Saturday, October 04, 2014

First Impressions: Dracula Untold

So it was off to the cinema to see the Gary Shore directed new Dracula movie and I held low expectations to be honest. So let’s get the obvious out of the way… It is a Dracula origin story, using Prince Vlad III as the model. As such it has little to do with Stoker’s novel (for the full explanation of the lack of connection between character in novel and historical personage go here) and – to be honest – precious little to do with the historical Prince Vlad either.

But the fact that it was all so spurious worked in the film's favour. Realising that the writers had just gone off on a fictional trail of their own, ignoring anything vaguely resembling historical (or novel) voracity, made the film that much easy to watch. What we had then was a vampire sword and sorcery with big (mostly cgi and bat related) set pieces. Think of it a little on the same level as Underworld: Rise of the Lycans without werewolves. Indeed, this film was endangered by the same thing that did for the Underworld prequel – the fact that we walked in knowing the ending… except this managed not to suffer for that and managed to keep an interest and, dare I say it, a degree of tension that U:RotL failed to create.

Luke Evans as Vlad
So we have Vlad (Luke Evans) who, as a child, was sent as hostage to the Turks and beaten and moulded into an elite warrior in the janissaries. It was with these that he gained the sobriquet Impaler. After the wars he returned to Transylvania to be the ruler. He married Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and they had a son called Ingeras (Art Parkinson). For a time the principality was at peace – with Vlad paying a tribute to the sultan – now Mehmed (Dominic Cooper, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter). If you are a student of history you can now cry out in agony…. Done… Let us continue…

into the cave
As the film starts Vlad and his men have found the broken helmet of a Turkish scout. Vlad sends most of the men back to his castle, in order to increase the guard, whilst he goes to a nearby mountain, the place from where the helmet seems to have come from. They get to a cave and assume that the Turks are inside, given that disturbed bats fly out of the cave and its daytime. Inside Vlad finds that the cave is strewn with bones. The two men are quickly killed and he manages to retreat from the creature (Charles Dance, Underworld Awakening). In the mouth of the cave he sees the creature’s blood, which he has managed to get on his sword blade, burn-up in the light. Back at the castle a monk, Brother Lucian (Paul Kaye, Being Human), tells him the history of the man who tried to make a pact with a demon for immortality and was now the vampire trapped forever in the cave.

the second encounter
However, its Easter and there is much to celebrate, until Mehmet’s emissary arrives early for the Sultan’s tribute and, this year, the Sultan has decided to demand a thousand youths for his armies. Vlad, at Mirena’s urging, goes to Mehmet to ask that he not take the boys and ends up being told he also has to hand over Ingeras as well. This nearly happens but rather than hand the boy over Vlad kills the Turks sent to collect him and brings the wrath of the Sultan on his lands. Without a by-your-leave Vlad is shooting off to make a deal with the vampire. The vampire lets him drink his blood – which gives Vlad his powers for three days. If Vlad can resist feeding he will be restored but should he succumb he’ll be damned for eternity and the Master Vampire will be able to escape his cave as well…

I am vampire
And that’s how the film begins. There are bits that… well I was going to say they don’t gel but, truth be told, that’s a little harsh… perhaps are just a tad glossed over – such as why Vlad immediately goes to the vampire rather than try to defend his lands and then – as a last ditch, at the brink of defeat – makes his Faustian deal. However, this is a popcorn movie and the gloss over is what it is, a segue into set pieces and action. I wasn’t particularly convinced that there was any particular chemistry or great love between Mirena and Vlad but again it’s a catalyst relationship.

vampire staked
The key to the film’s plot is in the phrase in the paragraph above – Faustian Deal. The key to the appeal of the film is in the bucket of popcorn and enjoying the ride. Actually, it was the coda that really tweaked my interest, seeing where this could go in a sequel. Beyond that its watch Vlad turn into a flock of bats and swoop through Turkish troops. That reminds me to mention lore – apotropaic materials are silver and sunlight. Holy items are only effective if the vampire has fed and is fully turned. Vlad is fast and strong, he can both control bats and turn into bats. The powers are really very formidable but that just adds to the popcorn aspect.

I’d say worth a watch. The imdb page is here.

in sunlight
Edit 15.02.2015: Having rewatched the film on DVD it certainly retains that popcorn movie status. Indeed this is simply a superhero movie with an anti-hero at the centre, though one still wonders at his motivations; my comment above about things being glossed over stands. Of course the modern day coda indicates the way forward for the Universal franchise, which has really shrugged away from horror. However sad that might be as a concept, the idea of the sequel still has my interest and this is still fun to watch. 6.5 out of 10.


Margaret Schalliol said...

Just saw this yesterday. I'd say your summation is pretty well spot on as usual. I'm pretty much in complete agreement on this one.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers Margaret