Monday, October 28, 2013

halloween marathon: dracula

Friday night premiered a re-vamped (ha) Dracula, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the bloodthirsty count. Except he may not be a count in this version. Or reboot. Or mish-mash. Dracula was completely ridiculous, mixing vampire lore from previous movies, a Buffy-esque female slayer, Steampunk-inspired Victorian modernity, Tesla and Edison references, and some ninja-fighting on London rooftops. It was also a complete hoot, and I will definitely be tuning in for more vampy hijinks.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Dracula — let him in.

Fans of the Bram Stoker epistolary novel (like myself) will be happy that Victorian London is once again the main setting for the series, but they might want to let their familiarity with the rest of the original plot go and just sit back and enjoy the ride, as Dracula uses all the same major characters, but presents them in very different ways.

Warning: some spoilers abound if you haven't caught the first episode ...

Dracula (Rhys Meyers) is awakened from the dead and turns up in London in 1896 (a year before Stoker's novel was published — coincidence?), posing as a rich American named Alexander Grayson. Sporting an "Uhmuhrrican" accent, Grayson is on a mission to bring free electricity to the world, and crush a secret syndicate known as The Order of the Dragon, which makes its riches on petroleum. Note: "Dracul" means "Dragon." Sitting here in the modern still-petroleum-based world we may see Drac/Grayson as less of a visionary than a crazed idealist, especially when it is revealed that The Order has doing its bad deeds for centuries, and are responsible for the death of Drac's wife. Revenge is his main motivation, and throat ripping and blood-drinking aside, he is a sort of hero, so far.

Grayson holds a big party inviting all the rich snobs of London, where we meet the rest of the cast:
Renfield - Nonso Anozie (Xaro Xhoan Daxos from Game of Thrones) is impressive as Dracula’s handler and confidante. It's kind of nice to see a Renfield who isn't obsequious and constantly whining "Master, Master!" while trying to catch flies for lunch. But I wouldn't rule out a growing appetite for bugs as the series progresses.  
Mina Murray - In a nod to Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mina is the spitting image of Drac's long-lost love of his life. So far the actress (Jessica De Gouw) playing Mina is a little on the dull side. Paging Winona!  
Lucy Westenra - It took me a moment to recognize Katie McGrath (Morgana from Merlin) as a blonde. She is so far presented as Mina's outspoken friend, and very aware of Grayson's (so far unrequited) charms. She (the actress and character) has a lot more personality than Mina (sigh). Movies based on Stoker's book have mixed up the girls and their relation to Drac, so anything goes here.
The supporting cast, CW: Thomas Kretschmann, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Nonso Anozie, Victoria Smurfit, and Katie McGrath.
Jonathan Harker - Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a journalist in this version, as well as Mina's insecure boyfriend. It's not clear if his being a journalist will have any payoff for the story yet, although it did offer the opportunity for a beautifully-lit daytime interview scene in Grayson's manse, where Rhys Meyers had to dodge enormous rays of sunlight. 
Lady Jayne Wetherby - Victoria Smurfit plays a vampire hunter (not from Stoker's novel, and where did those other London vamps come from if Dracula has been asleep for 400 years?) who likes to sport a lot of cleavage. She is immediately hot for Grayson (and who can blame her?), and not shy about turning thought into action.
Abraham Van Helsing - In the biggest twist of the night Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann), who also lectures at the medical school where Mina is a student, turns out to not be the ultimate Dracula foe, but the hooded figure who woke him up in the opening scene. If anything he, not Drac, may be the architect of the grand revenge quest, as he also has an axe to grind against The Order of the Dragon. We'll see how smoothly their partnership plays out in future.

Mina (Jessica De Gouw) and Dracula — hopefully their relationship (and she) will become more interesting as the series progresses.

Dracula looks great, as does Rhys Meyers. I'm not sure how long he will keep up the American accent. But then, switching to British (for this native-born Irishman) wouldn't be exactly right, either, would it? Will we get flashbacks in a Transylvanian accent? When I first heard that Rhys Meyers would play Dracula, I was both excited and disappointed for the actor. Here he was again, in a larger-than-life role, after his turn as Henry VIII in The Tudors. Is he destined to always play the outsiders, the weirdos? Maybe. He is clearly having fun with the part, focusing his smoldering gaze on every cast member, as a predator would his prey. There are also hints that like Angel and other more modern vamps, he might want to eventually shake off his vampiric existence and lead a "normal" life.

The filmed-in-Budapest Dracula has definitely taken the "throw everything into the pot" approach. So far, it's done with flair, color and humor, and a minimum of splatter. Just enough. We'll have to wait and see what rises to the surface, but I'm on board for this (so far 10-episode series) as long as the extremely watchable Rhys Meyers is involved. Invite him in.


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