Reviewed by: Jamey Hughton
What's it about
Everybody’s favorite vampire hunter, Van Helsing, is used as an enforcer by the Catholic church and does battle with various supernatural/undead foes in the 19th century. On his latest mission, Van Helsing is sent into Transylvania to put an end to the reign of Count Dracula, who has hatched a sinister plot to create an army of vampire children with the help of his three bloodsucking brides (not to mention other Universal icons like the Wolfman, and Frankenstein’s monster).
Is it good movie?
VAN HELSING hit theatres in May 2004 to a lot of harsh words from critics and a hugely underwhelming box office haul of $120 million. The film is directed by Stephen Sommers, who was given a budget of $160 million to play with after enjoying much success with his resurrected MUMMY franchise. I think a lot of people (myself included) felt giddy at the notion of a family reunion for the old Universal movie monsters, but the story Sommers concocts to get them together is silly and contrived beyond all reason. VAN HELSING exists solely to run through a gamut of exhaustive special effects sequences, and most of them are a giant eyesore. You like your entertainment served with a little humanity? There isn’t a single granule of it here. Gaudy, uninspired and way over-the-top, the movie rarely if ever approaches the genuine fun its audience was hoping for.
Sommers has the good sense to open the film with a stylish black-and-white prologue, featuring the familiar site of angry villagers marching to stop the creation of Frankenstein’s monster (played by Shuler Hensley). With the introduction of our hero (Hugh Jackman), the audience starts to get a sinking feeling. He has tracked down Mr. Hyde (voice of the great Robbie Coltrane) in a London bell tower. With an all-out slapstick level of CGI and cartoonish rendering of the character Hyde, this sequence sets the tone for much of what is to come. Once Van Helsing gets to Transylvania and meets up with ass-kicking gypsy girl Anna (a stiff and hilariously accented Kate Beckinsale), there’s another soulless and perfunctory action set piece as Dracula’s (Richard Roxburgh) airborne brides descend upon screaming villagers. The viewer just isn’t engaged. At their best, the MUMMY movies used rhythm and humor to whip up excitement during action scenes. The special effects technicians on VAN HELSING obviously had plenty to keep them busy, but in the final product few of their CGI creations feel well-integrated into Sommers’ world. The sets and costumes are impressive of course, but generally they only add to the campy headache.
Jackman and Beckingsale are drained of their charms. Roxburgh plays to the upper balcony seats as the 80s glam-rock version of Dracula. David Wenham from LORD OF THE RINGS is the typical “hapless comic foil,” a monk who serves as Van Helsing’s gadget and weapons man. I did kind of like Frankenstein’s monster, with stage actor Hensley giving him a poetic presence. But - adding to the long list of disappointments in the film - Frankenstein and the Wolfman seem like nothing more than footnotes here, and don’t factor much into the action.
There are moments when VAN HELSING kinda works, when it knows how to handle its tone and generate a bit of excitement through its wacky ideas. This happens for about five minutes throughout its 130 minute runtime. The rest can be torturous.
Video / Audio
Video Anarmophic Widescreen 1.85:1
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 English; also, Spanish and French Dolby Digital 2.0
Commentary with director Stephen Sommers and editor Bob Duscay Solid track led by the enthusiastic Sommers and is filled with details on all aspects of production.
Commentary with actors Richard Roxburgh, Shuler Hensley, and Will Kemp Easygoing and engaging track between the actors portraying the main monsters in the film. Lots of good anecdotes about long makeup transformations and the experience of making a mega-budget movie. Early on they mention it’s their first time seeing the movie, which makes some of their reactions more enjoyable.
Explore Dracula’s Castle An interactive tour through the Count’s crib, which allows you to click and follow many different routes through the place. Pretty cool.
Outtakes Standard five-minute reel of slip-ups from the film.
Bringing the Monsters to Life Ten-minute quickie featurette about creature design and effects.
The Legend of Van Helsing Short but worthwhile history of the character.
You Are in the Movie Cool addition that gives you a perspective from separate cameras set up during the shooting of a scene, allowing you to see a little behind-the-scenes action, and witness how the actors move around the enormous sets to get to their marks.
There’s also two Trailers, an X-Box game demo and a few other bits.
Van Helsing’s Map This feature allows you to choose from three locations in the film, each giving you a look into how the finished sequence was pulled off.
The Evolution of a Legacy Contains “Explore Frankenstein’s Lab” (which is similar to the tour of Dracula’s castle), the very quick “Dracula’s Lair is Destroyed” and a 10-minute look into “The Music of Van Helsing,” featuring a talk with composer Alan Silvestri.
Van Helsing: The Story, the Life, The Legend “Dracula” ; “Frankenstein’s Monster” ; “Werewolves” ; “The Women of Van Helsing”.
I wish VAN HELSING was fun, but it isn’t .It’s a big headache. This Collector’s Edition is stacked with extras, but most of them are on the short side and I can’t see many fans going nuts over it.