Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dracula on NBC: Renfield, we have a problem!

Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as Dracula, who's unearthed in Romania in 1881. Fifteen years later, he resurfaces in London, England, under the guise of Alexander Grayson, an American entrepreneur who wants to bring wireless electricity to Victorian society. His real goal, however, is to destroy the Order of the Dragon, a secret, nefarious organization noted for its "murder, torture, rape, and wholesale slaughter" that stretches back five centuries. The group was responsible for killing his wife, back when he was human and known as Vlad Tepes, the Romanian warlord. But as Dracula sets his plan in motion, he discovers that Mina Murray, a London socialite, may in fact be the reincarnation of his long-dead wife.

Much of this may sound familiar, because this pastiche of a story really doesn't offer anything new to the Dracula lore. And it's so far removed from Bram Stoker's novel that, except for some familiar faces and places, there's nothing at all to connect it to the original story. In fact, based on the pilot episode, it seems you'll only enjoy this "reborn" Dracula if you know nothing about the novel, nor the historical Vlad Tepes. And if you know anything about Victorian times, the rampant anachronisms throughout the production will drive you batty.

Granted, this isn't a historical documentary. And it starts off well, with a graphic opening that would make any Hammer Horror film fan proud. But within the first few minutes, one realizes that this series is really only geared towards those who like to swoon over the eye candy that is Jonathan Rhys Meyers (let's face it, the Dracula from Bram Stoker's novel, and the historical Vlad Tepes, weren't exactly sex symbols sporting six-packs). Based on the ratings for the premiere episode, there must be a lot of JRM fans; NBC was #1 for that hour among all key demos for both men and women.

But much like other adaptations that take too many liberties with the source text, this one is just a bland re-imagining, mired with clichés and often trite writing. Many of these adaptations fail miserably in the eyes of Dracula fans, such as the 2006 BBC TV version starring Marc Warren--which used a cure for syphilis as the main plot device in the story. Successful adaptations, which truly deserve to have Dracula as part of the title, usually stick close to Bram Stoker's original novel (think Count Dracula from 1977, starring Louis Jourdan). Or, the Dracula character gets transplanted to another time and setting, but he's still Dracula: evil and bloodthirsty. Such examples include "The Curse of Dracula" from the short-lived TV series Cliffhangers! (1979), Dracula: The Series (1990), and the BBC's Young Dracula (2006). But here, Dracula is a dull schemer, who spends fifteen years developing an elaborate plan to introduce wireless electricity, just so he can supplant mankind's dependency on oil--which feeds the activities of the Order of the Dragon. The Dracula I know would simply have made a bunch of vampire minions, then sent them to tear apart every single member of the group; this Dracula, however, has a lot of patience.

It's not necessary, really, to go into how the creators have altered other characters. Yet it should be noted that this isn't the first time Jonathan Harker has been a reporter; he also worked for the London Globe in The Passion of Dracula, an irreverent take on the story that aired on Showtime in 1980. Also, Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 adaptation was the first to really emphasize the romantic side of Dracula, and well as Mina being the lost love/reincarnation of his dead wife (and the fact that he was once Vlad Tepes). For these alterations, though, one must actually blame Dan Curtis, since he introduced these aspects in his 1973 television adaptation that starred Jack Palance.

All that being said, only one episode has been broadcast so far, and I'm willing to stick with it to see where the series goes. Yet based on what I've seen in the pilot episode, I don't have high hopes for this one.


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