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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
"If the Church denounces you, when you die they will drive a steel spike into your heart as one of the Godless."
DVD ReviewThis made-for-television adaptation on 15th century Romanian prince Vlad Tsepes, otherwise known as Vlad The Impaler, tries to examine the life of the man whose violent actions would eventually become the basis for the literary legend and myth of Dracula. Be warned, though, that this is not a traditional vampire film, despite the fang-toothed image on the DVD cover art. In fact, at no point in Dracula: The Dark Prince does ANY character sprout a mouthful of pointy canines or morph into a bat.
The Tom Baum screenplay centers on the events that unfold after the Prince of Romania (Dan Badarau) refuses to pay tribute to an invading Turkish sultan (Claudiu Bleont). The sultan retaliates by murdering the Prince and kidnapping his two young sons (Vlad and Radu). While in captivity, the boys are separated, with a young Radu (Niels Brinks) serving as the sultan's protégé, while teen-aged Vlad (Dan Bordeianu) is imprisoned.
When a grown-up Vlad (Rudolf Martin) is freed, and finally able to return to Romania, he vows to get revenge for his father, and to restore the proper leadership to his home country. Along the way he meets and marries the lovely Lidia (Jane March), daughter of the treacherous nobleman Aron (Razvan Vasilescu). We learn much of the story through flashbacks, as Vlad retells his life as he is appealing for aid in front of a tribunal of shifty Orthodox religious leaders, led by Father Stefan (Peter Weller).
Director Joe Chappelle's Dracula: The Dark Prince plays largely like a straight-forward historical biopic, and not as a horror film. Did Vlad drink the blood of his enemies? Did he rise from the dead? Wisely, much of this element is treated as rumour and myth, and leaves it to the viewer to decide whether it occurred or not. It's not until the slightly forced climax that a sliver of the supernatural rears its head, but by then it seems woefully out of place.
Rudolf Martin (who once played Dracula on an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer) has the proper dark look to lend credence to the role, though he's not nearly as maniacal or threatening as Gary Oldman was in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Martin broods well, and with his fashionably long hair, sometimes comes across more like a catalog model than the bloodthirsty ruler of Romania. In small supporting roles, Roger Daltrey (as the King of Hungary) and Peter Weller mumble their lines under some comically bad wigs, while most of the other extras just stagger around with a hammy Renaissance Faire feel to them.
Production values were limited, considering it is a made-for-television feature, but Chappelle works things to his advantage. The dark look of the film is very well done, with torches and candles providing most of the lighting. The film also benefits from having been shot on location in Romania, so that there is the proper European feel to the sets and surroundings. The quick-cut battle scenes, chock full of swords and axes, are fairly violent, with plenty of bright red arterial blood flowing freely.
Historical drama or supernatural thriller? Dracula: The Dark Prince wants to be both, but ultimately becomes nothing more than a moody period piece with lots of sword battles and little in the way of palpable drama or suspense.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: Artisan has issued Dracula: The Dark Prince in its original 1.33:1 transfer. Most of the scenes here have a cold blue cast to them, especially the battle sequences. Fleshtones are rendered naturally, and look consistent throughout. Black levels are pretty solid, and shadow depth is adequate. Really no blemishes to speak of, though some of the night shots reveal minor pixelation and grain.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio transfer has a fairly pronounced bottom end, more so than I would have expected from a television movie. Horse hooves rumble nicely, and similarly serve as the source for some of the disc's primary imaging. Rear channel cues are minimal (mostly during the battle sequences), but when used are discrete and add some subtle depth to the sound field.
A surprisingly flat, 2.0 English stereo track is also provided. This mix lacks the more dominant rumble that is present in the 5.1 track.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Soul Survivors, Sleepless, The Calling, Deep In The Woods
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsA very nice looking, but lackluster made-for-television film that never becomes anything more than a vaguely supernatural biography of Vlad The Impaler, aka Dracula.
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