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Dracula Untold (2014)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/3/2015
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/31/2015
When I informed my wife that I'd gotten Dracula Untold to review, her immediate response was, "They made another Dracula movie?" As incredulous as this may sound, it is a legitimate question, as Dracula has haunted cinema since the beginning. In 1922, F.W. Murnau made Nosferatu, which was based on Bram Stoker's Dracula novel. From there, we got Tod Browning's classic Dracula, featuring Bela Lugosi as the Count. Hammer Films revived the character with Horror of Dracula in 1958. Frank Langella did a turn in the title role in 1979. Francis Ford Coppola brought us an over-the-top version of tale in 1992 withBram Stoker's Dracula. So, it's clear that every generation gets their own Dracula and that filmmakers love bringing the undead back from the dead. Well, the old boy is back in a new re-telling of his legend in Dracula Untold.
As Dracula Untold opens, we are introduced to Vlad (Luke Evans), the kind of an Eastern European country, which has long been at war with the Turks. (As a child, Vlad had been taken from his family as forced to be Turkish soldier.) While on patrol, a scout discovers evidence that the Turks have invaded. Vlad and a group of his soldiers investigate this and they find an odd cave in a desolate mountain. Once inside, Vlad meets a monster (Charles Dance), who claims to have killed thousands and who claims to have the key to great power. Vlad escapes and upon returning home to his wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon), is surprised when Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) of the Turks comes calling and demands children for his army, including Vlad's son. Knowing that his soldiers cannot defeat the might of the Turks, Vlad returns to that strange cave and gives himself over to the monster. Very soon, Vlad finds that he had incredible strength and the power of flight (sort of). But, he also craves human blood. Will these new powers be enough to defeat the Turks?
Getting back to my wife's question, do we need another Dracula movie? The answer to that is probably not, but at least Dracula Untold tries some different things. The film is clearly influenced by the first act of Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, as we have the 15th Century Vlad fighting the Turks. The armor shown here, as well as Dracula's devotion his wife, feel very much like that movie. From there, the film feels like it's taking a page from things like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, as we are treated to battle sequences done on a grand scale, as the camera swoops through massive armies. The difference, of course, is that a vampire is doing the fighting. Of course, the movie also draws from Stoker's novel, as well as bringing in ideas of vampire folklore from various places, as Vlad thirsts for blood, must avoid sun, and can transform into a flying mass of bats.
While the film undeniably feels as is it was culled from several different sources, it doesn't fail to entertain. Credit goes to writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless for remembering to include character development and emotion in with everything else. Vlad is shown as a devoted family man and someone who wants to be a good king. Therefore, we see how it pains him to turn to the monster for help, but he's willing to make this sacrifice for his wife and son, as well as for his people. Making Dracula a father and a king first, and a vampire second creates friction in the viewer, as we want to see Vlad win, but not necessarily at the cost of his soul. First-time Director Gary Shore gives the movie a nice look and the battle sequences are well-staged. The movie moves along at a brisk pace and while it gets a little redundant towards the end, it's never boring.
One of the most interesting things about Dracula Untold is the nerve that it has -- This untested film goes out of its way to set up a sequel. A plot point is thrown out in the first act, which is then re-visited in the coda. Will we see a sequel? I don't know, but I do know that I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. Luke Evans (who reminds me of Luke Perry crossed with Orlando Bloom) does a good job carrying the film and the action is satisfying. Despite the presence of a vampire, this plays much more like a dramatic-action film than a horror movie. Still, in an era when a vampire period-piece seems like a dated idea, Dracula Untold takes a stab at bringing this genre back.
Dracula Untold made me question the physics of a bat attack on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 34 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain at times and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good, most notably the reds. This movie has some dark scenes, but the action is always visible. The depth is very good, most notably in the sweeping landscape shots, and the level of detail is excellent, as we can make out textures on objects. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a robust track which offers nearly constant audio effects. The stereo effects show good separation and pinpoint off-screen sounds. The surround effects are quite active, and we get many examples of individual sounds coming from the rear channels. The subwoofer effects bring us wall-shaking satisfaction.
The Dracula Untold Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Gary Shore and Production Designer Francois Audouy. The Disc contains six DELETED SCENES which run about 13 minutes and can be viewed with commentary from Shore and Audouy. The centerpiece here is a very long scene in which Vlad encounters a witch. It's pretty cool, but it feels like it's from another movie. We also get an "Alternate Opening" (2 minutes) which, again, can be viewed with commentary from Shore and Audouy. "Luke Evans: Creating a Legend" (20 minutes) has the actor walking us through the story and describing the shooting of several key scenes of the film. "Day in the Life - Luke Evans" (10 minutes) offers more comments from the actor, as we follow him from his home to the set to watch him at work. "Dracula Retold" (7 minutes) looks at the history of Vlad and how the story has been told -- Specifically, it dissects the plot of this movie. "Slaying 1000" (5 minutes) takes us on-set to break down the big action sequence, showing us how live action and visual effects were combined to create the scene. "The Land of Dracula" is an interactive feature which allows the viewer to learn more about specific locales in the movie.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long