going fairly well, until a group of messengers burst into a special event with unfortunate news. This could potentially cause the kingdom to be torn apart from within, leaving Vlad as the citizens' only hope. He tries all that he can in order to negotiate terms with these unwelcome guests, but with no success. He realizes that the mysterious creature hidden within the cave system could be his only hope to saving his family and the kingdom. There's quite a bit of build-up before we're even introduced to this new Vlad. While the protagonist proves to be likable enough, his wife, Mirena, and son, Ingeras, prove to be superficial. Since the entire film is revolved around the sacrifices that he's willing to make for his family, we should want to root for them, but audiences simply aren't given a reason to care about them. This leaves us with a lot of character disposition that works towards a goal that continues to appear farther away, even as it continues to progress.

Given the countless ridiculous pictures that this character has been featured in, one would think that there would be a greater sense of consistency when it comes to the overall tone. Screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless handle the material in a very serious tone, although the content would suggest something of a completely different nature. Some of the previous films in which Dracula has been witnessed in were so incredibly self-aware, that the audience will happily walk upon this ridiculous path to predictability. Dracula Untold is often laughable, although it doesn't appear to be trying to be. Expressed through visuals and dialogue, this is a feature that has no shortage of tacky material. However, these filmmakers were provided with the chance to make something insanely entertaining, but have decided to take it in a much more serious direction than it should have been. After all, even pictures such as Van Helsing have a cult following that has managed to last all of these years.

Once we reach the third act, we're expecting a shift in antagonists that will introduce us to a marvelous fight. Unfortunately, the film remains on this path of Vlad versus mere mortals. It makes absolutely no sense, especially when this picture could have utilized a much more fascinating antagonist. Even though Shore is clearly setting us up for a sequel, it makes for an unsatisfying finale, as we can't possibly suspend our belief enough to believe that Vlad cannot fight humans. There isn't an ounce of tension to be found here, and the emotional stakes are nonexistent. One positive statement that can be made for Dracula Untold is how it has brought back the idea of one being able to transform into bats. There are a few other vampiric elements that are generally avoided in the majority of these films, but Shore went for it. It's just a shame that everything else didn't take the risk.

The lead casting choice is absolutely critical. If the wrong actor was to be placed in this role, it could prove disastrous. Luke Evans is visually acceptable for the part of Vlad, although he doesn't quite manage to entirely convince us. However, it's more than likely that this is the fault of the material rather than his performance. Sarah Gadon will have men drooling in the theater, although she never makes Mirena sympathetic. We never truly feel for the situation that she's in, nor do we really care about her fate. Dominic Cooper once again proves to be a one-dimensional antagonist as Mehmed. Much like his other performances in antagonistic roles, he comes off as an irritant more than a threat. Some of these actors are clearly victim to the material, while other casting decisions prove to be questionable.

Even with all of these issues, Dracula Untold should look great, right? For the most part, it looks pretty good. Some of the CGI is iffy, although the overall look and feel of the picture works. The set design is quite impressive, especially as we explore some of the darker environments, such as that of a cave filled with crushed bones. The color palette fits rather well with the picture's tone. This isn't the best looking IMAX presentation out there, although some of the effects look great on the larger screen. When Vlad transforms into bats, as he continues to impale one soldier after the next with his sword, is a joy to watch. Director Gary Shore manages to keep us captivated by the picture's seemingly only sense of charm.

All of this aside, the film's biggest problem is that it doesn't leave any lasting impression. This is an incredibly forgettable cinematic experience that doesn't even manage to remain in our thoughts through the night. Fortunately, it's decently entertaining, but this isn't something that you're going to be excited to see again. This is an example of a screenplay that takes itself far too seriously for its own good. Perhaps if it was more aware of its ridiculousness, or if it was simply better written, it would have proven to be something worth seeing on the big screen. Dracula Untold is a mildly entertaining film in grave need of a rewrite. Rent it.



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