They say, whoever they are, that a film is made in the edit suite. This may be true, but if this is the case then a film can be destroyed in the edit suite too. Its the death of a movie by a thousand cuts, through studio notes and test screening worries. I have little knowledge of what went on behind the scenes of Dracula Untold but the film reeks of post production interference, from the choppy story telling to the unnecessary visual effects.
For a seemingly epic tale of the beginning of one of horror’s great icons and his battle against a vast army, the film clocks in at a decidedly un epic ninety minutes. It’s not that it doesn’t make coherent sense because it does, just, but so much of Dracula Untold is in such a rush that it doesn’t tell it very well.
Right from the beginning we’re in a hurry. Vlad and a couple of his mates find a cave that contains something foul and evil (Charles Dance of course). His friends are killed and only Vlad escapes… but how? One second he’s in a cavern running for his life and the next he’s back home. Then he’s talking about peace in the land and THEN he’s celebrating ten years of that said peace. Wait, what? Did we just jump forward ten years or did I miss something? All of a sudden the main villains led by Dominic Cooper, doing a ludicrous middle eastern accent, are demanding a thousand and one of their sons including Vlad’s own kid.
I haven’t had a chance to keep up. Well I have, but there’s little time to ponder anything. And this is a shame because it’s clear there is a good film tucked away in here. The story is solid with some interesting touches and moment of high drama. Vlad seeming to doom his people for the sake of his child is a great idea but the speed at which this happens – I want your kid – here’s the drop off going wrong – oh there are a thousand Turks at the door me Lord – means we miss the meat of this dilemma. It feels like the elements were there, not just in the script but filmed, but left on the edit room floor (or is it the hard drive in the draw nowadays?). Luke Evans makes a fine Vlad, and soon to be Dracula, and the rest of the cast do their best. Also director Gary Shore clearly knows how to shoot a pretty picture with lots of lovely compositions and sweeping vistas.
Even if Shore was a first time director of a fairly large budgeted film he has surrounded himself with a good cast who can deliver their sometimes blah lines like it’s Game of Thrones. Which it might as well be with the amount of actors who are from that show. There’s Charles Dance, Paul Kaye, Art Parkinson (the youngest Stark) and other familiar faces. Also on board is Sarah Gadon who is popping up all over the place at the moment (for example the cool 11.22.63) and is all kinds of lovely. I’d point out that her role is underwritten but, sadly, that seems to be the norm. She does her best with what she’s got.
The Game of Thrones vibe is definitely something Shaw seemed to be going for, however it seems Universal where more interested in making an effects feast like The Mummy. Are they mental? There’s a big fight scene where Vlad first gets his “powers” (yeah it does feel more like a superhero film at times) and he fights a thousand soldiers. It should have been a rousing, guttural battle against the odds however it comes across more like an ill thought out effects montage as he slow motions and speed ramps around his enemies, turning into a swarm of bats.
He becomes bats A LOT. As the crummy May pointed out, can you ever have too many bats? Well the answer seems to be yes. Most of Vlad’s fighting technique seems to be attacking as bats. It’s well done I suppose but when you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a hundred times. And Dracula Untold obviously didn’t get that memo because you DO see it a hundred times.
There’s also a lot of Turkish soldiers marching into battle, people shimmering to reveal their vampiric underside and undead blowing up left right and centre. It’s all very well done (to be honest I know people who worked on it but there are some very nice effects here) but they’re a detriment to the story. The dialogue may not be the most Oscar worthy but it says something when the best moments in the film aren’t the scenes of spectacle but when two people are talking to each other.
Saying all that I did quite enjoy Dracula Untold mainly because of the cast, an attempt to do something different and some good ideas. Charles Dance’s ancient vampire spending eons in his mountain waiting for someone to bring him death, his life foreshadowing Dracula’s own in his castle in years to come, is a cool concept. However every time something like that happens it’s ruined by choppy editing and in this case “vampire vision” – which is an effects heavy version of Predator’s heat sensing eyesight but with blood and veins. It looks beautiful but is so high tech it looks completely out of place in this ancient world.
Look, this is head and shoulders above something like I, Frankenstein because at least there is something good hidden away in here. It just suffers too much from trying to be a massive blockbuster at the cost of being a good story well told.