Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Gary Shore
Writer: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless
Producer: Michael De Luca
Stars: Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sarah Gadon, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance, Diarmaid Murtagh, Ronan Vibert, William Houston, Ferdinand Kingsley, Zach McGowan, Paul Kaye
Prince Vlad the Impaler makes a pact with a vampire to defend the Transylvanian people against an invading Turkish army.
The triple digit number of years that Dracula has haunted horror fiction is surpassed in sum total only by the number of movies starring the infamous Transylvanian vampire. At this point, there isn’t anything left in Vlad Tepes’ tale that is genuinely “untold.” The closest anything comes is the story of how Dracula first became a creature of the night, which, as “Dracula Untold” shows us, turns out to be an eyelid-drooping origin featuring Vlad the Impaler having a seven-minute discussion with the monster who turns him.
Look up “Dracula Untold” on IMDB and you’ll see its genre classified as Action, Drama, and Fantasy. Notice that Horror is not included. That’s because instead of the gothic playboy or neck-biting villain audiences are familiar and fascinated with, “Dracula Untold” casts the count as a swordfighting head of state hero in a chatty movie burdened by “Game of Thrones” political machinations and “Lord of the Rings” steel clanging.
When Turkish sultan Mehmed unreasonably demands the donation of 1,001 Transylvanian boys for his army, the extra one being Vlad’s son Ingeras, Castle Dracula prepares for war against the neighboring nation. Outmanned and underequipped, Vlad’s desperate recourse to turn the battle’s tide involves a journey to Broken Tooth Mountain where he makes a deal with a cave-dwelling creature to acquire the strengths, and weaknesses, of a bloodsucking vampire. Shunned by his own God-fearing people, Vlad is nonetheless determined to protect his family and his kingdom no matter the cost, even though it means becoming “Son of the Devil” in the process.
Arcing his transformation at a leisurely pace, “Dracula Untold” takes its time, thirty minutes to be exact, before Prince Vlad makes his pact and drinks the blood of the Master Vampire. From there, Vlad contentedly continues using his sword and his skill to combat Mehmed’s legions, summoning the occasional CGI bat swarm as an impromptu army when things grow particularly hairy, until finally baring fangs to puncture human skin five minutes past the one-hour mark. With a credits-less runtime of only 85 minutes, that leaves just 20 minutes remaining for Dracula to appear onscreen in the incarnation audiences expect, and likely desire.
“Dracula Untold” is predictably produced as a period piece forcing grandeur and epic sensations through wind-rippled capes and hands outstretching in slow motion while an operatic voice echoes. It is mild and milquetoast melodrama competently made, but misdirected at a market unlikely to take to a Universal Monsters cornerstone rewritten as a cross between Jon Snow and Frodo Baggins without much personality.
With countless filmic adaptations already to Dracula’s name, doing something out of the ordinary to rejuvenate a character whose tales have been told across several centuries is not a misguided idea. Although while an atypical approach may be justified, it is difficult to imagine the Powers That Be writing/reading a script featuring this many scenes of poetic soliloquies, wordy romantic musings, and seemingly endless conversations with secondary characters too unimportant to remember their names, and nodding in agreement that a Dracula favoring sword over fangs is something to be excited about. Even in the paper stage, it should have been plain to see the blueprint for disappointment being architected in the approach.
Overburdened by standing still dialogue from a screenplay with the flavor of room temperature tap water, “Dracula Untold” is only poorly conceived, not poorly made. Similar to Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla” (review here), which is a terrific gargantuan monster epic but a terrible Godzilla movie, “Dracula Untold” can be appreciated for what it is while reviled for what it is not. Which is a mediocre fantasy-action-drama doubling as a Dracula movie in title only.
Review Score: 55