After watching the made for television "Dracula: The Dark Prince," I am still not entirely sure on my thoughts of the film. I found the story absolutely fascinating and welcomed with open arms the true story of Vlad Dracula, the man who would become immortalized by Bram Stoker as a bloodsucking vampire from Transylvania. The true story of the man called "Vlad the Impaler" was interesting enough to keep me glued to the television set and I found the production to be good, however, it certainly could have been better and became a little long in the tooth (pun intended) at times. This is a story that would make an incredible three-hour epic on the silver screen, and the filmmakers should be given credit for tackling the story, but I personally feel more justice could be done for this Romanian hero.
Everybody knows the story of Dracula and how he has big pointy fangs and lusts for the taste of human blood. This story has been told cinematically more times than Godzilla has seen bad sequels. It is a very common story and everybody is well aware of the story before they are able to do arithmetic. However, many people are not aware that Count Dracula was actually a Romanian Prince who freed his people from the Turkish horde with ruthlessness and cruelty that the world had not seen since the days of Nebuchadnezzar. He was a vicious man who would skin his enemies alive and let them die pierced on a large wooden stake. Dracula was a man who was able to bring peace to his people through sheer terror. He earned the name Vlad the Impaler because of his viciousness, but even today he is still seen as a hero.
Rudolf Martin ("Swordfish," "Bedazzled") portrays Vlad Dracula in a fairly inspired performance that lacks the emotion and conviction you would expect from such a personality, but with enough character to hold the audience's interest for the hour and a half running time of the film. Veteran actor Peter Weller is Father Stefan and gives a performance typically expected from him. I do not feel that either actor is horrible in their roles, but had they given more passion to their roles, it would have kept the film livelier during the tedious character development scenes and spiced up the rest of the film a good deal. Their acting is passable.
The film plays through flashbacks. Father Stefan is interviewing Vlad Dracula on his questionable tactics and the horrible ‘myths' surround him. He has brought freedom to the Romanian people by siding with the Roman Catholic Church, and the religious body of Romania wants him to end his allegiance to the Hungarian church. As Father Stefan and Vlad discuss in detail the allegations and myths surrounding him, they are shown in flashback. The manner in which the story is interesting, but suffers because of the lack of emotion portrayed by Martin. The story never rises to any emotional plateaus, but the mechanisms for a great telling of the Vlad history are certainly in place.
This was produced for cable television. There is some nudity and plenty of blood and gore. Guts and people on large pointy sticks are very prevalent. Some images could be quite disturbing to younger folk. I was quite impressed by the mature content contained in "Dracula: The Dark Prince" and watching this film, I never got the "this is a television film" feeling. The sets were certainly not grandiose, but the costumes and makeup were very good for the budget this was produced at and overall, "Dracula: The Dark Prince" rose above what is typically expected for this sort of film. Granted, it is only two years old and television films are becoming more and more expensive, but I feel the production values are above average. Still, I would love to see this film produced by Paul Verhoeven.
It looks as though Artisan once had greater plans for the DVD release of "Dracula: The Dark Prince." Details given by Image-Entertainment's website list this DVD as a Special Edition. It appears that the title was once expected to be displayed in widescreen and include an audio commentary. The lack of a widescreen image is disheartening, but considering the film was produced for television, it is more than likely shown in a 1.33:1 full frame transfer that would have been soft-matted to produce a widescreen image. The full frame transfer is pretty good. Detail is good and the image is clean. Colors are plentiful in "Dracula: The Dark Prince" and they are perfectly saturated. Some haloing was present around edges and film grain can be heavy at and distracting at times, but they are the only real complaints I have with the transfer. It was better than I expected.
Artisan has provided both a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround mix. The 5.1 channel soundtrack is marginally better than the 2.0 channel mix, and nearly all of the improvement is found in the .1 LFE channel, which pounds nicely throughout the entire film. Most of the sound provided by the DVD comes through the center channel, except during battles scenes and when the cinematic score echoes through all three front channels. The rear surrounds are used sparingly and not very noticeable. Dialog is clear. The heavy use of the LFE channel was a bit surprising and added life to the 5.1 mix that sometimes needed it. Spanish subtitles and English closed captions are included as well.
Had the special edition DVD been produced, there would have been a commentary by director Joe Chappelle. However, the disc did not come to fruition. It is not devoid of supplements, just thin. A short red band Trailer for "Dracula: Dark Prince" is included, as are Sneak Peak trailers for "Soul Survivors," "Sleepless," "The Calling," "Deep In The Woods." Most of these I have previously reviewed. Director and Cast Filmographies and a Photo Gallery consisting of twenty-odd still frames from the film finish off the supplements that pay homage to one of the most dynamic personalities in European history. I would like to mention that the packaging shows the typical vampire image of Dracula. Shame on Artisan for this artwork!
I find the true story of Vlad Dracula extremely interesting. I truly intend to further my knowledge of this man. The made-for-television film, "Dracula: The Dark Prince" offers an elementary understanding and back story to the man known as Vlad the Impaler, but also a man known as a hero and a savior. Artisan has delivered this passable film to the masses on DVD, but done so in a basic package that features no real supplements and a good but far from spectacular transfer. I would really like to learn more about Vlad, the man and his methods. This gave me a good start.