Raw, Raving Review: Dracula Untold

Dracula

 

Movie Rating:  ∗ ∗  ∗  ∗  ∗

Warning:  Possible Spoilers Ahead!

When I first saw the trailer for Dracula Untold, I had to pick my jaw up from my chest…and then when I realized that Luke Evans — best known perhaps for his role as Bard in The Hobbit movies — would be playing the role, I immediately warmed up to the idea.  And finally, when I found out that the movie was mostly based around the setting of the real-life Vlad Dracula, I absolutely knew that my wife and I would be seeing this film!

We just got back from the movie, and I have to admit that we thoroughly enjoyed this film!  The movie, though only partially faithful to the historical figure better known as “Vlad the Impaler”, walked a thin line between fiction and reality maintaining its composure as a terrific historical action film.

As for the setting, the film was 100 percent accurate, according to the research that I’ve uncovered about Vlad the Impaler.  It takes place in Transylvania, where the real Dracula was exiled after being forced into exile by John Hunyadi, the Hungarian ruler who took control of his homeland in Wallachia, which had been ruled by his family since he had been born.

The film kept the following facts correct, lending great authenticity to the plot:

  • Dracula had been sent to live with the Turks in good faith of his father’s loyalty toward the Turks for helping him to maintain his reign over Wallachia.  However, the film does not mention that his younger brother had been sent with him.
  • The Turks required their subjects who ruled under their protection — Dracula included — to provide young men to fight battles in the name of their Sultan.
  • Dracula did indeed impale his enemies, leaving a battlefield full of corpses writhing on wooden and / or iron stakes until they died and eventually rotted.  When his enemies witnessed this carnage, his name  created fear that had even been known to make them turn tail and return from where they originally came.
  • The film correctly indicates that Dracula had impaled tens of thousands of enemies, cementing a terrifying reputation of a deranged leader.  But it puts all this in his past, though the worst of this appears to have happened later in his life up to the time he died.

However, the film did take creative license by establishing these fictional aspects of the film:

  • No one really knows what the real-life Dracula was like as a family man.  But this movie paints him as a very tender and caring husband and father.  When one reads about Vlad’s atrocities, it is easy to assume that none of this could possibly be true.  The real historical figure was very exacting, demanding, and often very spiteful and angry.
  • The movie, of course, deals with fictional monsters known as vampires.  It also — though very slightly — blends elements of Bram Stoker’s world-famous novel.
  • The film portrays Dracula’s wife as being pushed off one of the towers of Vlad’s castle.  But documented reports indicate that his first wife committed suicide by willfully jumping into the waters of the Arges River rather than to surrender to the turks.

The character of Dracula, though dramatically well-played by Evans, was little true to the real character in historical documents.  This guy was not only ruthless and angry, but he was also apparently borderline insane.  Many stories of atrocities abound about him.  Here are just a few:

  • At a feast held within the “Forest of the Impaled”, one of his servants were found by him, pinching his nostril to counter the stench of rotting bodies.  He supposedly impaled the poor fellow with a stake much larger than all the other ones occupied by dead enemy soldiers, telling him:  “Perhaps you won’t smell it from up there…”
  • Emissaries visited him once and were told to remove their hats.  Upon their refusal to do so (explaining that this was their custom) Vlad ordered their hats nailed to their heads.
  • Dracula enforced his own moral code within Wallachia.  Violators were tortured and / or impaled.  It was said that his rule was so brutal and fearsome that he managed to leave a golden cup worth excessive value on a pedestal within his township, and no one ever attempted to steal it.
  • A visitor to his court once complained that some of his goods were stolen within Vlad’s subject area.  The ruler ordered the subject be found and brought to him to face justice before replacing all the goods that were stolen, but adding one more similar single item than was actually taken.  The visitor returned the lone item, explaining that Dracula returned one too many items to him.  And the prince told him he should be very glad he returned it, for he would have impaled him had he not been honest enough to do so.

When you watch the film, you do not see any hint of this madman that I just described.  But this is perfectly fine.  The movie portrays Dracula as a selfless hero who believed in protecting his subjects, putting their lives above his own.  And it really works!

Luke Evans gives a commanding performance as the most famous vampire ever written.  Even though I feel Gary Oldman is a better overall actor, I think I prefer Luke Evans as Dracula.  And I feel that Luke Evans, when he gets to be Gary’s age, will be just as superb at the craft.  He’s going places.

Was the real Vlad Tepes Dracula a hero or a madman?  It really depends upon who you ask.  My wife and I asked a Romanian woman once what she thought about this.  She explained to us that the real life Dracula was a hero to his people, still revered to this very day.  Russian accounts seem to portray him as ruthless, maniacal, and borderline driven by a blood lust.

Thus, this film pretty much allows you to form your own opinion of the character, deciding who he really was after the events play out toward the surprising twist at the end.  It appears that there is going to be a sequel…the film certainly left the option open for it!

I highly recommend this movie and give it four out of five stars.  It only barely didn’t get the full five stars for the simple reason that I was not completely satisfied with the way he killed the main villain at the end of the film.  But it was certainly good enough to convince my wife and I to buy it when it comes to Blu-Ray!

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