Thursday, 14 January 2016

Dracula Untold (4½ Stars)

"Sometimes the world no longer needs a hero. Sometimes what it needs is a monster".

Something I always tell my friends is not to rely on the reviews they read of a film. Go to the cinema and watch it for yourself. Maybe you'll love a film that the critics hate. Maybe you'll hate a film that the critics love. Make your own mind up. This film is a good example. It received generally negative reviews, but I didn't let that put me off. In the cinema I loved it. I loved it so much that I had to own it on Blu-ray.

I suspect that most people who criticised the film didn't like it because it wasn't the film that they expected. It has "Dracula" in the title, but it's not the same cruel monster that we've seen in countless films for the last 90 years. This Dracula is a good man who loves his wife, his son and the people he rules over. It's the man be know as Vlad Tepes from the 15th Century. He was the man who fought against the Turkish conquerors who wanted to make the whole of Europe an Islamic nation.

The film begins with an uneasy peace. Vlad's kingdom has been paying a yearly tribute to the Turkish sultan in exchange for peace. Then the Turks decide to break the treaty. In addition to the usual payment in silver they want 1000 Transylvanian boys to fight in the Turkish army, including Vlad's own son. Vlad refuses to accept these terms, even though the Turkish army is much bigger than his own.

In order to defeat the Turks, Vlad visits an ancient vampire who lives in a cave and asks to be made a vampire. As is typical in vampire films, the vampire mythology is rewritten. In the old films people became vampires simply by being bitten. The new paradigm, presented by Anne Rice in her novels, is that you become a vampire if another vampire drinks your blood, then lets you feed on his blood to replace your own. The variation in "Dracula Untold" is that you become a vampire by drinking a vampire's blood, whether or not you've been bitten. The vampires in "Dracula Untold" are weakened by silver, but not killed. However, the biggest novelty in the film's mythology is the trial period for new vampires. After becoming a vampire you remain a vampire for three days. If you drink human blood within those three days you remain a vampire forever. If you don't, you revert to being a human after three days.

Vlad accepts the trial period, because he thinks that three days is long enough to conquer the Turkish army. Unfortunately he's wrong.

Like Evans is excellent in the title role. We see a good man who is being torn apart by the evil that he feels growing inside himself. He's chosen to become a monster in order to save the people he loves. Are good ends justified by bad means? That's the question we have to ask ourselves after watching the film. It's more than just doing bad to achieve good. It's a matter of a man becoming bad to achieve good.

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