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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Simplistic TV: Dracula: Premiere Episode

ORDINARY
Hey!  You know what the entertainment world needs more of?  Vampires!!!  I'm sorry.  My sarcasm is turned up to eleven because I'm a little jaded.  This will probably sound like an old man boring his grandchildren about the "Good Old Days", but I truly long for the days when vampires were frightening, bloodthirsty monsters.  The days when they were wolves in sheep's clothing, and that clothing wasn't True Religion jeans or Tom Ford suits.  The days they plucked at the entrails of their victims, not their own body hair.  The days of Blade, Bram Stoker, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  I know I'm not covering any new ground here.  No one can argue that over the past decade, Hollywood's use of vampires has...well...sucked.  Oh, there are some outliers.  However, for every Let The Right One In, there's a fifth sequel to Twilight.  For every Angel, there's a Vampire Diaries.   Even True Blood has steadily declined into nothing more than an oversexed softcore porn film set at a Louisiana college frat's Halloween party.  (Seriously, I'm more afraid of the city of Compton than Bill Compton.)  Now NBC, with all the timing of a Jay Leno punchline, tries to pick the bones of this dead genre with a show about the king of all vampires.  A show about Dracula.

Dracula comes to us from Cole Haddon and HBO's Carnivale creator Daniel Knauf.  The show centers around Dracula, going by the name Alexander Grayson, as he hunts down the members of an evil Illuminati-esque organization in 19th Century England.  That concept might sound interesting on paper.  However, when Dracula explains his reasons why, something feels a bit strange.  I mean, he is a vampire after all.  It works when a Hannibal Lecter punishes people he finds disgusting, but here it's like watching Freddy Krueger take out members of Halliburton.  I know it's an attempt to place Dracula in the sympathetic protagonist role.  Though, after watching the first episode, I'm not sure if it totally works.  No matter how evil of an organization it is, no matter what they did to Dracula (I won't spoil it), do you really think he'd have any difficulty taking them down in about eight seconds?  Do you really think we as an audience can look at them in a light harsher than that of a demonic creature that randomly slaughters innocent people?  Hypocrisy aside, I hope Knauf and Haddon don't end up neutering the character in an attempt to make us like him.  We like him because he's a wicked, deadly, unscrupulous creature of the night, not some mopey introvert. 

There are some positives I took away from the premiere.  First, Dracula doesn't sparkle in the sunlight, he burns.  Thankfully, most of the traditional vampire motifs are back at play here.  Secondly, it is pretty graphic for a show on NBC.  The limitations broadcast television presents hasn't seemed to hinder the bloodshed.  Third, the show looks very expensive.  Making a show a period piece tends to shoot the budget up a few million dollars.  That's something networks usually shy away from or alter into modern day re-imaginings.  (See Elementary & Sherlock)  NBC says that Dracula will be a limited series for now, which may account for the liberal use of elaborate costumes, sets and locations. 

In regards to performances on Dracula , this show is totally a John Rhys Meyers vehicle.  I think he's a solid actor and I'm happy to see him in something for mass American audiences.  His run on The Tudors and a brief role in Mission Impossible 3 had him poised to be a big star at one point.  (We're not gonna talk about From Paris With Love)  As Dracula, Rhys Meyers is good.  He has the charm, the air of mystery and brings the appropriate...um...bite when the character needs it.  Sadly, everyone else in the cast stands out as well as wooden furniture in a log cabin.  The closest you get to a pulse is Nonso Anozie as Renfield and Victoria Smurfit as Lady Jayne Wetherby.  They appear to be having fun with their parts and relish every bit of the setting.  No one else manages to grab your attention.  Even Thomas Kretschmann's Van Helsing feels ORDINARY and boring.  To be completely fair, Francis Ford Coppola did have in Bram Stoker's Dracula a British speaking Keanu Reeves and a supposedly sultry Winona Ryder.  So, glass houses and all that.  But the gulf between fun acting to forgettable acting wasn't as large as it is on this show.

As a whole, Dracula does try and put some of the teeth back into the vampire genre.  However, it doesn't really grab you as much as it should.  A television show focusing on the origins of the most famous monster ever should feel like more of an epic experience.  This show only winds up feeling kind of ORDINARY.  With its expensive budget and its Friday night time slot of death, I fear Dracula is not long for this world.  Bring your garlic...and your crosses...and your holy water...and your overly elaborate staking methods...watch it...then tell me I'm wrong. 

2 comments:

  1. I skipped this because I feared it would be exactly as you describe it. Shame. I was lamenting about the state of the vampire just last week...and made a list...
    http://dellonmovies.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-best-vampire-movies-since-2000.html

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    1. It's not the worst show of all time or anything. It's just unremarkable in every single way. With source material like Dracula...you should be able to at least keep our attention. Instead we get a vampire version of The Great Gatsby. No thanks. Appreciate the read and the comment. Your list is pretty good by the way.

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