Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Dracula Untold; Nordor goes Transylvania

Dracula Untold might be the stupidest movie title of the year. It’s not untold at all; there the movie is, telling the story. "But, but, but," splutter the movie’s Renfields, sorry I meant to say producers, "it’s a story which has never been told before.” At which point I decapitate them with a sharpened DVD copy of Frank Ford Coppola’s Dracula I carry for specifically this purpose, and the argument has ended as all arguments with idiots have to end.

So, Dracula, Haven’t We Heard This Before? is crippled coming out the gates. This is not a new story. This isn’t even a particularly new take on an old story. It isn’t even a new and improved version of something which a hack did years ago and which might benefit from new eyes and voices. This is a feature length version of the historical flashback in Coppola’s Dracula and pretty much every other movie which has ever tried to pad the running time with a a bit about Dracula’s training wheels years. (Honourable exception, the completely insane one where Dracula turns out to be Judas Iscariot using an assumed name only slightly less hated than Judas).

So here we are in a world where only acting and good writing will save us. Naturally, the producers turned instead to special effects and discount Orlando Bloom himself, Luke Evans. Luckily they were shooting in Nordor, so they could ring Charles Dance (who suddenly had a hole in his schedule along with the hole Tyrion Lannister put in his abdomen) to class things up a little, and for those of you who’ve been wondering where the hell Rickon Stark got to, he’s playing Dracula’s son. After that, the producers of Game of Thrones locked the cast back into their trailers and the Dracula - Untold team had to get the rest of their talent from elsewhere, which if nothing else gave Luke Evans his first chance in a long time to be the second best performer in a motion picture, even if it was only this one.

But wait, I hear you say. This was shot in Nordor? After a decade of crummy bits of Eastern Europe standing in for half the planet including Medieval England, a movie actually set in Eastern Europe was shot in Nordor? Yup. I admit, few people can stand in Nordor, drink in the atmosphere and NOT think “This place reminds me of Transylvania on a wet bank holiday in the 1950s.”, but when you could have shot the movie in the real Transylvania for half the price? Of course, only last week I saw a movie set in Belfast in 1971 which was shot in Yorkshire. The Yorkshire Tourist Board must have just loved that one. Come to Yorkshire! It’s just like Belfast was like, 30 years ago. I bet they all put on their biggest flattest caps and went dahn to throw paraffin heaters through the windows of t' Yorkshire Film Promotion Board.

Since it’s doctrine that all vampire movies are a metaphor for society’s worries, I had to fight the temptation to see Dracula - Untold’s plot as echoing some of the wonderful texture of Nordor’s history. But bloodthirsty maniacs making pacts with evil in an existential struggle with other bloodthirsty maniacs and succeeding only in ruining their entire country for generations - that’s pure Transylvania. Nordor will have to tell its own story. And so I concluded that Dracula - Untold was yet another allegory about the travails of the world’s most misunderstood superpower. Dracula makes a pact with evil, in an effort to save freedom. Dracula fights his enemies using airpower, in the form of clouds of weaponised bats. Dracula’s enemies are vast hordes of Muslims who hate his freedoms, although he’s had dealings with them in the past. To beat the vast hordes, Dracula must turn to his own hordes of evil auxiliaries, who turn out to be even more trouble than the vast hordes were in the first place. And when it’s all over, Dracula’s made a desert and called it peace. 

Mind you, his enemies are idiots. When Mehmet Bey hears that Dracula has fear-inspiring powers, he decides that "men can’t fear what they can’t see", and marches his army towards Dracula blindfolded. Men have been fearing what they can’t see since about twenty minutes after the invention of fear, so Mehmet Bey is with that one sentence the stupidest fictional commander of anything, ever. Backed up, as idiots so often are, by some really talented middle managers, since the men actually manage to march to their deaths, sorry, I meant destination, even with the blindfolds. As the bodies start to pile up, it’s worth pondering the strategic brilliance at work. Dracula has started this fight over Mehmet Bey’s demand for a thousand boy soldiers to train up as Janissaries. Within a matter of days, Mehmet’s lost more soldiers than he was looking to draft, and he ups the ante by boldly saying “Send 100,000 more!” On the one hand, he already HAD 100,000 soldiers and a plan to invade Europe and still let himself get distracted by one bozo who wouldn’t give him 1,000 trainees? And on the other hand, he could march 100,000 soldiers into position in just over a day. That’s slightly less believable than vampires. We live in a world with Goldman Sachs, so vampires don’t seem like much of a stretch.  But 100,000 man armies marching across Transylvania in a day? It would take a day for the back of the column to get to where the front started out from.

Hiding in the margins of all this bombast, Charles Dance is running a one-man trailer for the movie they should have made, "The Adventures of the Dude Who Turned Dracula and What He Did Next". And judging by the epilogue, that might be coming out one of these days. Charles Dance gets about ten minutes of screen time and the movie’s last line (“Let the games begin.”) and pretty much undercuts the other 80 minutes without even breaking a sweat. Someone had to make Dracula what he is today; Dance makes that someone a lot more interesting than Dracula. I wanted to see more of that. That’s the story they should have, you know, TOLD.

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