Caution : This review contains spoilers.
Box offices numbers from Friday place “Dracula Untold” at the top spot over “Gone Girl.” Some expect the latter to pull out in front soon, an outcome I would also anticipate. Either that, or it’s a slow week at the box office with the holiday weekend at hand.
Since the beginning of cinema (talkies specifically, for my purposes), films have looked to put a spin on the Dracula stories. Just think back to the Hammer films of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Granted, we’ve come so far with special effects. However, the film seems to plod along in safer territory until getting a touch more creative by the end.
The other reason “Dracula Untold” may leave viewers somewhat disappointed is that much of the plot is already given away in the trailer. (Is that why “The Judge” received a lukewarm reception?) Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans) and his people in Transylvania have enjoyed peace for ten years. Then the Turks come, looking for 1,000 boys to join the Sultan’s (Dominic Cooper) army. Unwilling to give up his son (Art Parkinson), Vlad’s resistance brings the Turks to his lands for battle.
Predictably, Vlad ventures to the dark mountain where he had an earlier encounter with a vampire. He makes a deal to have powers for three days, returning to his regular human state only if he resists the urge to drink blood in that interim. Vlad is presented as a complex character, looking to make sacrifices to save his family and his people. That’s where we’re presented with a bit of a twist, rather than simply making Dracula a blood thirsty beast.
However, the film seems to crawl along. There are some action scenes in which Vlad takes on the Turkish armies himself. And the Sultan shows some creativity by having the final bout in a room full of silver. Even so, the movie looks to function as a prequel, laying the groundwork for a sequel set in the present day.
“Dracula Untold” tries too hard to be safe, potentially screwing up an opportunity to ever reach a sequel. It is still a marked improvement over the NBC series, which was canceled during its first season. It’ll be interesting to see if the sequel will go a different route or say, add an R-rating this time. Until then, go enjoy the first “Underworld” film, which really put a new spin on the vampire lore.