Friday, October 31, 2014

Dracula gets a popcorn-y makeover in 'Untold'

(Oct. 19, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Historical and mythical bogeyman Dracula gets a trendy, effects-heavy makeover in “Dracula Untold.”
But despite the stylish purging of the iconic vampire’s villainy, the film mostly evokes detachment.

It is not because it is an unemotional tale; it certainly has parts designed to tug at heartstrings. Central to the tale of Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans) is his devotion to his family, whom he tries desperately to protect.

The film, while ambitious and punchy, gets repetitive and sluggish when not showing superhero-like battle scenes and tense confrontations.

This iteration of Vlad, a former child slave turned merciless warrior, is mostly noble and kind, despite his nearly forgotten reputation as an efficient killer. He rules as prince of Transylvania, a territory under the sovereignty of the Turkish Empire.

The Sultan (Dominic Cooper), however, disrupts Vlad’s reign by demanding that young Transylvanian boys be taken and trained into the former’s army.

This order includes Vlad’s son (“Game of Thrones” actor Art Parkinson), not surprisingly. At the last minute, however—and after much protesting from his wife Minera (Sarah Gadon)—Vlad decides not to hand him over, an act that is basically a declaration of war.

His desperation leads him to seek a higher power of sorts—he asks a supernatural creature (Charles Dance, also from “Game of Thrones”) to grant him power to protect his people. But it comes with a price—as he soon finds out the hard way.

“Dracula Untold” interestingly focuses on that revamped origin, a different take on how the notorious warrior became the feared monster of legend.

Like Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” it ties together the real and fictional figures’ tales, with much re-imagining along the way.

It does not focus on the Stoker story, where Dracula is a powerful count and villain. It works, sometimes, but it gets a tad tiresome at certain points.

Vlad the family man is intriguing, but that gets quite unappealing after a while, as he has to deal with predictable whining and mewling between action sequences.

It is in the vein of the “Underworld” series, in that it is a showy fantasy-action flick, although this does not look very promising as a series of films.

The popcorn-y bent also means less substance and less deep pathos; it mostly replicates video game-esque scenarios during crucial fight scenes.

It has Luke Evans going for it, though. The actor is versatile and dashing, granting the man-monster its humanity and understandable weaknesses.

And visually, the film has some utterly creepy and impressive monsters—none of the twinkly, gooey, emo type—and flashy enough imbroglios that are amusing and, sometimes, fun.

All told, “Dracula Untold,” while lacking bite and timeless, undying appeal, is a passable enough time-killer.

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