A secret organization sends Van Helsing, a 19th-century action hero bearing the name but no other discernible connection to Bram Stoker’s creation, to investigate efforts by Count Dracula, his wives, Dr. Frankenstein, his monster, Igor (formerly Ygor), a couple werewolves, and the Oompa-Loompas to create a kickass videogame.
Cast, Crew, and Other Info:
Director/writer: Stephen Sommers
A supercharged Van Helsing, a combination Comic Relief/Genius Inventor/Friar sidekick, and an ass-kicking princess whose clothing would’ve gotten her charged with prostitution in the actual eastern Europe of 120 years ago, join forces to stop a fiendish plot by Dracula. Werewolves, vampires, the Frankenstein Monster, torch-bearing villagers, Igor, and doofy dwarvish assistants to Dracula all play a part.
I had high hopes with the opening sequences. The prologue, shot in black and white, revealed a definite love of the old Universal horror movies, and suggested that this film would be a sort of Kill Bill of monster movies, affectionately borrowing from the established conventions. The next sequence introduces Van Helsing and changes directions dramatically, though with Mr. Hyde, Notre Dame cathedral, and a stunning gothic look, we’re still in classic horror territory. Van Helsing becomes a full-blown action movie at this point, complete with bantering adversaries, cartoon physics, and an apparently indestructible hero.
Nevertheless these work as isolated sequences, and others like them may be found in this film.
We have many to choose from. The gratuitous secret of Van Helsing’s past. The coach chase scene, in which the hyperbolic excess factor gets cranked up to at least eleven. Not even in a world as much like a comic book as this one will I buy a team of horses and a carriage leaping over that chasm.
The sunshine bomb. They’ve made a device that creates instant sunlight, they’re going up against vampires, and they can’t think of what they’ll use it for? And then when they do, it’s only to kill a gratuitous horde of vampires who only exist for one scene. They don’t bother to use it where it can affect the main plot, or to bring along a second bomb. In a case like this, it’s better not to have the device at all.
And then we have the characters and the terrible, terrible dialogue. See, you can have all of the comic-book style thrills that you want– and this is, in the end, a superhero movie– but if we cannot connect with the characters, none of this will matter for more than a sequence or two. If Sommers wanted to do Indiana Jones with Universal Monsters, fine. Good idea. But we needed a hero as engaging as Harrison Ford. Even if these actors had been up to the task, the script gives them neither the time nor the interactions to make it possible. Instead, we move from thrill to thrill, without anything more to draw us into the story.
Effects: 5/6. Generally, these are quite spectacular. The wolf transformations are original (Hulk Pants Effect notwithstanding), though the CGI becomes a bit awkward in the final fight scenes. In a few places, they botch it, as in one of the many literal cliffhanger scenes, where the cliff base and the water do not quite blend properly.
Story: 3/6: This begins well, though it becomes more and more like a videogame or RPG, without effective characterization to draw us into its various developments.
Acting: 3/6. Van Helsing features generally mediocre performances by actors forced to give voice to some of the worst dialogue in fantasy-film history. Remember the romantic scenes in Episode II?. This is worse.
Production: 5/6 See effects.
Emotional Response: 3/6 The film features many visceral thrills and funhouse jump out and say boo!-style frights. I had to dig my wife’s fingers out of my arm a few times, early on. However, there’s nothing deeper than that, and so the film cannot engage us. There’s simply no one to believe in here. Dracula and his wives’ tragic shanshuing means nothing. This Frankenstein Monster isn’t tragic; he merely mouths tragic words. And I cared not at all for the heroes.
In total, Van Helsing receives 25/42.
This film would make a good background video at a Halloween party. And one more thought….
Is there something we don’t know about vampiric reproduction? Seriously, the Draculas have “thousands” of those Alienesque offspring. With three females and 400 years, does that make sense?
All right, all right. So maybe vampire women drop litters, and we’re not limited to a maximum of 1200 little sucklings. Maybe we should have been.
Someone should tell Stephen Sommers, and Universal, that sometimes less is more.