Van Helsing (2004)
By: J.R. McNamara on January 8, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Universal (Australia). Region 2 & 4 PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. English, English (FHI), Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, Hebrew Subtitles. 126 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Stephen Sommers
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Kevin J. O'Connor
Screenplay: Stephen Sommers
Country: USA
Once in a while, a movie will come along that your average mainstream movie goer can't watch because of how terrifying it is: Last House on the Left, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wolf Creek just to name a few. These movies reach deep into our hearts and pull out the darkest, most horrific scenarios, and with a decent script, direction and actors, cause the meek movie fan to crawl within themselves to try and escape the bitter scenes of carnage that are presented to them on the silver screen.

…and then there are films like Van Helsing.

Van Helsing actually does quite the opposite. While not a completely bad film, it is an affront to fans of the horror genre, taking legendary characters from Universal's stable, and turning them into buffoons. This film reaches into the chest of the horror fan, pulls out his or her heart, and turns it into a Hollywood whiz-bang action film.

Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is an agent working for the Vatican eliminating monstrous adversaries on behalf of the church. After dispatching Mr. Hyde (Robbie Coltrane/ Steven Fisher) who has been terrorizing Notre Dame (a tip of the hat to a certain Hunchback), he and his armourer, Carl (David Wenham), travel to Transylvania to help the lovely Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) defend her town against the likes of Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), his assistant Igor (Kevin J. O'Conner), the Frankenstein Monster (Shuler Hensley) and various female vampires and werewolves…as you can imagine much melodrama, action and hilarity ensues.

Originally this was to be a sequel to 1992's Bram Stoker's Dracula, but somewhere along the line this fell into the lap of Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, The Mummy Returns and the upcoming Flash Gordon), lost Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins and gained a sense of irony and a funny bone. The CGI is of a really average quality, David Wenham seems to be doing an impersonation of Q from James Bond, Hugh Jackman is riffing Wolverine from X-Men and Kate Beckinsale seems to have gotten a cheap fake Eastern European accent from the Reject Shop. The main problem with this film is there is just too much. It is apparent that this was to be the beginning of a franchise, judging by the merchandise that was available upon its release, but this film has every monster from Universal's back catalogue in it EXCEPT for the Creature of the Black Lagoon. If it were to be that start of a series, it certainly did not need to feature all those monsters at the same time, but surely instead it could have featured one or two and kept us salivating for the next movie. This film seems to have been a fond homage to the old Universal Horror flicks, but falls apart with its excessiveness. Surely House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein should have taught all the production team that too much is just too much.
Video
Full of Hollywood gloss and Kate Beckinsale dressed in leather; Van Helsing is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and is a clear transfer that looks great.
Audio
The soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and is spectacular.
Extra Features
Explore Dracula's Castle is one of those interactive DVD explorations of the set of Dracula's castle, with descriptions of the various props described by either Dracula himself or one of his brides.

Bloopers (5 minutes 37 seconds) is a usual pile of performers pranking, pratfalling and piss-farting around.

Bringing the Monster's to Life (10 minutes) This is a feature about the CGI effects used for the creatures of Van Helsing. The creatures are described in this as the top end level of CGI effects….boy oh boy, were they wrong

You are in the Movie (4 minutes 29 seconds) is an interesting ideas where hidden cameras were put all through the set of Van Helsing to show the filmmaking from different angles. This is a pretty good idea that can also be attached to the viewing of the movie in full.

The Legend of Van Helsing (10 minutes) starts as a history of the Van Helsing character in Universal's films, and finishes being an ego stroke for Hugh Jackman.

Van Helsing Trailer and the Van Helsing Super Bowl Spot are two slightly different versions of the Van Helsing trailer.

There are also trailers for Shrek 2, Classic Universal Monsters, The Bourne Supremacy and The Chronicles of Riddick.

There are two commentaries on this disc, the first by writer/ director Stephen Sommers and producer/editor Bob Duscay, which is a light hearted look at the making of the film which remains informative and relatively entertaining throughout. The second commentary is by Richard Roxburgh (Dracula), Shuler Hensley (Frankenstein's monster) and Will Kemp (Velkan) which is amusing and irreverent, and has some interesting anecdotes.

Disc 2 features - Track the Adventure: Van Helsing Map is an interactive map, where each location from the movie has a small making-of vignette when it is clicked on: The Vatican Armoury (5 minutes 29 seconds), The Burning Windmill (6 minutes 38 seconds), Dracula's Castle (7 minutes 51 seconds), Frankenstein's Lab (6 minutes 32 seconds) and The Village (8 minutes 10 sconds).

Van Helsing: The Story, The Life, The Legend is divided into 4 vignettes, each a short rundown if the folkloric and literary and cinematic history of each legend, then showing it's relationship to Van Helsing. They are: Dracula (11 minutes 38 seconds), Frankenstein's Monster (9 minutes 26 seconds), Werewolves (12 minutes 21 seconds) and Anna and the Brides of Dracula (14minutes 23 seconds). Each of these vignettes has footage form the original Universal movies and Van Helsing.

Evolution of a Legacy is divided into three featurettes:
Explore Frankenstein's Lab is another interactive exploration as is the Dracula's Castle on disc 1.

The Music of Van Helsing (9 minutes 33 seconds) is an OK featurette about the music of Van Helsing, which is good to see as the soundtrack to Van Helsing is one of those bold, rollicking Indiana Jones-type soundtracks.

Dracula's Lair is Transformed (2 minutes 40 seconds) is a demonstration using time lapse photography of how sets can be changed and reused.

There are DVD-rom components on disc one of this 2 disc set that require the installation of InterActual Player to see. When you install it, it appears that the DVD-rom element IS the InterActual Player which allows you access to content on the site as well as playing the movie. This is obviously a disguised anti-copy feature of this disc.
The Verdict
As a horror movie, Van Helsing does not work. It is far too smart alecky and self referential, but as a super hero styled movie, or even on a James Bond level, if he was around during the late 1800s, it kind of does. Fans of The Mummy and the The Mummy Returns will probably like it.
Movie Score
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