Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dracula: Episode 1 - "The Blood is the Life"

It’s pretty apparent nowadays that televisions studios are desperate to have a recognizable brand to get their shows the attention they need to rake in the cash. So what better place to mine titles from than the movies? There have been plenty of shows based on flicks over the years. Most were unsuccessful. Remember A League of Their Own, Working Girl, Napoleon Dynamite, Baby Boom, 9 to 5 or Planet of the Apes? Probably not since they were cancelled pretty quickly after premiering.  There have been successful ones too, like M*A*S*H, Friday Night Lights, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more recently Parenthood, Hannibal and Bates Motel.

How often do the networks go so far as to adapt novels to the small screen? I’m sure it happens often, but their choices are usually obscure for the most part (“TekWar”?!). However, when one has the audacity to take a seminal and classic novel such as Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” you have to believe that it will be scrutinized as closely as possible by fans of the book as well as scholars and the like. Oh NBC, are you in for a thrashing…
The ancient and powerful vampire Dracula (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is released from his prison in a tomb, and poses as an American aristocrat to wreak havoc upon Victorian London.

If you’re going to take a classic literary character like Dracula and turn him into a boring mope like the one depicted in this dreadful series you had better prepare yourself for all sorts of flak. “The Blood is the Life” is one of the worst pilots I have ever seen for a big budget television show, and I have a feeling that whoever greenlit this disaster will soon be looking for a new job. It’s badly written, horribly directed, slowly paced and not entertaining at all.
The script by series creator Cole Haddon is a meandering mess that doesn’t portray the most often adapted literary character in history as a sexy, bloodthirsty creature of the night. Instead he’s an emo businessman who wants to bring wireless electricity to London. Yes, you read that right – wireless electricity. Why? Why not. This Dracula is proficient in kung-fu. Why? Why not. He is also a fan of opera, and at times I felt as if I were sitting in a theatre watching “Die Fledermaus” and hoping that a singer would hit a note so shrill that my eardrums would explode. Haddon seemed to have penned a script that had nothing to do with vampires, and at the last second decided to insert Dracula into it, kind of like the last few Hellraiser flicks. He doesn’t understand what makes vampires appealing to the masses and definitely didn’t write a pilot episode that lays the groundwork for a multi-season television series. I can’t see this going past the first few episodes, let alone 7 seasons. It’s dumb, pointless and boring. Is it any surprise that this is Haddon’s first gig?

The direction by Steve Shill, who helmed episodes of Dexter, V, The Tudors and The Sopranos, is pedantic and unremarkable. Everything has a monotone look to it, the actors look uninterested and there is no energy to any event. Not even a strange out of fucking nowhere Matrix-styled fight scene on a rooftop. I can’t blame him since he’s working off Haddon’s shitty script, so he gets a pass from me for now. Although I will say that the look of the pilot, which sets the tone and visual style of the series from here on out, is downright ugly and generic. Not a good sign.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers is completely miscast as the title character. He looks too young and dopey to play a bloodthirsty killing machine. He also sounds whiny when speaking in an American accent. The rest of the cast is not memorable in the slightest. Only Thomas Kretschmann as Van Helsing shows any sign of life, and even then he’s not all that great. No one seems to care about turning in a decent performance and they all have an air about them as if they expect the show to be cancelled prematurely. I did enjoy the Renfield/Dracula relationship. The actor that plays Renfield, Nonso Anozie (Conan the Barbarian, Game of  Thrones, Atonement), is solid here and outshines everyone else in the cast.

The story vaguely follows the plot of the book. Sure all the characters are there in some capacity or another. The Harkers and Murrays and all that shit are here, but in some unrecognizable version cooked up by the screenwriter extraordinaire (*sarcasm). If you're a fan of the book, or any of the movies based on it, you are going to want to rip your hair out.
In the end I wish I never gave this show a shot at all. I was bored out of my skull, my jaw dropped at the stupidity on display and I was floored by how un-vampiric Dracula turned out to be. This is a foppish take on the character and I hate it. It's not romantic, it's not scary and it's barely watchable.

Avoid this garbage. Avoid it like the plague and just watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula instead. Shit, even Dracula 2000 would be a huge step up from this crapfest.

0.5 out of 5

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