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Vampires and Robots: A look at ‘Dracula Untold’ and ‘Autómata’

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SYMPATHETIC ROBOTS: Antonio Banderas stars as Jacq Vaucan in the admirable sci-fi film “Autómata.” Courtesy photo.

I’ve been writing columns and reviews for many years, and in that time, there hasn’t been a lot of variety in what I do. That is probably as much a failing of the stagnant nature of criticism as it is my lack of forward progress to take it somewhere new. I’m looking to change that this week by expanding focus on what kind of movies I cover. I’m still a guy who loves going to the theater to watch movies, but we exist in a world where movies are being streamed and made available in other venues. The goal of a critic is to offer an opinion, but I think the best writers have always been the ones willing to challenge their audience.

Going forward, every weekly, I’m going to delve into the new movies, available both in theaters and in our own living rooms, in hopes of exposing readers to a variety of flicks that may be worth watching. If anything, this age of digital cinema transforms how we watch movies. 

Dracula Untold

Starring Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper and Sarah Gadon
Directed by Gary Shore • Rated PG-13

I’m an old-school monster-movie junkie, weaned on films like Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula” and Lon Chaney’s “The Mummy.” “ Phantom of the Opera,” “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “The Wolfman”: These were the foundation for my future love of the horror genre.

Over the past decade, we’ve watched our scariest cinematic monsters transform into sparkling vampires and lovestruck werewolves. Hollywood has de-fanged these horrors with the subtlety of a three-fingered dentist, and it’s about damn time we got a proper Dracula movie. Unfortunately, “Dracula Untold” is not it.

I admire the plucky spirit of “Dracula Untold.” There’s a real attempt at world-building, but the film suffers from the weighty tropes of the origin story and comes on way too strong at trying to be epic. There also are a few scenes that betray any sense of seriousness that ultimately undermine the story.

The story follows the adventures of Vlad Tepes, a young boy trained to be a soldier who ultimately becomes the prince of Transylvania—a territory that lies between the Turkish empire and the rest of Europe. When the Turkish Army orders Vlad to give up 1,000 young boys to be trained for their army, he quickly realizes how unprepared he is to take on their forces and denies their request. When they refuse to leave peacefully, Vlad seeks out an ancient evil being that lives in a nearby cave. He is given the gift of dark blood, which allows him to have vampire powers for a short time. Vlad is able to kick a whole lot of ass thanks to the power of the night. He is given the choice of returning to human form or drinking human blood to become the ultimate prince of darkness.

The audience is supposed to buy the fact that Vlad (Luke Owen) is a tortured, benevolent leader, willing to give up his humanity to save his family and kingdom. The movie takes pains to justify his choices, but it tries too hard to have its blood and drink it, too. I prefer a Dracula who does terrible things to get what he wants and lacks any goodness. Adding that layer makes it feel like the creative team is trying too hard to make the character likable.

Big mistake.


Available on iTunes, Amazon Prime, and On Demand
Starring Antonio Banderas, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and Dylan McDermott
Directed by Gabe Ibáñez • Rated R

The future is going to suck. Yes, I use that line a lot. Mainly because so many movies are based in this terrible, dirty future where the world rests perilously on the precipice of destruction. The world of “Autómata,” a new science-fiction thriller, is no different thanks to solar radiation, which makes much of the planet uninhabitable. Robots have become the primary workforce and a staple of everyday life.

Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) is a claim-adjuster for the company that manufactures the robots. They are designed not to harm their human masters, but this is a movie, and if we’ve learned one thing over the years, robots are going to rise up and put their hydraulic foots up our human asses.

However, the robots of “Autómata” are more sympathetic. When Jacq finds of robots being altered and their primary programming being tampered with, he seeks to discover if there is someone behind this outbreak of rash robot behavior or if something else is happening. Perhaps these robots are repairing themselves and digitally evolving into something more than the sum of their programming.   

There’s a lot of Asimov at work here. In fact, the whole movie feels like a story from a science-fiction compendium in the ‘70s. It’s a movie that wants to ask tough questions on a small budget. I think I admired “Autómata” more than I liked it. Still, I was entertained throughout. It’s equal parts pulp and sci-fi and more interesting than a lot of other movies
I’ve seen this year.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. stefano

    October 29, 2014 at 9:42 am

    It seems that the reviewer of the Dracula film is either unaware of or choosing to avoid analogy in art. Dracula Untold is a Christ analogy froth with artistic allusions to this archetypal legend. Dracula, like Christ, is pained by the plight of his people, he makes the ultimate sacrifice of himself for them. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting (God reaching to Man), breaking the bread with his son-an obvious allusion to ‘communion’, as well as the drinking of blood from the skull cup – are all very clear allusions to Christianity. The belief in life after death, heaven and hell, is the orthodoxy of the Church. Dracula, after drinking the blood, is awakened in the water of baptism, anew, – a reversal to the Christian story, but clearly the poetry is there. The innocence of Dracula’s wife and the plunge into ‘hell’ by Dracula is the story of the Pistis Sophia, a book of the bible of Gnostic text discovered in 1773. In the Pistis Sophia, the Woman is tricked by the small light of Lucifer and Christ descends down into hell to save Her, since her error was in innocence. The sequel should set strait these rather convoluted allusions, albeit an artistic trick well worth waiting for.

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