Dracula Untold (2014) could just as easily be titled, Dracula Rewritten. The film deviates from Bram Stoker’s novel as much or more than films such as Twilight or or any number of vampire films that don’t carry the name of Stoker’s character.
The difference between Untold and movies such as Twilight is that Untold borrows from the same inspiration as Stoker, that being the real life Romanian named Vlad the Impailer but Untold unfortunately falls into the same trend as the teen vampire genre in that it repainted Dracula as a misunderstood hero.
Though there is an IMAX version of Dracula Untold and I did have that option available to me, I selected the standard format. I did this largely because I find IMAX and 3D over stimulating visually and just prefer the standard screen. I mention this because at times I felt the framing choices were cropped too close for my taste and for an epic battle type film and think that perhaps this was a result of cropping from framing choices made with IMAX in mind.
It isn’t that there were no extreme wides just that many shots that were closer in seemed awkwardly closed in for say a medium or medium wide. It may also be that the standard format had framing that was maximised for phone viewing, something that can generate more money in the long run than a cinematic release which has almost been relegated to a mere advertisement for the streaming and download versions.
Additionally I found it at times over coloured, particularly as a dark topic film.
For me this both led to the wrong mood at times for the film and also degraded detail and caused some scenes to look fake. Digital colour timing is a delicate balance of enormous possibilities that are easy to over use. I only found this mildly distracting but did notice it a few times.
Because Dracula Untold borrows from Stoker’s character and inspiration, I found it hard not to compare it in my mind to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) which seems to have served as a visual inspiration for Untold enough for the later film to screen like a remake or a reboot of the earlier film which follows Stoker’s story more closely.
I had an opportunity to see a screening of the 1992 Dracula at the Academy two years ago and was absolutely delighted that they treated us to a lightening lighting effect which had been developed for that film. I thought about this as I watched Untold and about how both films were a reflection of the state of the art at the time of production but that somehow the production values of Untold with its CGI effects lacked the soul of Dracula and its practical lighting trick that was so simple and yet so satisfying. It could simply be the result of my age but I found myself wishing I had just steamed Dracula instead.
More so than the technical issues, the story was the real disappointment for me.
I mentioned earlier that falls into the vampire as misunderstood hero category and whilst I can forgive this in a teen film like Twilight that remixes the genre entirely, this character is called Dracula and Dracula is a monster.
Stoker’s novel reflected repressed Victorian sexuality and fear of sexually transmitted disease that at the time was untreatable. Dracula was a metaphor for a sexual predator. He was the embodiment of everything that Victorian society feared and he was frightening in his ability to come across as charming and harmless.
Untold’s Dracula is equally metaphorical in my mind and Untold equally reflects the society that produced it as part of its culture. Unfortunately Untold reflects a warlike society that indulges in enabling overly worshipped heroes. Untold also manages to have female characters that are weaker than Stoker’s even though Stoker’s entire novel is epicentered around the Victorian view of women as frail victims.
Untold leaves the viewer with a sense of having just had a conversation with a friend who justifies mistreatment by a partner. The message seems to be that Dracula didn’t really mean it and even if he did, he was just trying to do the right thing and after all he really isn’t such a bad guy. I wasn’t scared, I was annoyed.
I like for Dracula to be scary, I like that the scariest thing about him is that he can make himself look like the perfect man. This is why he is so dangerous. I like a film that acknowledges this.
Untold didn’t do this and left me unsatisfied. It doesn’t lack sex entirely and ladies, we do get to see Luke Evans shirtless on a few occasions but overall it just isn’t as sexy as a Dracula film should be. If you watch this film I would recommend the IMAX version if that is your thing or wait to download it to your phone.