“Every Bloodline Has a Beginning” or “The Legend is Born”
Directed by Gary Shaw
Starring Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sarah Gadon and Charles Dance
After being conscripted to fight in the Ottoman army alongside a thousand other Transylvanian youths, Vlad (Evans), also known as the Impaler and the Son of the Dragon, rules his domain in peace. When Sultan Mehmed (Cooper) demands more boy soldiers for his army, and Vlad’s son as a hostage. For the sake of peace he is prepared to go along with it, but then a Turkish officer calls him a pussy, so he goes to a monstrous being in the mountains (Dance), becomes a vampire and embarks on a rampage of destruction which will ultimately lead him down the road to becoming the legend that is Dracula.
What’s wrong with it?
“We need someone to play Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. Get me Howard Stark and a gallon of bronzer.”
I’m just going to throw ‘historical inaccuracy’ in the once and let’s assume that it’s all covered: The deaths of Vlad and Mehmed thirty years early; the fact that after the death of his first wife Vlad should have married again and had at least two more children; that his son had the wrong name; that ‘Transylvania’ was used in place of Wallachia and… well, just about everything. Let’s just put a pin in that, since after all, vampire.
The Transylvanian vampire bats (all species of vampire bat are native to Central and South America) and tarantulas (found just about everywhere except Northern and Eastern Europe) I am less willing to forgive.
Silver. It’s not one of Dracula’s classic weaknesses, however many subsequent versions it may have appeared in. Also, a silver-bladed sword would be a piece of shit, although given that the mere presence of a half-blunt wooden stake causes his armour to blister, that might not be such an issue. Since we’re going with the full on sunlight weakness as well, I guess we’re not tied to the book here, but I thought it was worth a mention. That being said, the sun weakness is kinda weaksauce, since it can be blocked by cloud cover (although he can see through cloud cover, so how could he be sure?) and Dracula is able to summon clouds.
No-one seems to notice anything odd in the first battle against the Turks when Dracula runs ahead of the main force at superhuman speed and takes down a thousand enemies equipped with nothing but attitude and a badass longcoat. Mind you, these are the same brilliant minds who failed to remark that a discarded Turkish helm had been rent open in three parallel claw marks. Similarly, the Turks are oddly blase about the whole being beaten to death by a cloud of bats thing.
The Sultan blindfolding his men because ‘you can’t fear what you can’t see’. The fuck you say, Mehmed. Now we know why you weren’t known as Mehmed the psychologist. It is more or less a scientific fact that bats in particular are about a billion times scarier when you can’t see them. When you can they’re rather cute.
I’m in two minds about the humanisation of Dracula. On the one hand, it makes for a more involving story if he’s sympathetic. On the other, the literary Dracula was a fucking monster, pure and simple, and humanising him kind of misses the point of him.
Then again, the point of him was in part to be a scary foreigner, so maybe it’s a point worth missing.
According to accounts, the vampire in the cave is the only one, created not by another vampire, but by a demon. And yet everyone seems to know about it; the monks (okay, they’re local), the Sultan and some random peasant (I call him ‘not-Renfield’) all know the ins and outs of vampire creation and weaknesses.
Vlad’s wife, Mirena (Gadon), swears to fight by his side if it comes to it, but when faced with an actual fight pretty much backs off a cliff by mistake.
What’s right with it?
Dracula Untold is a lot of fun. The cast is pretty good – that cringeworthy bronze-face notwithstanding – and while he isn’t the terrifying presence of the book, this humanised Dracula is at least more interesting and nuanced that, say, the one in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
And the special effects and the set pieces are top notch, in particular a battle scene in which Dracula summons a vast flock of bats and wields them like a colossal fist (even if it should have resulted in rather more splattered bats.)
How bad is it really?
It’s a blast and a half, it really is. It’s Hercules kinds of fun. Just as long as you don’t go in expecting art or slow-burning horror (or, because you’ve read the very confused Wiki page, Samantha Barks out of Les Miserables as a shapeshifting witch or for Charles Dance to be the Emperor Caligula), you’re not likely to be disappointed.
Best bit (if such there is)?
- The aforementioned fist of bats.
- Just changed, Dracula starts to run to his castle, which has been besieged already, because everywhere in Wallachia is apparently half a day’s march for a fully provisioned army from everywhere else, and turns into a flock of bats. He stops, grins like a loon and sets off again, clearly pleased as punch.
What’s up with…?
- Vlad bending the knee right up until one of the Turks basically calls him a sissy? He won’t fight for the children of Wallachia, he won’t fight for his son, but question his manliness and he’ll plunge the entire country into an unwinnable war?
- The first time he goes up to the cave on Cthulhu ridge, Dracula and two of his men take a clear and obvious path. When he goes back to seek the vampire’s power, he climbs straight up a cliff face. This cannot be quicker.
- “You can’t fear what you can’t see.” Wrong!
- Dominic Cooper in bronzer as the Turkish Sultan?
- Dracula is vengeance, Dracula is the night… Holy shit, Dracula is Batman. (Although looking at that poster, I don’t know why I was surprised.)
Production values – It’s a very pretty film; dark, naturally, but pretty. Unfortunately, the battle sequences a a little hard to follow at times, with the dull colours of the armour making it hard to pick Dracula out and the close-in editing not really allowing a stand out combat narrative to emerge. 7
Dialogue and performances – There isn’t a lot of deathless dialogue in this film, but the performances are sound. Evans looks suitably tortured by his bloodthirst and puts up a creditable big no at the appropriate time, while Dance just oozes feline malice. The female characters are poorly provided for, unfortunately, so points off for that. 12
Plot and execution – The plot is surprisingly tight given how much of the film is given over to battles. It’s also kept tight at a shade over the ninety minute mark, so hoorah! 7
Randomness – There is a substantial degree to which the vampire stuff just is, and there’s no substantial explanation of the mythology. There’s a guy, a demon made him a vampire and he was trapped in a cave, by who or what, we do not know, but at some point apparently some brave souls went in and did some research on his weaknesses. 9
Waste of potential – I think there are a lot of little things that could have been done better, although I’m less sure how much this would have improved the film overall. 5