Review: Dracula

Vampires just never seem to go away. Their popularity waxes and wanes but for the most part, they always crop up whenever they're needed. And Hollywood would never let us forget about the king of all the vampires (I'm using that metaphorically, by the way), Dracula. The creature that popularized vampires in fiction, Dracula has been reimagined by NBC for a new prime-time, Friday night show. This past Friday saw the airing of the pilot episode of the series and I was excited to watch it.

I like the approach the show takes with Dracula. Most Dracula retellings either remain completely true to Bram Stoker's timeless work, like the 1992 Dracula starring Gary Oldman, or completely bastardize the myth, like Dracula 2000. This new series sets Dracula in the 1890s, not unlike the original Bram Stoker novel, but the show is set wholly in London. He takes on the role of Alexander Grayson, an American Industrialist who is working on a grand invention that will revolutionize the world. It pretty much features the novel's cast of characters, including Jonathan Harker, who is a journalist for the vaguely named Inquisitor, Mina Murray, Harker's love interest and self-conscious student physician, and even Abraham Van Helsing, who is Mina's teacher.

After watching the first episode, I'm not really sure what's going on. It seems that Grayson/Dracula wants to take vengeance on a group called The Order of the Dragon. He uses his manservant, Renfield, to gather some of London's most powerful men, men he believes are part of the Order. This part makes sense to me. I can understand the desire to take down his enemies after what they did to him in the past, which we see glimpses of through a few flashbacks. I also kind of understand his way of getting that revenge, by attacking their source of income. He has created an unlimited source of wireless energy which he intends to give away, hurting the Order's control on the petroleum industry.

So we have that Dracula. But then we get another sort of Dracula, one that has evening rooftop sword battles and banging chicks in an opera house balcony. Oh, and that chick happens to be one of London's vampire hunters. It's like the writers meshed a classic revenge story with a few scenes from Twilight and made Dracula the lead character. Maybe they just needed to flesh out the pilot and make it more exciting to get picked up for a full season but it left me scratching my head wondering what the fuck was going on.

There was a lot of things that I liked in the show, like Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Dracula. Meyers has a certain intensity about him, one that he brings to most of his film roles. Despite being an Irish actor, he can pull off a fairly convincing American accent, though it does sound most non-locational. Where is Grayson supposed to be from? He doesn't have a Southern twang, he doesn't put two "O"s in "coffee" like a New Yorker, and he doesn't speak with an eyebrow-raising inflection like a Mid-Westerner. So even though his accent is passable, his portrayal would be more enjoyable if we would be able to pinpoint his origins. Maybe I'm overthinking this since he is supposed to be an Eastern-European pretending to be from America in England so he technically doesn't have roots in America and therefore shouldn't have a specific accent but I at least think it would add something to the role. He reminds me a lot of Stuart Townsend from Queen of the Damned which I know isn't a compliment but is the best I can compare his performance to. Other than that, his take on Dracula is decent, full of intense, smothering stares over a pencil-thin 'stache.

And a killer chin-strap.
Besides Meyers, the rest of the cast is mostly forgettable. Jonathan Harker, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, is written so incredibly dryly that I just couldn't care at all about him. In fact, the little snippets of dialogue he gets implies his lack of confidence so if he doesn't care about himself, why the hell should I? Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw) seems to be taking more of a pivotal role, acting as the source of Dracula's infatuation. The show implies that she somehow reminds Dracula of his long dead wife but from the way he's banging that blonde chick at the opera, it's tough to believe his candle burns that brightly for his wife. But whatever. She plays the role stiffly, her only clear character trait is that she loves Jonathan with all her heart and doesn't care that he's a lowly journalist. Yeah, it's not much of a character trait but it is only the first episode. I would hope that they both evolve past that but we don't really see any development in them in the pilot.

These two love each other. A lot. They will
never let you forget this fact.
The show is full of a bunch of other set-pieces, like Nonso Anozie as Renfield and Katie McGrath as Lucy Westenra, both of whom act as little more than outlets for exposition. I would imagine that would change going forward, actually I would hope it changes, but that has yet to be seen. There are also a bunch of characters with "Lord" in front of their names who have drawn the ire of Dracula and will probably act as the series antagonists. Most of them pretty much seemed interchangeable and I didn't bother to pay attention to their names.

Even though I was excited to see Dracula, I was sorely disappointed in the pilot episode. The show lacked focus and characterization, two things that I prefer to see in my entertainment. While I'm hoping the show just suffered from "premiere-itis" and will begin to level off as the season goes on, I just don't feel like my head would be in it to keep watching. I'll do my best to tune in next Friday night but who knows. I may have some big plans for then and may not be home.

Who am I kidding? I'll be home. If I don't watch, it'll be because I realized I didn't care enough.

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