The fact “Dracula Untold” is opening in early October tells you everything you need to know about this latest retelling of Bram Stoker’s bloodsucker story.
Most of the special effects are good, but they are not grand enough to justify a summer opening. The monster moments are there, but they are far from scary enough to merit the film opening on Halloween.
“Dracula Untold” is entertaining, just not memorable. It eventually will become the kind of heavily repeated feature film that cable channels use to fill weekend afternoons when there’s nothing original to air.
The “untold” part of the title is that Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans) has given up his spiking ways to be a kind and caring ruler. His peaceful ways are dashed when a Turkish army shows up “requesting” 1,000 boys from Vlad’s kingdom – including his wimpy son – to be part of the Turk fighting machine, Vlad turns to a dark force to give him the power he needs to defend his people.
Although it seems much longer, the last hour of the film is Vlad struggling with his new blood lust addiction, turning into a colony of bats and trying to avoid the pesky sun. For a man who has just gotten vampire abilities, he adjusts quickly.
There are two big battles, but both are staged with all the originality of a game of Risk. The climactic battle is particularly disappointing because it requires a massive amount of stupidity just to create tension. Vlad knows he’s worthless in daylight, but instead of taking advantage of every second of night to kill the invading soldiers he waits around for the army to arrive just moments before dawn.
First-time director, Gary Shore stumbles between the graphically stunning style of filmmaking used by Zack Snyder in “300” and the choppy computer generated work of a cheesy video game.
Since the direction is so mundane, the film needed its actors to turn in compelling performances. Evans has neither the charisma nor the muscle to make Vlad the same kind of captivating character that Dracula has been portrayed in the past productions. Sarah Gadon’s work as Vlad’s wife is so colorless she often blends into the scenery.
Dominic Cooper plays an interesting foil, but he doesn’t share enough screen time with Evans to create the kind of tension needed to make their conflict work. A strong villain is a major necessity in “Dracula Untold,” where the vampire is cast as the hero of this tale. Cooper comes up short.
Screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless are handcuffed with the ending. Any obvious setup for a sequel takes away from the power of the ending. It’s like being generally satisfied with a meal and then being told there are more courses to come. It just comes across as overkill.
Correction of any of these weaknesses would have taken “Dracula” out of the darkness of a forgettable fall release. As is, the film is just a little too anemic for a Halloween creep.