- May 9, 2003
Dracula Untold games its thrones on Blu-ray with an edition that presents this leaden reboot of the Dracula franchise in solid high definition, with an army of special features. The movie itself is beautifully filmed but lacks both substance and any resemblance to the Dracula stories we’ve seen over the past 80 years. The movie performed well at the box office and will apparently be the springboard for a series of new Dracula films, but even at 90 minutes, it’s interminable. I can only speculate that the movie appeals more to younger viewers who are unfamiliar with the source material, and who are looking for something closer to current stylings.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, English DVS 2.0, Spanish 5.1 DTS, French 5.1 DTS
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 1 Hr. 33 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 02/03/2015
I’ll do the short version of this review first. Dracula Untold is an obvious attempt to reset the Dracula mythos in a fantasy world that looks very much like the creations of George R.R. Martin rather than Bram Stoker. Rather than being a gothic horror tale or even a gothic romance, Dracula Untold is a kind of war adventure, with lead character Vlad (Luke Evans) gaining vampiric powers as a way to protect his people, particularly his wife and son. This leads to multiple epic battle scenes where Vlad’s ability to manipulate large groups of bats (and even become them himself) can be played out in glorious CGI amid the beautiful landscapes of Northern Ireland. Some of these moments are beautifully staged, while others seem to reflect director Gary Shore’s background in commercials. There are plenty of shots in the movie that appear to have been staged just for an interesting look – which is understandable in a 30 second Super Bowl ad but not that fulfilling in a movie. (Similar problems happened in the early films of Tony Scott and David Fincher – where there were stunning visual compositions in The Hunger and Alien 3 but nothing that could hold the audience’s empathy.) At the same time, the epic music from Ramin Djawadi summons up images from Game of Thrones, since it seems to play in the same style. So Dracula Untold is a beautifully presented movie about a tragic hero who somehow becomes a noble vampire while fighting off hordes of bad guys. And as that may sound, it really doesn’t make very much sense and it never really becomes more than a lot of sound and fury signifying very little. As a result, even at about 90 minutes, the movie drags interminably, with the viewer eventually feeling like the movie is 30 minutes longer than it actually is. It’s frankly difficult to find much to recommend here other than the technical elements. Luke Evans does what he can in the lead role, but most of the scenes here are simply built around large battles and moments of spectacle. Fans of Dracula are not likely to recognize very much here. Fans of Game of Thrones are likely to wonder how this story got jammed into that style, although they will appreciate the brief presence of Charles Dance and his almost casual menace.
The Production Rating: 2/5
SPOILERS AND HISTORY: Some movies are real head-scratchers. Dracula Untold is clearly intended to be a fantasy adventure, and from the looks of it, the producers have spared no expense to create a beautiful spectacle. It’s understandable why they did so. Dracula has long been a popular character in movie history, ranging from the classic Tod Browning film to the Hammer House of Horror works to the 1979 Frank Langella interpretation to the early 1990s Coppola film. There’s always been something romantically appealing about the character, who is cursed to live forever but under terms of drinking human blood and only existing in the shadows. Anne Rice famously played up the gothic romanticism in her series of novels in the 1970s and 80s, although the film adaptations of those books sadly failed to live up to many readers’ expectations. In recent years, there’s been a series of vampire story re-imaginings, including the Sookie Stackhouse novels, adapted into the HBO series True Blood, the young adult Twilight series and the various young adult television series on CW these days. In the midst of the current trends, it’s clear that someone thought it would be a good idea to go back to the original Dracula, but reset his story in something resembling the current fantasy stylings of Game of Thrones. On its face, this is a strange combination. The character of Vlad the Impaler doesn’t strike one as living in the same kind of universe as George R.R. Martin’s Westeros. Vlad’s story has always been a darker, more ominous one. The character is essentially a parasite, living only by draining the life out of the living. Presenting him as a tragic hero but trying to stay away from the various inconvenient problems of vampirism makes for a confused narrative – we’re meant to root for Vlad, even when he starts biting people. We’re meant to see his transformation as a tragic sacrifice for his people, and yet we never get much sense of who he or his people are. And the movie plays fast and loose with most of the tropes of who and what vampires are – this Vlad is able to freely move around in daylight (so long as he’s not directly in the sun) and seems to be a loving husband and father rather than the prince of the night.
MORE SPOILERS: Not only have the filmmakers here tried to reset Dracula’s story as a new fantasy, they’ve also clearly been trying to lay the foundation of a new series of movies. The movie’s conclusion, wherein we see Vlad moving around in modern-day Europe and encountering a reincarnation of his love from the Middle Ages, is obviously a setup for more movies. Charles Dance’s Master Vampire all but announces the new series with his proclamation of “Let the Games Begin” as we fade to black and wonder what the heck all of this means. One presumes that the new movies will present a modern-day vampire adventure, but they could just as easily be set at any time from the Middle Ages to now. Either way, the Dracula of this movie (and the coming installments) is a far cry from any Dracula we’ve seen in the past. It is as if someone took a character from Game of Thrones, renamed him Vlad, gave him some vampiric powers, and decided that would make for a compelling new franchise. I can’t say that I agree with this approach. I would recommend fans of Game of Thrones to stay with that series, and fans of Dracula to try any of the other incarnations we’ve seen of him over the past 80 years. This one seems to be a bit of a dead end, even if it’s commercially successful for the moment.
Dracula Untold was released in early February on Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ray includes the movie in high definition, along with a commentary, about an hour of special features, and an interactive map that contains about 30 more minutes of materials, including several photo galleries. The DVD includes the movie and about a third of the extras in standard definition. The Blu-ray includes the DVD edition in the packaging, along with instructions for downloading a digital copy.
Dracula Untold is presented in a 2.40:1 1080p AVC encode (@ an average 32 mbps) that shows off the beautiful location photography in lovely detail throughout, with the numerous moments of heavy duty CGI coming across in a seamless fashion. On a sheer technical level, this is a great piece of work.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
Dracula Untold has an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix (@ an average 3.5 mbps, ranging up to 5.0 during the big battles) that happily runs through all the speakers of the home theater. Music and atmospheric effects work the rear speakers and the subwoofer gets plenty of opportunities to make itself felt. Again, on a technical level, this is a strong effort. The Blu-ray also carries DTS 5.1 mixes in Spanish and French, as well as an English DVS track
Audio Rating: 5/5
Dracula Untold comes with a commentary by director Gary Shore, and a fairly generous brace of special features. There’s about 15 minutes of deleted material, a 20 minute discussion with star Luke Evans that appears to have been intended for the “Take Control” function that Universal no longer uses, several on-set featurettes and an interactive map of story locations that triggers several further featurettes and photo galleries.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Feature Commentary with Director Gary Shore and Production Designer Francois Audouy – (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This scene-specific commentary is more of a conversation between Gary Shore and his production designer. If anything, they reveal that they’re both huge fans of genre movies from the 80s. Of course, they include Close Encounters of the Third Kind in that group, which wouldn’t quite be accurate. But they note how they’re picking up shots and concepts from that film to use in this one. Predator is another one they reference.
Luke Evans: Creating a Legend – (19:46, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This is a series of scene introductions and examinations by Luke Evans, who discusses the genesis of the project and how he came to be on it. (Universal offered him his choice of movies after they were pleased with his performance as the villain in Fast & Furious 6.) Given how specific Evans’ discussions are regarding various scenes (of which we see brief clips), I believe this material was actually intended for use as a “Take Control” Blu-ray feature, where the movie would stop periodically for Evans to step in and talk about the scene at hand. Given that Universal does not seem to be using that functionality anymore, the material has simply been collected in its raw state and played here.
Alternate Opening – (2:11, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – An alternate opening, focused on Vlad and his wife in a palace garden, is presented here. Some shots from this scene do survive in the movie but are simply used in a montage where Vlad is first exposed to vampire powers. There is a commentary option where you can watch this scene with Gary Shore and Francois Audouy. For their part, they mention that they wanted the movie to start with Vlad in action rather than back at the garden.
Deleted Scenes (13:00 Total, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This is a collection of 6 deleted scenes, some of which came out completely and some of which were reshot and replaced. The scenes may be viewed individually or via a “Play All” option. As with the feature and the alternate opening, there is a commentary option to hear the thoughts of Shore and Audouy.
Day in the Life – Luke Evans (10:05, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This featurette mostly follows Luke Evans through a single day of the shoot, this one happening amid the battle where Vlad slays 1000 men. The featurette starts with Evans being picked up by his driver and ends with him being taken home, with an acknowledgment that the hours on this project were fairly long. There’s a lot that isn’t shown here – we only see highlights of the work.
Dracula Retold (6:55, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This featurette covers the basics of how the filmmakers decided to reimagine the story of Dracula in this fashion. It’s a short featurette, and frankly does not go into any detail.
Slaying 1000 (5:03, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This short featurette focuses on the largest battle scene in the movie, with emphasis on how the stunts were performed on a giant greenscreen stage. It’s amusing to hear that even this stage wasn’t large enough to accommodate the battle, so they would literally start at one end, run to the other, and then need to reset the paused tableau back to the original starting point so they could keep running forward.
The Land of Dracula – (1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This is an interactive map of the various major settings in the movie, with each location yielding four sections. One section is usually a VFX reel, another is some on-set video about a specific gag, another is a photo gallery and a fourth is a talking head discussion.
Cozia Monastery – The four sections included at the Monastery are:
VFX Reel – Bats Battle (0:15) – This is a few passes at the various CGI bat clusters that are seen in the film.
VFX – The Fall (1:14) – This is a very short bit of video and interviews, covering how they shot a sequence where Vlad jumps from the top of the monastery.
Photo Gallery – (2:20) – This photo gallery is a collection of on-set shots of the actors at work on the Monastery set.
VFX Discussion – Bats – (1:31) – This is a very short bit of interview material covering how the VFX crew were able to use flocks of birds as a model for how they would present their CGI bat groups in motion.
Borgo Pass – The four sections included at the Pass are:
VFX Reel – Bats Battle (0:40) – This is a few passes at the various CGI bat and human clusters that are seen during a crucial battle sequence.
Vlad/Mehmed Fight (2:18) – This short featurette covers a key fight sequence in a tent between Luke Evans and Dominic Cooper.
Photo Gallery – (4:40) – This photo gallery is a collection of on-set shots of the actors at work in this area of the movie.
Dominic Cooper Interview – (1:21) – This is a quick interview with Dominic Cooper, conducted in the tent set while the climactic battle was being shot.
Castle Dracula – The four sections included at Castle Dracula are:
VFX Reel - Castle – (0:43) – This is a quick VFX reel of the passes used to create the exterior shots of Castle Dracula.
Photo Gallery - Art (1:30) – Here’s a photo gallery of the production design artwork for Castle Dracula.
Photo Gallery – On Set (4:20) – This photo gallery has shots of the cast at work at Castle Dracula.
Sarah Gadon Interview – (1:30) – Actress Sarah Gadon, who plays Vlad’s wife, is interviewed on the Castle Dracula set.
Broken Tooth Mountain – The four sections included at Broken Tooth Mountain are:
VFX Reel – Vampire Tongue (0:16) – This is a look at the passes needed to generate a shot of the Master Vampire sticking his tongue out impossibly far.
Photo Gallery – On Set (3:00) – This photo gallery has shots of the cast at work on the Broken Tooth set.
Broken Tooth Featurette – (2:24) – This quick featurette covers the work done on the Broken Tooth set, including a discussion about working with Charles Dance as the Master Vampire.
Interview and Footage – Charles Dance – (1:27) – This section focuses on the work of Charles Dance in the role of the Master Vampire.
DVD – The Blu-ray packaging includes the DVD edition, which holds the movie in standard definition with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in English, Spanish and French (@448 kbps), as well as the DVS track. The DVD includes the commentary and the following special features from the Blu-ray, albeit in standard definition: Day in the Life – Luke Evans, Dracula Retold, and Slaying 1000.
Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – The packaging has an insert that contains instructions for downloading a digital or ultraviolet copy of the movie.
Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.
Dracula Untold is an impressively produced epic that sadly lacks any substance at its core. More than anything else, it appears to be an attempt to combine the mythos of Dracula with the stylings of Game of Thrones. Sadly, these elements don’t gel and the movie winds up as an interminable series of battle sequences and CGI, leaving the viewer astonishingly bored for a movie that only runs about 90 minutes long. The Blu-ray is, like the movie, technically impressive in the picture and sound departments. It’s loaded with special features including a commentary and a host of materials. But there just isn’t anything here past the tecnnical aspects to justify spending the time watching the movie or the money to rent it.
Overall Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewed By: Kevin EK
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