Move over Angry Birds, because you’re no longer the best video game adaptation by default. And it only took a gaming company who’s reputation toppled as fast as a room full of dominos. Petty business aside, credit is due for accomplishing the near impossible for the past 20 years in the United States. Especially after four box-office Titanics in 2016. Sure, we’ve been graced with Sonic SATAM, Earthworm Jim and the juggernaut Pokémon for 20 seasons, but to have a series that’s equally cinematic in only four episodes is an impressive feat.
Dracula has fallen in love with a human scientist only to lose her at a witch burning. Having no reason to tolerate humans anymore, he gives the world one year to repent for taking his happiness. Brushed aside by the church as an act of smoke and mirrors, everyone starts to pay when rain turns to blood and giant bats feast on whoever is caught in the crimson shower. Enter Trevor Belmont, the last of the excommunicated Belmont family who fought supernatural demons, now reduced to bar fights and not giving a damn about the end of the world.
Where to begin on the many positives? The first episode alone does so much justice to the games and the legendary monster to make Dracula Untold enraged with jealously. So much so that there’s a void not even the creature slayer can fill once the focus shifts away from the tragic blood gorger. But their performances leave a powerful mark in many ways. That’s Graham McTavish and Richard Armitage from The Hobbit films as Dracula and Belmont with equally engaging polar opposite stories. Dracula’s tale embodies Symphony of the Night to gain empathy for the villain. The mere tone that McTavish’s vocals echo with the constant fear of his otherworldly powers and fractured soul after losing everything. And when that trust is shattered, longing to join him in human execution doesn’t seem so wrong anymore. Meanwhile Belmont embodies the other classic 2D entries: surviving a world overtaken by winged predators and Halloween silhouettes bathed in red, orange, grey, black and green. He can be a Thorin Oakenshield in vales and manners but still able to pull off impossible dissections when the whip cracks three feet from where he stands. Same can’t be said for his well intended comedy delivered in awkward deadpan tone during the drama driven moments. But not since Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame has there been a priest character so despicable and insane to pit against the world of the sane. The key to this was balancing the game’s lore with some liberties to not feel like you’re waiting for your friend to hand over the controller after walking into that one room with all the health before the boss.
Imagine if Alfred Hitchcock and Hayao Miyazaki collaborated to unearth their deepest nightmares and you’re left with a feast for the eyes. From magic, to fire, to water and other elements of mother nature, there’s no stopping this gothic museum from showing its dark side. Some of the imagery directly lifts visual nods from the series. Like the castle emerging from the ground against a misty, cloud saturated sky. And the less said about the servants of the Count, the more goosebumps will emerge. But like a lot of anime, the large focus on realistic details dents the movement fluidity when the acrobatic action scenes need every frame to count. And combined with the computer animation makes the inconsistent framerate standout even more. But a slight animation downgrade isn’t much of a sacrifice when most adaptations have effects that eclipse the script.
Castlevania has set a new standard for all video game adaptation to follow in the coming years no matter the screen size. It doesn’t matter if the animation quality isn’t as on par as the story and characters because those are more important to world building in the long run. And it’s the perfect treat to celebrate Halloween after years of falling for every studios’ false promise of their movie being the one to break the mediocrity curse. Just keep the kids away when heads hits the fan because this isn’t the bloodless NES days, this is a borderline R rated carnival between the stabbing, swearing and burning.
Pros: Empathetic Dracula, gripping first episode, heavily detailed animation, demonic creatures, acrobatic action
Cons: stiff animation movements, awkward comedic delivery
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