Dracula Begins Dracula Untold is a cliché-addled movie, ridden through with examples of everything moviemakers are consistently getting wrong right now.
In its bizarre version of Vlad III Tepes’ (Luke Evans) story, the Transylvanian prince was raised a child soldier in the Turkish army. Vlad was a feared warrior, killing thousands on the battlefield in service of the Ottoman Empire, earning him the moniker “The Impaler.” Ten years later, Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper) requests another batch of 1,000 child soldiers, and Vlad kills several messengers in response. The sultan marches on Transylvania, which has no standing army. Vlad makes a deal with an unnamed master vampire (Charles Dance) for the power to single-handedly defend his country.
The film is a computer-generated museum of annoying habits in action and horror movies from the last few years.
Messy action sequences
Batman Begins made a huge effort in early fight scenes to make them as confusing and hectic as possible. The goal was to give the audience a perspective of what it’s like to be attacked by Batman.
It was cool and fresh even though viewers couldn’t really appreciate the martial arts, but appreciating martial arts wasn’t the point of the scenes or the movie. But even in that movie, several action sequences are shot traditionally so the audience can get a good view of the stunts.
Now, all of the movies do it for all of the action sequences. Dracula Untold’s action sequences are exercises in visual cacophony. It’s impossible to tell what’s going on. What’s the point of having an action movie when you don’t get to see the action?
Jump scares are inherently awful and it feels like they’re the basis of most horror movies. Dracula Untold aspires to be scary, like the monster movie spectacles its title character was the king of back in the day. But instead of imitating its actual structure from a first-person perspective and creating an interesting decent into madness and evil story, the movie just has Dance’s character do a few jump scares and calls it scary.
Speaking of interesting character aspects, all the potential ones are glossed over completely. The conflict between Vlad and the deeply-Christian Transylvanian community? It gets a scene and that’s all. Vlad’s own internal conflict over accepting this power and his struggle to not drink blood? The master vampire talks about it, and then the movie mostly sets it down. The conflict between the Transylvanians and the Turks isn’t even addressed – they just talk a lot about child soldiers at the beginning.
Dracula Untold could have been an excellent movie. There is a ton of conflict here, but it’s all pushed aside for the unwatchable action and lame scares.
Casting Dominic Cooper in a tiny roll
He’s far and away the most talented actor in the movie, but he has, like, two lines. It’s horrible.
The folks at Cinema Sins are going to have a ball with this one.
Vlad is the functional ruler of Transylvania, and his father is apparently dead. So, shouldn’t he be king? They keep calling him a prince. Why?
The master vampire became a vampire by summoning demons into himself and he spread the curse to Vlad, making him the first vampire. Wouldn’t that make the master vampire Dracula? Being the first vampire is Dracula’s whole thing, isn’t it?
The movie is supposedly a prequel to Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel in which Dracula is a bloodthirsty monster, but there’s no evil in him. Vlad is completely noble in this movie. Point B of his character development has been established for decades, but this movie doesn’t take him there. This movie had one job, and it didn’t do it!
Messing up history
Vlad III was never rumored to be a vampire. Stoker just liked his family name, Dracula, so he named his vampire character after him and the association stuck.
In reality, Vlad III didn’t even live in Transylvania. He was the prince of Wallachia, a distinct territory to the south. The two joined, with various other provinces, to form the New Kingdom of Romania in 1918, but their only connection is geographic.
Vlad III was known as The Impaler — not for his prowess in battle, but for how he dealt with prisoners of war. Vlad would stick pikes in the ground and place enemies onto the pikes ass-first and let gravity do the rest. Sometimes, this process took days.
Vlad did lead his country, which totally did have a standing army – everybody had a standing army in the 1400s – against an invasion from Mehmed II after refusing to pay the sultan’s tribute, but he didn’t repel Mehmed with his single-handed martial strength. Vlad was a vicious, cruel tactician, and he lead a brutal guerilla/scorched earth campaign against the Ottomans. His army poisoned lakes and directed rivers across its enemy’s path and launched constant, violent ambushes, in one case killing 15,000 Ottomans in one throw.
Movies are fiction and it’s OK for them to fictionalize things, but when fact is so much more interesting than the fiction it spawns, that fiction has a big problem.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and news editor for the NT Daily. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter when I can be bothered to make one, and shoot questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.