Granger on Movies: 'Dracula Untold'
Published 12:00 pm, Friday, October 24, 2014
After hundreds of Dracula movies, this is an origin story.
In 15th-century Europe, the Turks were in conquering mode. Having been brutally conscripted into their army as a young boy, Vlad (Luke Evans), rules the Romanian kingdom of Transylvania. He is determined that his beloved wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon), and young son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson), will live in peace.
But when an emissary of Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper) arrives and demands 1,000 Transylvanian boys, including his son, as slave-soldiers, Vlad is desperate. Realizing his vulnerability, he turns to a ghoulish, mountain-dwelling demon (Charles Dance). In a Faustian deal, Vlad is empowered with superhuman strength and a vampire's abilities for three days. If he can resist drinking human blood during that time, he will revert to his mortal form. If not, he is condemned forever. You know what happens.
In their feature film debuts, Irish director Gary Shore and screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless have fashioned as a tragic prequel to Bram Stoker's 1897 Dracula story. It attempts to humanize Vlad, who was later known as the Impaler because of his habit of skewering his victims: "Sometimes, the world no longer needs a hero, it needs a monster."
Attempting to evoke empathy, Luke Evans ("The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug," "Fast & Furious 5") reflects the nobility of Vlad's character and his willingness to sacrifice himself for his family and his people.
But once Vlad becomes Count Dracula, all subtlety is lost. Computer-generated bats and other special effects reign supreme and all attempts at acting finesse are banished into the weird horror, visceral bloodlust and carnage.
Sadly, there is no humor, even when a campy, sniveling servant (Zach McGowan) grovels to do Dracula's bidding and several characters incongruously utter the contemporary word, "Okay." And why the rating is PG-13, not R, is a mystery to me.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Dracula Untold" is a visually murky, horror fantasy 5. Is it damning with faint praise to say that it doesn't totally suck?
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