“Dracula Untold” represents the latest in a slew of Hollywood “reimagining’s,” attempts to reboot classic tales in a dark and gritty context. “Alice in Wonderland” is a product of this machine, an idea inserted into one end and a unimaginative, uninspired CGI-laden product spewed out the other; a neat, tidy film to be shoved in line with the dozens of other films set to release over the next decade. “Maleficent” is another prime example of Hollywood simply outsmarting itself, believing that it knows exactly what the people want, when they are, in fact, catering to an empty table.
It is curious then that “Dracula Untold” should receive similar treatment when it is an inherently dark and gritty story to begin with. The Bram Stoker creation was introduced in the eponymous novel published in 1897, but it wasn’t until the 1931 film adaptation featuring the now legendary portrayal by Bela Lugosi that Dracula became truly popular. Vampires have since saturated pop culture, a pale, gaunt count pining away in his castle replaced with pale, angst-ridden teenagers moping about their suburban homes.
The Dracula of “Dracula Untold,” though, bears little resemblance to his classic image. If anything, this Dracula is most reminiscent of the character from the prologue of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version of the story: a fierce, wild-haired warrior fighting for the fate of the woman he loves. Where that movie succeeds, this one fails.
It is perhaps unfair that “Dracula Untold” should be compared to any film, as it deserves to be judged on its own merits, as all films do. However, to take a name so indelible, so ingrained in the collective consciousness as Dracula, a character aped by kids of all ages every Halloween without even having seen the movie or read the book, knowing only the slick black hair, flowing cape, blood dripping from glistening fangs, and take as many liberties as this movie does and not expect the inevitable comparisons is foolish, as unfortunate as it may be.
The most blatant issue with “Dracula Untold” is it’s total lack of inspiration; five minutes into the film, one understands just how much a product this is rather than art created by an artist. It takes a concept steeped in Gothic tradition, a story just asking for lavish sets, indulgent set pieces; the simple image of a large, gloomy castle high upon a hill is inspiring enough. All of this potential has been replaced with CGI, which, while looking adequate and serving its purpose well enough, is simply lazy filmmaking, motivated only by the price of admission a few thousand times over. The mythos of Dracula is absent, anything meaningful replaced by epic battle sequences, slow motion effects, the chance to see Dracula evaporate into an army of bats and swoop down upon his enemies.
The prospect of such scenes would have been exhilarating had this film been released a few years ago. But now, coming at the tail end of the dark-and-gritty-reboot fad, it all seems so bland and unfamiliar that it fails to capture the audience’s attention. It’s gotten to the point that we watch rather than absorb. The cast is simply going through the motions, Luke Evans and Dominic Cooper lacking the talent to elevate the writing, a screenplay the baby of several authors, each with his own idea plugged in here and there, burnt-out fuses filling familiar sockets.
Normally this type of movie is referred to as a “popcorn flick,” entertainment one can watch while shoving food into his mouth, regarding what he’s seeing on the most superficial of levels. This movie, however, is the unfortunate exception to the rule. It is so late on arrival that it feels previously watched, a movie rediscovered rather than premiered. In the end it is harmless, I suppose, but that it little consolation. The greatest failure of “Dracula Untold” is not its complete lack of originality and style, but rather that it was made exactly as those behind it intended.
By Lucas Dispoto