If there’s one place Universal could truly make some big money at the box office it’s their classic monster franchises. With horror all the rage these days, they could all use an overhaul — even if the original films are still awesome — Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and even The Invisible Man. Are audiences up for accepting modern takes on such treasured icons? If the executives at Universal have their say, the answer is “Yes” whether they like it or not. Let’s just hope the rest of the films aren’t as passable as this weekend’s Dracula Untold, but at least it doesn’t, well, suck. And is now available in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack.
In this take on Bram Stoker’s classic tale, a voiceover informs us that in 1442, the Turkish army has taken control of all the young boys in Transylvania, including Vlad III Tepes. Fast forward to find a grownup Vlad (Luke Evans), now the prince, with a 10-year reign of peace about to come to an end. Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper) has ordered 1,000 boys to join his army, including Vlad’s only son Ingeras (Art Parkinson). In order to save the kingdom, Vlad heads to Broken Tooth Mountain to seek the power he needs from a demon/vampire (Charles Dance). Forced to drink the demon/vampire’s blood, Vlad now has the superhuman strength and ability to control bats and the weather to take down the approaching army. Something Vlad hopes to accomplish in the three days given him to either break the curse or feed on human blood and become the immortal mythical legend.
Dracula Untold doesn’t quite soar in its Blu-ray presentation, but it’s far from a slouch. Placed on a 50GB disc, it has plenty of room to stretch its wings, and the 2.35:1 aspect ratio is definitely an improvement on the theatrical presentation. When it was released back in October, the picture was muddy and dull, with no life to be found. On Blu-ray, detail is new and improved, both for better and worse. Better in that the blacks are deep and inky, with a few instances of intended crush, but worse in that it hinders a few of the CGI-filled sequences. However, it also makes some of those sequences look better. Colors are muted for the most part, but any action in the daytime is plenty lifelike, and some scenes, particularly the final battle between Vlad and Mehmed is oversaturated and too bright. However, there’s no banding, noise, aliasing, or ringing to be found either.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is just as impressive. Filled with plenty of ambiance pitting the viewer in the middle of the action, it also shows even more immersion whenever Vlad bursts into his flying bats incarnation. Every speaker gets put to full use, with plenty of deep bass for random jump scares and battle action. Dialogue is never drowned out and delivered clearly with a little bit of directionality added in. Additional audio tracks include: Spanish and French 5.1 DTS, and subtitles are available in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
The special features are mainly of the EPK (Electronic Press Kit) variety and become rather repetitious. Included are “Luke Evans: Creating a Legend” (19:46) which looks like it was meant as a scrapped picture-in-picture special feature with Evans speaking as literal as possible to what’s happening onscreen; “Alternate Opening” (2:11) features an optional commentary track with director Shore and Production Designer Francois Audouy who dismiss the scene as “too Errol Flynn” and delayed the story — wisely excised; six “Deleted Scenes” include “Vlad Finds Scattered Turkish Armor,” “Village – Babayaga,” “Vlad Mesmerizes Ismail,” “Vlad Kills Ismail,” “Vlad & Mirena: Blood Thirst,” and “Vlad & Cazani: Dead Boys.”
“Day in the Life: Luke Evans” (10:05) follows Evans on a day of shooting from getting picked up outside his own home to the end of the day; “Dracula Retold” (6:55) tries to make the viewer believe that some kind of actual history was woven through the story, but let’s face it, most of this is either myth or legend. “Slaying 1000” (5:03) gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the visual FX. And finally, “The Land of Dracula” is an interactive map taking you through “Cozia Monastery,” “Borge Pass,” “Castle Dracula,” and “Broken Tooth Mtn.” which is filled with short featurettes and FX breakdowns.
As much as I love my horror movies, my first sign of concern was when a TV spot finally informed me that Dracula Untold was given a PG-13 rating. Considering it looked like they were going for a dark, brooding atmosphere, I was hoping to see something along the lines of Braveheart or 300, and unfortunately, this was not the hoped for unrated Blu-ray. There are a couple of “ew” moments toward the end, but there’s something really lacking in the first hour. If you’re going to turn the character into an action hero, director Gary Shore and screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burksharpless should have at least given him something to do. Instead, Vlad spends most of the runtime trying to find ways to stay out of the sunlight, and finally flies into action come sundown.
The cast is better than average considering most of them look unfamiliar. Evans is usually pretty boring, but it appears he’s picked up a few tips from working with Peter Jackson in The Hobbit films. Cooper gets to camp things up and is really fun to watch in the few scenes he’s given. He is also the only one who uses the stereotypical Dracula accent; everyone else just sounds British. Things take a fun turn in the final half hour — don’t worry, it’s only 91 minutes! — when Vlad is forced to embrace his fate as the titular character. According to rumor there’s supposedly an Easter egg scene used to set up the Universal Monster Universe. If it’s the end scene right before the credits, people are going to walk away scratching their heads. If Legendary Pictures and Universal really want this new monster universe to work, they’re gonna have to step up their game, but at least you won’t walk out of Dracula Untold calling it: “Dracublah.” Featuring an above average video/audio presentation, with plenty of skippable extras, Dracula Untold ultimately feels like a lackluster episode of Game of Thrones with a vampiric subplot thrown in. This is for Dracula completists only.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00OALBUZY]