Friday, 24 October 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Dracula Untold

Directed by: Gary Shore

Produced by: Michael De Luca

Screenplay by: Matt Sazama
Burk Sharpless

Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Starring: Luke Evans
Sarah Gadon
Dominic Cooper

Music by: Ramin Djawadi

Cinematography by: John Schwartzman

Editing by: Richard Pearson

Studio(s): Legendary Pictures
Michael De Luca Productions

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): October 3, 2014 (United Kingdom)
October 10, 2014 (United States)

Running time: 92 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $70 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $139, 086, 880

Hello there, children (Isaac Hayes' Chef would say), I hope you're all doing rather well. On the movie front, I'm doing rather well, at least certainly in terms of the glut of films I've been seeing. Because of October being slow enough and work seemingly having deemed me expendable enough not to be given more hours, I find myself with more hours free time to do my own thing. Gears are moving forward, as I've completed a treatment for a short film, which will be turned into a screenplay by a common collaborator and stalwart of mine who presently shall remain nameless (brownie points for those who've guessed), so thank you for that! After this, we will have reviews for The Equalizer, Ida, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Gone Girl (yes, I finally saw it) in the coming week or so. That being said, for all the latest and greatest as regards to the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is Dracula Untold, Universal Pictures' latest film depicting the Count Dracula character most famous as the titular villain from Bram Stoker's 1897 novel. There are a number of notable things involving the production history of the film, foremost being that Universal intends the release of this picture to be the beginning of a reboot of the classic Universal Monsters franchise, which was most famous during the 1930s-1950s with films such as, of course, Dracula featuring Bela Lugosi, James Whale's Frankenstein pictures with Boris Karloff, The Invisible Man, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Mummy and Lon Chaney Jr.'s The Wolfman. Basically, they pitched to writers Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan to do something along the lines of Marvel's highly successful Cinematic Universe and DC's prospect shared universe with Warner Bros. The film is directed by debutante Gary Shore, a commercial director who filmed Dracula Untold on location in various places, such as Roe Valley Country Park, throughout Northern Ireland. I remember it being quite a big deal when the filming was announced. Our First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (wallies!) made a hoo-ha, and Extras NI (who do a great job of employing people on a casual working basis, I might add) sent out a casting call for a lot of people, but of course, not having "swarthy skin," presumably to play the rampaging Turks, because I'm pale as a beluga whale, I didn't get the part. There is something be said about the state of the film industry in Northern Ireland, how it is slowly building up credibility that a big studio like Universal would shoot their entire film over here. Anywho, plot synopsis: Dracula Untold creates an origin story for the title character. Depicting Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans), a former child slave for the Turkish army who became a great, feared warrior and later benevolent king of Transylvania. Vlad and his men discover a Turkish helmet, which leads to a cave in the mountains, where a monster kills all but Vlad. The next day, Vlad, his queen Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and son Ingeras (Art Parkinson) are celebrating Easter with their subjects, when a Turkish party unexpectedly arrives, demanding not only tribute but a thousand boys for service to their army. After failed diplomacy with the Sultan, Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), and his refusal to surrender his son, which leads to the death of a group of Turks, Vlad sees no option but to confront the monster in the mountains, a vampire (Charles Dance) who forms a pact with Vlad to transfer his powers to him so as to defeat the Turkish army, making him a vampire for three days if he can resist his blood lust, but for eternity if he cannot. Got it? Good!

Starting with the good here, I think that for the most part Dracula Untold is a technically astute film. It's a picture that has a clear aesthetic look about, and that is reflected in the work of the photographers, costumes and production design departments. Cinematographer John Schwartman's location photography captures the scale and epic scope of the film with distinctive visuals, moodily lighting everything in dark colours. This scale and scope can be seen in the large battle sequences, which in conjunction with the stunts and choreography make for some enjoyable scenes. While it's never going to be anything up to the level of The Lord Of The Rings films, I can at least admire them for trying. There are little things, such as the visual-effects/editing trickery of a minute or so of a fight sequence being seen as a reflection on a sword's blade that indicate flourishes of flair above and beyond what we are given for most of the film. Luke Evans, although by no means anything special, obviously has put a lot of effort into his role. He's a strong physical presence who does the action sequences rather well, and does his best to get over the tragic element that the writers and producers are pushing for with the character. I think he's an actor who just needs to find the right part for him to break out. The thing that's perhaps most notable about Dracula Untold, both to it's praise and detriment, is how absolutely ludicrous the whole thing is. That Vlad might take on a dozen people would be impressive, but you've got to admire the ballsiness of the filmmakers actually trying to convince us that he can single-handedly take out the entire Turkish army, which we are reliably informed by some basil-exposition dialogue numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Yes, it takes away from the suspense vulnerability of the character, but what the hey, I enjoyed it. It's a movie that is either unaware or completely revels in its own stupidity (though I suspect it's the former), either way, the final result is still the same. It takes itself so seriously that it ends up being rather funny, being one of the few films that enters the dangerous territory of 'so bad it's good' and comes out okay. And then you have the final scene, which somehow manages to top the rest of the movie in its overall outrageousness. 

However, that being said, as I mentioned, this madness, completely without irony I might add, is a double-edged sword as much to it's detriment. You can take a movie like Tommy Wiseau's infamous The Room, one of the most preposterously bad movies of all time, but however much it may be enjoyable, you have to remember that it is still absolutely terrible. The same in some ways can be said for Dracula Untold. The film is so self-serious and yet doesn't even manage to go as far as irony or meta (humour is one of the things that made the Marvel Cinematic Universe so successful, incidentally) that you can't help but throw your hands up at the central story. I have no problem seeing Dracula as a tragic or sympathetic figure, Klaus Kinski did it wonderfully in Werner Herzog's Nosferatu, but the melodramatic story borders on upturned chin levels of pomposity, more or less trying to force-feed us into buying into absolute nonsense; Vlad is a good husband, Vlad is a loving father, Vlad is a benevolent leader, Vlad is a noble man, no no no, I don't care. The screenplay is for the dramatic scenes is woeful, with stilted dialogue doing nothing for the actors involved. Poor Sarah Gadon, who I've pipped as a potential future star, an attractive young woman who most importantly can act, comes across like Lina Lamont in the talkie version of The Dueling Cavalier. Also, Dominic Cooper, whose character's only backstory consists of "they were once like brothers" in relation to Vlad, ends up failing to convince as the Sultan in what must be one of the most bizarre casting choices since John Wayne played Genghis Khan in The Conquerer. Not only do we have a screenplay with expository scenes that in no way resemble anything close to real conversations, it's also backed up (in the worst way) by Ramin Djawadi's score. I was shocked to discover that he done the music for this, because in both television and film he has been responsible for some of the better music to go with various productions over the past decade. That the maestro behind Prison Break, Person Of Interest, Game Of Thrones and last year's Pacific Rim came up with something so by the book and dull is quite astonishing in it's own right. What's even stranger is the fact that he left composing duties on Edge Of Tomorrow, a far superior film and one of the best of the year to do this. I think, Mr. Djawadi, a face-palm is in order!

To conclude, I'm not going to spend a lot of time recapping, just saying that I think it's a technically astute film with a good production value, with a bad screenplay that does no service to those actors playing them and a shoddy score. What is to be taken away from Dracula Untold first and foremost though is that it is an absolutely preposterous movie whose own ridiculousness is a double-edged sword. I have to tip my hat to any film that has enough balls to go out of its way to have a superpower-endowed Vlad the Impaler take on the hundred-thousand strong Turkish army singlehandedly, and there is some enjoyment to be derived from that. However, it must be remembered that despite the fact I liked some of the absurdity, it is still a simple and rather stupid film. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Sneezy (my damn nose won't seem to stop bothering me!)

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