Origin stories and reboots are all the rage in Hollywood. A shared cinematic universe has become the latest trend ever since Marvel Studios shattered box office records with the creation of their one that mimics the comic book source material. It’s not surprising that movie producers would want to jump on the Marvel bandwagon. They essentially combined multiple franchises into one uber-franchise. This leads us into Universal’s latest attempt to revive their classic monsters, which were hugely successful back in the 30’s and 40’s. The idea of bringing Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, and all the others together in a clash of the macabre certainly sounds amazing on paper. However, Universal hasn’t exactly had the best of luck in bringing these characters to the modern era. The last time Universal teamed their monsters together was Van Helsing, which doesn’t inspire a tremendous amount of confidence.
Dracula Untold mixes history with fiction in a story set long before the events of Bram Stoker’s famed novel. Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans) is the prince of Wallachia in the region of what is now known as Romania. As a boy, Vlad was conscripted into the Ottoman Empire and trained as a ruthless soldier under the Turkish sultan. He slaughtered thousands, including women and children, to earn the nickname Vlad the Impaler due to his brutal method of dispatching victims.
Vlad has since left that life behind him to rule his land in peace with his wife, Mirena, and son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson). However, tranquility is not in the cards when the Turks and the sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), once Vlad’s adopted brother, come stomping into Wallachia. The Sultan demands 1000 boys to be handed over to the Ottoman Empire along with Ingeras. Left with an impossible choice, sacrifice their sons or refuse and be slaughtered by a vastly superior army, Vlad seeks desperate help from a Master Vampire (Charles Dance) who dwells in a cave atop Broken Tooth Mountain.
Drinking the creature’s blood, Vlad will be given the powers of a vampire for three days. Should he stave off his thirst for human blood, his humanity will be restored. However, if he were to give in, then he would be cursed to live forever as a vampire.
Dracula Untold has an uphill battle remaking Dracula into a tragic hero. Let’s face it, if a guy impales so many people that he becomes known as the Impaler, he might not be sympathetic. Screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (the upcoming Gods of Egypt) conveniently gloss over this minor detail to craft Vlad into a brooding avenger in the mold of Batman. The bat analogy is apropos Vlad is able to transform into a flock of the nocturnal creatures as he tears through dozens of his enemies. Unfortunately, most of the film’s action sequences occur at night and most of the set pieces are lost in the darkness. Not that we’re missing much, a bloodless, PG-13 vampire flick isn’t much fun and first-time director Gary Shore doesn’t bring a lot of style to the proceedings.
Luke Evans has tremendous shoes to fill when it comes to inheriting the role of Count Dracula. There’s Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman, and even Frank Langella. Evans is certainly suited for this version of Dracula the tortured, action hero though he never quite goes for the jugular. Current Cronenberg muse Sarah Gadon takes on the thankless role of Dracula’s wife, whose transparent role is to spur her husband onto his path of vengeance with her death. Dominic Cooper doesn’t convince as the power-hungry Mehmed. On the other hand, producers shamelessly cater to the Game of Thrones crowd with the additions of Art Parkinson, Paul Kaye, and a scene-chewing Charles Dance.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The transfer is well done though night scenes can be a bit murky. Black levels are strong with natural skin tones and bold colors.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The sound is where the Blu-ray truly shines as it provides an immersive experience with swarms of bats swirling about. Swords clash with armor as bodies are stabbed and thrown with a pulpy splatter.
The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary track with Gary Shore and production designer Francois Audouy.
Luke Evans: Creating a Legend (19:46) is a picture-in-picture style video commentary with Evans discussing his work on the film.
Day in the Life: Luke Evans (10:05) is a video diary of the actor as he wakes up in the movie, heads to his trailer, puts on his costume, and goes to work.
Dracula Retold (6:55) is a featurette that delves into the actual history of Vlad the Impaler and his war with the Ottoman Empire.
Slaying 1000 (5:03) looks at how the filmmakers pieced together the first battle between the Turks and a newly empowered Vlad.
Land of Dracula is an interactive map that takes you to a selection of photo galleries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and clips from the movie.
Rounding out the disc is an alternate opening (with optional commentary) and a collection of deleted scenes.
Film Value: 5/10
Dracula Untold is a muddled mixture of horror, fantasy, and action while trying to take a Christopher Nolan approach to revamp (no pun intended) an iconic character. The film’s final coda is a clumsy effort to set the stage for further franchises ala The Avengers. In the end, Dracula Untold was a tale not worth telling in the first place.