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
Hugh Jackman: Van Helsing
Kate Beckinsale: Anna Valerious.
Richard Roxburgh: Dracula.
David Wenham: Frankenstein’s Monster.
Schuler Hensley: Carl.
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.
It looked good
but there was no weight or plot – rather than develop the characters, they just added more action and twists (I turned to my friends and gave a large thumbs down at the coach chase scene – I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to movies, but that was just plain bad). I was reading the Turkey City Lexicon earlier, and I’m starting to wish someone had pointed it out to Sommers while he was working on the script.
Spoiler/Question: How the heck did Bekinsale’s character survive all those falls and blows from the Bride of Dracula, and yet die when slammed into a couch? The only good thing was that they didn’t hook her up to the machine in an attempt to bring her back to life, and I think even that would have been slightly better than the ghost smoke.
Personally I would not compare the story of Van Helsing to that of an
RPG. Most RPGs I know have a way better story than that.
Eg. Vampires attacking during daytime – how? why? According to Anna,
they were desperate to get rid of her. But… the vampires are extremely
powerful in this movie – especially Dracula. The villagers and heros
have got hardly anything to oppose them. It should have been easy for
them to attack and defeat everyone in the village by night – including
Anna and Van Helsing. They just never really tried. Also during almost
all the fight scenes I had the impression, that the vampires never
seriously tried to win. They just toy around with their victims until they
eventually get defeated somehow. Why doesn’t anyone get down to it
and simply bite someone? Aren’t they hungry at all?
Another thing that struck me was, that Anna simply does not tell Van
Helsing about the Valerious’ previous failed attempts to kill Dracula –
even though that is obviously exactly what Van Helsing is going to
do. No, she just lets him try it first.
The character I like best in this movie is Igor – the only man who has
got any talent and knows how to actually use it. ;)
When I first saw the movie’s credits I finally unterstood what had
– written&directed by one person (Stephen Sommers)
– makeup, art, CG animation & (especially) effects by a really
incredibly long list of people
In Bram Stoker’s original Dracula vampires can move about in broad daylight, and Dracula does so a handful of times. However, there is some implication that their abilities are limited during daylight hours.
These ones seem to be able to thrive so long as there’s no direct sunlight, but they certainly have a lot of power which, as you point out, they don’t bother to use effectively.
I liked it
As a summer action/horror movie, I liked it. I tend to not get very picky about movies like this. They’re fun, action packed, have a few laughs and thrills, and a plot that at least keeps moving, even if it doesn’t always makes sense. Considering it was made by the same guy who made the two Mummy movies, I thought this was better than them (and I enjoyed those two movies). VH isn’t cinema history, but it was a very fun movie. You guys just seemed to expect too much out of it.
Re: I liked it
I enjoyed the Mummy movies – especially the first one – quite a lot. And I
think they are way better than VH. Stephen Sommers just overdid it this
time with all the stunts and effects – no time left for developing the
characters/making the viewer care for them in between all the action.
The interesting part about Van Helsing himself – his mysterious past –
actually does not integrate into the main plot too well. I missed the
scene, where he would have suddenly recalled all of his past with a
great flashback and – naturally – those memories of past events would
then affect his actions in the presence (eg. they could have revealed a
hint on how to kill Dracula *right* this time..). But that just does not
happen. No, his past is just his past is just his… And during the ending
scenes it feels like Sommers is trying to tell me: “Stop bothering
about VH’s past already. Maybe I’ll show you some more of it in VH2. I
will probably have to, because all the interesting monsters are already
dead by now.”
Besides I believe that Richard Roxburgh was a bad choice for the
Dracula role. To me it seemed like this Dracula was trying to act a bit
like Al Pacino in the Devil’s Advocate – only he was not up to the task.
Roxburgh’s futile attempts at this role seem awkward and silly at times.
He just is not credible as the evil, powerful master vampire.
What A Weird Little Movie
This vehicle careened wildly back and forth between homage, horror, hilarity, hijinks and hokum. The defining moment for me was the frame shot of VH against the window with the moon behind him in the dying moments of the film. In his moment of ultimate anguish, I laughed out loud.
The B&W opening was the best part of the film, a most worthy addition to the traditional Frankenstein canon. Bottom line, Hugh did a great job as VH given the setup he had to work with (and in), and I’m glad I saw it. But it could have been much better if they had somehow just gotten you to care about the characters instead of just watch them.
The higlight of this movie for me occurred right after Van Helsing had his first encounter with the vampires in the village during the day. After he dipped his crossbow in holy water and shot up the vampire that then dissolved and it became all quiet.. the guy in the row behind me mutterred “Good job wolverine.” Classic.
Re: Funniest Moment
Say, is it just me, or is Hugh Jackman now typecast as an amnesiac