Judge Gordon Sullivan hopes this Dark Prince never returns.
Death is eternal. Love is forever.
The Twilight saga has pretty much demonstrated that there are an infinite number of vampires tales waiting out there. If you can make blood suckers sparkle and swoon over teenagers, then you can make any kind of vampire flick you want and make it work. Even sticking to the Dracula myth specifically and its historical roots in the figure of Vlad Teppish, there are still so many stories to tell that it boggles the brain. Still, when the subject comes up, the same ideas get recycled time and time again. The Dark Prince takes the Dracula myth but instead of transporting Vlad to Victorian England the film gives us a story of a Dracula who's only 100 years old but still pining over the reincarnation of his lost love and still battling a guy named Van Helsing. It's not terrible, but The Dark Prince never rises above mediocrity.
While he's away fighting the demon Turks, Dracula (Luke Roberts, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) leaves his wife in charge of his kingdom. His advisors have other plans, and though Dracula is victorious on the battlefield, he returns to his castle to find his wife slain. He curses god, denouncing him and in return is cursed with eternal life and a thirst for blood. One hundred years later, he finds Alina (Kelly Wenham, Good), a Crusader who Dracula becomes convinced is the reincarnation of his lost love. He begins to pursue her, though the hunter Van Helsing (Jon Voight, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) gets in the way.
The film opens with quite a bit of promise. A woman narrates the story of Dracula's fight against the Turks, his appointment of his love as administrator in his absence, and their betrayal before Dracula curses God and becomes Dracula. In between live-action scenes, we get cutaways to action in comic-book format with two-dimensional drawings that are cut-out to give them depth. It's a really neat effect that I've seen in a number of low-budget features. It raises the overall production value with a slick look while also allowing the film to get away with a bigger sense of scope. After all, it's much easier to draw the Turkish hordes than it is to convincingly shoot them in person on a low budget.
Once we know Dracula is cursed, the film skips forward 100 years to begin the usual "lost love and Van Helsing" plot. However, this opening contains what's good and not good about the film.
On the plus side it looks really cool. You've got dudes in medieval-style armor, there's hacking and slashing, and the comic book effect is really well done. This attention to detail is kept up throughout the film, with a good-looking CGI castle and good production design throughout the film.
On the other hand, we've really seen this story before, and that's obvious from the first scene. Though Francis Ford Coppola went all romantic and had Dracula's lover kill herself in despair rather than fall to conspiracy, the opening to Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula and Dracula: The Dark Prince are remarkably similar, right down to the raging Dracula denouncing God. Luke Roberts is a fine enough actor, but in a comparison with Gary Oldman in a scene where they're playing crazy, it's really hard to top him. More importantly, the rest of the film pretty much follows a path you can map out from that first scene and even a cursory knowledge of other vampire films. Most damning, though, is that opening scene sets up viewers for a film that The Dark Prince can't really deliver. The comic book transitions stop after that first scene, and from then on, the film looks like the lower-budget vampire flick it is, even if the generic European locations elevate it a bit over backlot horror fests.
The DVD itself, however, is good. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is sharp and detailed. Though there's obviously some shot-on-location material, much of the film takes place on fairly shallow sets. That means the film gets away with having period detail on a lower budget, and we get to see that detail in this transfer. Colors are well-saturated, and black levels are consistent, if not as deep as they could be in some scenes. No compression artefacts or digital problems crop up to mar the image. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is equally strong. Dialogue is clean and clear up front, and the film's score sounds like it's for a much bigger movie coming through the surrounds.
Extras stat with a commentary featuring Pearry Teo, who talks at length about the production, how numerous shots were achieved, and the background to the project. The only problem is that he has a pretty thick accent, and his commentary isn't mixed well with the audio of the film so many listeners will struggle to separate his words from the dialogue to make sense of them. We also get 8 minutes of interviews with the cast, and a short featurette on the castle that is one of the film's centerpieces.
Dracula: The Dark Prince isn't an awful vampire film, but not even the presence of Jon Voight can overcome a script that includes too much we've seen before. You might get hooked by the opening scene, but it's merely an empty promise. Fans of vampires or the actors should consider giving this one a rental as long as expectations are kept in check.
Not guilty, but far from eternal.
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