Correction to the title: Dracula has been told. A lot.
And yet, there remains profit in the name. Universal’s current cash-in method is to approach their legacy horror film as a medieval fantasy/super hero epic, pitting Vlad the Impaler against a burly Turkish army. Vlad (and later, self-named Dracula) is not the exotic neck-biter nor does Untold pine for the days of vampiric eroticism. This Drac is a family man and leader of his Transylvanian people who accepts his blood sucking fate for the sake of the innocent.
Luke Evans is not handling the starring role with many particulars outside of his hefty physique, not that this script asks much of him. Vlad is a provider of hyper dramatic dialog and front line musculature, severing history with all manner of mythical events.
Much of the feature feels over produced, littered with enormous special effects and a handful of creatively memorable battles. Otherwise, imagination is ignored for the sake of hokey realism, so caught up in making fantasy palpable, Dracula Untold just fizzles away. The 90-minute frame may be too much for something this limited.
The studio goal was apparently a reboot, a means to bring Universal’s spectacular monster classics into contemporary conversation, but ignoring the whimsy of the late ’90s Mummy adventures. If Marvel (and those Mummy flicks) taught us anything, humor sells, but Dracula Untold has none. Evans is stone faced and mopey, forever locked in a back-and-forth mental battle to save his family or bring peace to his kingdom. Neither scenario is particularly interesting or presented with much vigor.
No, audiences have never witnessed a colony of bats under Dracula’s control, ripping and shredding (to PG-13 extremes anyway) an entire army. But therein is the problem: There is no seductive subtly. Rather than one bat, there are millions. Instead of claustrophobic mysteries, there are tremendous wars fought in locations indistinguishable from comparable fantasy epics. Dracula Untold is on a full charge from its outset, whittling down to essentials in order to maim with needless rapidity.
Dracula Untold is watchable and rife with effort – Universal wants to sell their precious Bram Stoker property in the waning days of vampire fever. Yet, there it is: Untold feels helplessly pushed along by its rear, a desperate-to-appeal guiding hand meant to cover ground across all popular cinema. Results are rarely compelling and even less meaningful.
Universal’s encode will be dealing with a grain structure from this film-captured period piece, and compression work proves capable. Smoke, fast action, and walls of special effects are handled without encoding errors. The same goes for grain. Any problems appear more like post production issues.
While the film-based source will (rarely) show signs of color fringing, digital manipulation to smooth over Sarah Gadon’s face and some tinkering to medium shots are both unfortunately normal. Dracula Untold is not a pretty film by intent, covered in blues and minimal pale earth tones. Those are fine. However the rather visible murkiness masks the resolution of the source, adding nothing, only taking away.
In close though there is enough. Production design is splendid. Armor is well decorated and castle interiors hold pleasing levels of texture. Facial definition, when not under the effects of woozy cinematography, is well rendered.
Black levels stumble in a few points, notably in some first act cave scenes. For whatever reason, those scenes feel unusually brightened and gray. Image depth is otherwise exceptional.
DTS-HD work feels showy; there are plentiful examples of rousing surround work and careful motion throughout the sound field. Bats screech as they pass through each channel en masse, forming a sonic surface. Voices frequently make use of the extended channels. An early meeting with a vampire stretches from speaker to speaker to aid in the feeling of uneasiness. Hectic battle scenes likely need no explanation – swords, yelling, screams, cannon fire. They’re superb.
Disappointing is the punch from the low-end, by no means poor but lacking in clarity. Few set pieces are aided with thundering bass. The effect is less pounding and more fluttering. Impact is missing as the mix seems to miss the heaviest end of the spectrum.
First time feature director Gary Shore and his production designer Francois Audouy join for a commentary, proving lively and chatty. It’s the best of the bonuses. An alternate opening is split from the rest of the six deleted scenes, offering optional commentary.
A Day in the Life: Luke Evans tracks the actor’s busy day on set, from his process to the more menial aspects of the job. Dracula Retold (a better title than the movie actually) is a mere story recap with some history tossed in. Slaying 1,000 peers into a key action sequence and the choreography.
The Lands of Dracula is an irritatingly laid out collection of visual effects reels, showing progress on key scenes as they were completed, but all are buried in a multi-layer menu without any real purpose.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.