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Dracula Untold
  • Composed by Ramin Djawadi
  • Backlot Music / 2014 / 60m

There haven’t been nearly enough Dracula movies, so it’s with great joy and anticipation that the world welcomes Dracula Untold, which is actually not yet another movie version of Bram Stoker’s novel but instead tells the famous character’s origin story.  It stars someone who looks even more like Orlando Bloom than Orlando Bloom does, Luke Evans, and is directed by Gary Shore.  The film is being positioned as the launchpad for the new “Universal Monsters” franchise, which will see new versions of the studio’s classic characters from Hollywood’s golden age.

Despite the inexplicable popularity of his unforgivably bland scores for Game of Thrones, it’s fair to say that the announcement of Ramin Djawadi as a film’s composer doesn’t really set too many pulses racing.  In fairness, in recent times there have been some signs of improvement – last year’s Pacific Rim was no masterpiece, but undoubtedly his finest score to date.  Dracula Untold flits around between pretty insipid territory and sometimes something more akin to the Pacific Rim quality, which experts have described as “not that bad.”

Ramin Djawadi

Ramin Djawadi

The soundtrack album opens with a prologue, guttural whispering obviously pilfered from Wojciech Kilar’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (one of the best scores for this character) playing over a bass-enriched electronic backdrop, the choir gradually moving from whispering to shouting.  I hate to say it, but Djawadi trying to be Kilar is really not a very good idea, exposing his weaknesses all too obviously and sounding very much like someone completely out of his depth.  He’s still ripping off the same score, albeit a different aspect of it, in the second cue (“Dracula Untold”), with a theme blatantly inspired by Kilar’s, but he does this time venture into far safer territory by placing it in a standard Remote Control action setting, building a veritable cacophony of synthy noise (as usual, the real orchestra sounds cheap and sampled).  Surprisingly, by far the best aspect of the score is a tender theme which appears in “Mirena”, the orchestra this time being allowed to shine without “enhancements” and there’s some real feeling on display – it’s like listening to a proper film score and let’s hope that’s a glimpse of what the composer might bring in future.

Insipid as they are, at least the Kilar impersonations (which are fortunately barely heard again) at the start of the album hold some interest, which is more than can be said for some of what follows, generic rumblings mixing with cringe-inducing Man of Steel percussion.  There are some exceptions: “The Handover” (at least until the percussion arrives) is a nice bit of Remote Control melodrama, a little overwrought perhaps but it’s doing what a film score should do, trying to create feeling and it conjures up some decent imagery.  We’re in bland Game of Thrones territory in “Eternal Love”, which suggests nothing like the grandeur of its title might lead you to believe, but I guess it’s inoffensively pleasant enough.  What would have been a lovely female vocal in “This Life and the Next” is rather spoiled by excessive electronic processing, but that can’t remove all of its raw appeal.

Some of the action music does get the blood flowing a bit, at least – “Janissary Attack” is a mixed bag, but at its best does create some thrills.  The two-part “Hand o’Bats” has some large-scale orchestral posturing and excitement – not spectacular, but it passes the time.  My favourite action cue is “The Brood”, which has a distinctive feeling that does feel specially-crafted for this film rather than being pulled from a bank of library music – the highlight is a clanging motif played by what sounds like someone manually striking the strings inside a grand piano, though I guess it’s probably a synthesised version of the same.  It’s aggressive, unrelenting, impressive.  Contrast that with “Son of the Devil”, which for all its sturm und drang just never elevates itself with any sort of distinguishing feature.  I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t effective, but it lacks that something special.

This isn’t by any means awful, but neither is it really particularly good.  There are moments of quality, no doubt, but it doesn’t reach the relative heights of Pacific Rim in its excitement, and I want to run away as fast as possible whenever my head gets pummeled by the silly Man of Steel percussion.  In its quieter moments (of which there are surprisingly many), there’s some delicate stuff which is handled well, but again that must be balanced against a whole lot of completely uninteresting material.  If a character as distinctive as Dracula gets music this generic, entirely interchangeable with so much else, then frankly there are problems.  Some people are much more forgiving of this style than I am and I’m sure they will like it, but I suspect they stopped visiting this website some time ago.

Rating: ** | |

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  1. Alonso (Reply) on Sunday 12 October, 2014 at 01:40

    Good review. I expected another generic, RC score, but after listening to it, found a few pleasant surprises. Unfortunately, it lacks enough material interesting enough to make it a good listen. Speaking of Dracula, do you have any plans for a review of Kilar’s score? I’d love to read that if you wrote one.

  2. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. (Reply) on Sunday 12 October, 2014 at 17:19

    It was the historical conflict between a massive Turkish army & Europe’s Transylvannian militia that attracted me to this film. The Ottoman Sultan’s [Mehmed The Glorious] demands of tribute included 1000 Christian youths [Janissaries] AND the son of Prince Vlad of Transylvannia. These Janissaries would be physically & mentally abused…forced to convert to Islam & be trained as elite warriors serving the Sultan. Naturally, Prince Vlad and his wife Mirena could not tolerate these arrogant demands – resulting in the Sultan giving orders to invade Transylvania. Prince Vlad, desperate to defeat the Turks, seeks the help of a vampire who infuses him with Superhuman Powers. What a marvellous tapestry of events & emotions for any composer to tackle….ethnic battle music, with chanted Koranic verses, for Mehmed’s army… a ravishing love theme for Vlad & Mirena…& Goldsmthian choruses as Vlad morphs into Dracula – Hero and Monster. Regretably, DJAWADI, provided a lack lustre score. And he could so easily have provided sensational music > many thematic highlights from Seasons 1 – 4 of ‘Games of Thrones’ testify to his compositional ability. I did notice OMENesque Choral Chants as Vlad/Dracula [with thousands of CGI produced bats] hurls himself from the top of his mountain castle at battalions of Turkish Infantry Units. James, I have to agree with the meagre stars you gave the album.

  3. LP (Reply) on Sunday 12 October, 2014 at 23:42

    The Brood track was the only time where I was really noticing this score and enjoyed it.

  4. RabinJablonsky (Reply) on Monday 13 October, 2014 at 08:58

    I like it, is a very entertaing score

  5. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Tuesday 14 October, 2014 at 15:58

    With a name like that, RJ, I’m not surprised.

  6. RabinJablonsky (Reply) on Thursday 16 October, 2014 at 08:37

    @Edmund: Goldsmith, Williams, Shore, Howard, Zimmer, i’m a fan of this guys, don’t judge with only my nickname.

    (Recently, i bought Deep Rising i love it)

  7. tiago (Reply) on Monday 27 October, 2014 at 01:53

    After reading James’ review, I was expecting another boring Remote Control score. However, I was a bit surprised with this album. It’s certainly bland, but has some funny moments and passes the time nicely. Nothing impressive, nor great like Pacific Rim, but it’s a good work by Djawadi.