Dracula Untold (2014)
Every Bloodline Has a Beginning
How many times now have we seen the story of Dracula? If I wanted to pan further, I could say 'how many times have we seen the story of the vampire?" And no, I don't mean that badly written worse filmed absent-minded Twilight series. If I wanted to induce vomiting, I would talk about the soundtrack to Nosferatu, which is at least a respectable movie. Back on topic though - we've seen it a lot. Most of us would probably agree at this point that the best rendition of Dracula is probably the Bram Stoker's variant, but Bella did have himself one mean stare. Well, a new age, a new generation, a new attempt at trying to bring back the old monster movies that I really can't be too mad about because I like the old monster movies. Should Dracula have staid untold, or will the movie nipping at your neck have you all hot and bothered?
So our narrator opens up to us after some incredibly (thankfully) brief title slate about the state of "current" affairs in olden day Transylvania. The Turks want soldiers, so their idea of getting them is to go up to the Kings of their territories and demand whatever amount of children they find wanting in soldiers - to which the Kings (wanting to keep the "peace" oblige). The children are then initiated into medieval Spartan training where they get beat up and taught to be emotionless killers who are good at their job - one of which ends up sticking out over the others. Yep, you guessed it - Vlad the Impaler. Why Impaler? Well, it's pretty hard to find the moral to fight a guy who seems to enjoy impaling all your allied soldiers on stakes. After a while, it get's to poor Vlad though, and he has a bit of a crisis of faith and ends up returning to his old stomping grounds/kingdom to take over the ruling of things.
Turns out he does a rather good job at it - 17 years or so of peace. Granted, he notices that the Turks seem to be scouting out his land - which doesn't make him very happy - when he and his gang stumble across a busted up Turk helmet in a river. Worried about getting attacked, he sends most his men back to the castle to sturdy the place up while he and two others go to investigate the mountain where he believes the helmet to come from. Upon arrival they find a cave, and within that cave they find a monster. A true blooded vampire who wipes out the two old-days equivalent of red shirts and only ends up not snacking on Vlad because he fell into the sunlight when punched. Vlad gets back and talks to a monk about it - who fills him in on the legend surrounding the vampire and how it's trapped in that cave - and then gets some family time. The next day's parties are ruined when the Turks show up demanding children again - including Vlad's own.
After putting some thought to it and trying to barter with them (to no success), Vlad discovers he just can't go through with sending his son off in the same way his father did to him and kills the collection team sent with him on his return. This, of course, is effectively an act of war that the little place of Transylvania (which is literally just one castle and a monastery as far as we've seen) just can't hope to win - but Vlad knows of something that's already snacked on some Turks that may help. He seeks help from the vampire, only to find that the only way he can get any help is by becoming one himself - but it's not all doom and gloom. If Vlad can withstand the terrible thirst and not drink any blood in 3 days time, then he returns to normal and the vampire prime (who I found myself calling Orlok the entire movie despite him never being given a name outside of "vampire") is still stuck in his cave. If, however, Vlad decides to down himself a flagon of the red stuff, he becomes a vampire forever and "Orlok" gets to be free from his cave to seek revenge upon the one who sealed him inside the cave in the first place - and something about calling upon Vlad later for something or other. With his new found powers, it's up to Vlad to defeat the entire massed forces of the Turks in 3 days before his power is gone. Can he do it and save his people? Will he be able to save his soul in the process? Will he blow it like Van Helsing did in Monster Squad?
Well, what to talk about now? The movie is certainly a A-list flick as far as budget goes. I'm terrible with remembering actors, but some might recall Vlad from another recent movie he was in - The Hobbit, in which he played Bard (essentially the only relevant human character in the entire movie). The actors do a good job here, particularly him who did a splendid job of adding some depth and emotion to the character of Dracula in a visible way. It's a bit like having a vampire that wears his heart on his sleeve really. The supporting cast all does pretty decent jobs as well, reacting to things in a manner you would imagine people would act when discovering their prince was suddenly a vampire (you know, essentially turning into a pitchfork mob instead of saying "thanks for taking out the Turks that attacked us back there).
Effects works is, well, modern. You really can't convince me there isn't a lot of digital effects going on here, and although by now we all know and understand I have a hankering for practical over digital, there some things that digital just plain does better. Vampire-vision, for example, looks super cool. It's kind of like the first time you saw Predator-vision and it blew your mind (except this is admittedly higher-quality). Fight scenes are pretty decent to some extent - but things quickly get a little "artsy" at moments that makes it kind of too hectic to really enjoy watching. I mean, sure it's "cool" to see a dude bat-teleporting around beating the crap out of dudes through the reflection of a sword (completely clean mind you) sticking out of some dude like we are watching it through the dead guy's eyes (if they were placed on his shoulder) - but I would have much rather been able to just enjoy the choreography or effects they had going on without the kinda-lame sword-sized reduction. Still, when choreographed stuff is there, it's pretty fun to watch.
Now, I'd be remiss to leave it sounding like their isn't things in the movie that stand out. I love the armor designs - even if most of it is just leather armor. Pictured below you can see the sweet "Dragon" themed armor of Vlad - the pauldrons of which are way cooler than most other iterations I've seen a Dracula character wear - although I do like the muscle-type design that appeared ever so briefly in Bram Stokers. The other characters that crop up with armor more than make up for it though, and I'd be lying if I didn't say it got the old wheels turning in my head on a semi-related project I've been working on over the years. Beyond the cool armor though, there is also the one other thing that I really like from this take on Dracula's story: the origin twist. See, most renditions of this tale has Dracula being the start of all the vampires, where this tale has him being a kind of second-fiddle to the unnamed Master Vampire who has his own plans. This sort of allows a more humanized Dracula (giving him just reasons for questing after the power at first) and making it that much more meaningful when he ends up going the revenge route. It by no means is a necessary article, but I felt it was a nice touch to help set it apart from the others.
It's not a bad take on an origin story. I mean, honestly I'm kind of sick of the whole origin story thing, but I can understand how a more modern, younger audience might need origin stories for these characters that I would in my heart assume were household names and legends if not for my brain being more reasonable than that. It's a nice take spin on Dracula that would easily draw in people who are less fond of horror - as it's primarily an action/drama set in a fantasy pg13 world if you ask me. If you like any of those elements than it's certainly worth a watch - oddly enough, if you are into the whole super-hero modern types of movies you'll also most likely enjoy this one. You know, great power and responsibility and all. I'll hold off on buying it until it's a Castlevania movie, but I'd say it's probably worth a rental.