Witness the origin story of one of legend's most captivating figures in the action-adventure, Dracula Untold. The year is 1462 and Transylvania has enjoyed a prolonged period of peace under the just and fair rule of the battle-weary Vlad III (Luke Evans), the prince of Wallachia. But when Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper) demands 1,000 of Wallachia's boys – including Vlad's own son – become child soldiers in his army, Vlad must enter into a Faustian bargain to save his family and his people. He gains the strength of 100 men, the speed of a falling star, and the power to crush his enemies. In exchange, he's inflicted with an insatiable thirst for human blood that could force him into a life of darkness and destroy all that he holds dear.
Although Universal has done a pretty poor job of marketing the fact, 'Dracula Untold' is supposed to be the beginning of a new series of studio releases based on their 'Classic Monsters'. However, the studio has claimed they're aiming for more of an action slant to these new films rather than a horror one, which certainly explains the plot of 'Dracula Untold' – which feels much more like an episode of Game of Thrones than it does a movie about the eternal prince of darkness.
The movie casts Luke Evans as Vlad Tepes, who was the real-life prince of Wallachia (modern-day Romania) in the mid-1400s. Although Bram Stoker's original novel had a couple of paragraphs that hinted at a connection between Vlad and his vampire alter ego (the name 'Dracula', in fact, comes from Vlad's father's name), it wasn't until scholarly books about Stoker's work that the suggestion emerged that Vlad and Dracula were one and the same. Even then, not many films touched upon this idea. It really wasn't until Jack Palance played Dracula in the early 1970s that Vlad figured into Dracula's on-screen origin story, which, of course, pretty much got solidified with Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version. The fact that Coppola did such a great job making Vlad/Dracula a tragic figure in his film actually works against 'Dracula Untold'. The only major difference being that Coppola tells Vlad's tragic tale in a few minutes, while 'Dracula Untold' uses the entire movie to tell the story.
The storyline borrows from actual history (minus, of course, the vampire stuff) as Vlad's kingdom is required to pay tribute to the powerful Ottoman empire by turning over 1,000 of their youngest males to be trained as soldiers. However, when they also demand Vlad's own son, he resists – killing one of the Ottoman soldiers during the exchange. Earlier in the movie, Vlad has had an encounter with an evil presence in a nearby cave, who turns out to be an ancient vampire (played by Charles Dance). Now with the Ottoman empire sure to storm his castle after his resistance, Vlad returns to the cave seeing assistance. The vampire offers to give his powers to Vlad for three days…if he can resist drinking blood in that time, he'll return to normal – if he can't, he'll be forever cursed with being a vampire.
Of course, the biggest problem with 'Dracula Untold' is that there's no suspense about the fate of any of these characters. We already know that Vlad is going to become Dracula, and by association, we can already figure out the fate of his wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon), as well as most of his other close associates and friends. As a result, even though the movie is well-made and decently acted, it's hard to invest in a story where we're already are aware of the results. This is the problem with most prequels, and it's even more of a problem with a story as familiar as Dracula's. In fact, a better title for this movie might have been 'Dracula Re-Told', or perhaps "Tell Me If You've Heard This One Before'.
The film is not without a few logical flaws along the way as well. Vlad/Dracula pretty much becomes all-powerful once he gains his powers, actually crushing whole armies by summoning thousands upon thousands of bats to swoop down on them. However, there are other scenes where he'll have trouble disposing of just one enemy – which doesn't make much sense, given his abilities. This is definitely one of those films that starts to unravel the closer you examine it, so my suggestion is not to think too hard about the logic and just enjoy the ride – you'll have more fun with it that way.
The best scene in 'Dracula Untold' is actually the final one, and one which the bonus materials on this release reveal to have been requested by the studio during re-shoots and not part of the original screenplay. I wouldn't dream of giving away what happens, but let's just say that even if you dislike most of what transpires in 'Dracula Untold', you'll still probably be anxious to see a sequel – if and when it should ever be made. There are a lot of good examples of movies ending where they should have begun, and 'Dracula Untold' is high on the list of such films. Even if you wind up hating everything that comes before, the movie is probably worth checking out just for those few final minutes.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Dracula Untold' rises onto home video in this Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The discs are entombed in a standard Elite keepcase, with the dual-layer DVD on the inside left and the 50GB Blu-ray on the inside right. A single insert contains the code for an UltraViolet and iTunes copy of the movie. A slipcover matching the artwork of the slick slides overtop the case.
Both the DVD and the Blu-ray are front-loaded with trailers for The Man with the Iron Fists 2, Ouija, DragonHeart 3, Dumb and Dumber To, 'Z Nation', Kill The Messenger, and The Scorpion King 4. The Blu-ray's main menu is the typical format used by Universal, with the image from the box cover along with menu selections running down the left side of the screen. The DVD main menu uses the same box cover image, with menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
In addition to the Blu-ray release noted here, Walmart is offering an exclusive steelbook version (with different cover art as well), which contains the same discs and digital code seen in this release. So the content is exactly the same, but the packaging is different.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
Unlike most big budget releases these days, 'Dracula Untold' has been shot on glorious 35mm film (using primarily Panavision Panaflex equipment) and the results are as beautiful as one might have hoped, with deep, rich colors that are oversaturated but never bleed (pardon the vampire pun) and a fine grain in the background of each shot. Black levels are deep and inky, which is a good thing, considering how many nighttime and darkened shots there are in the film. Detail is pretty strong throughout the movie, with some nice depth and clarity to the image. Flesh tones lean on the warm side of things (yes, even for the children of the night), but they're consistent throughout.
In terms of glitches or issues, there's nary one to be found. I saw no evidence of banding, aliasing, or over-sharpening of the transfer. This is a very good-looking Blu-ray.
The featured track here is an English 5.1 DTS-HD lossless one, that certainly has a lot of fun with the audio. There's a real immersive feel in many scenes, as sounds come from all around the home viewer. Directionality is in frequent use as well, as the many scenes that feature swarms of bats will swoop from one side of your home theater to another, then back again. LFE is also put to good use, with some low booming sounds often coming from one's subwoofer. This is a very active and very entertaining track all around.
There's really only one thing here that keeps the audio from getting a reference-quality score, and that's the fact that the dialogue – which is mainly, but not always, up front – is mixed slightly lower than the rest of the track. This is such a frequent issue with releases – particularly big budget efforts like 'Dracula Untold' – I often feel like I should just give up and stop complaining about it. But once again, having your remote control handy is important, as one may need to crank up the volume to hear 'Dracula Untold's quieter moments and/or turning the volume down a few notches during the big action sequences. Otherwise, the track is crisp, clear, and free of any other noticeable problems.
In addition to the lossless English audio, 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are available in both Spanish and French, as well as an English Descriptive Video Service track. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
'Dracula Untold' isn't quite good enough to recommend, but it's not totally dismissible, either. It's basically an attempt my Universal to turn Dracula into more of an anti-hero (anti-superhero would probably be a better description) as opposed to the villain he's always been. The movie has a story where the outcome is never uncertain and contains a lot of lapses in logic, but there's enough entertainment here to make it worth a look. Rent it.