US Release Date: 05-07-2004
Directed by: Stephen Sommers
- Hugh Jackman, as
- Van Helsing
- Kate Beckinsale, as
- Anna Valerious
- Richard Roxburgh, as
- Count Vladislaus Dracula
- David Wenham, as
- Shuler Hensley, as
- Frankenstein's Monster
- Elena Anaya, as
- Will Kemp, as
- Kevin J. O'Connor, as
- Alun Armstrong as
- Cardinal Jinette
Hugh Jackman in Van Helsing.
The release of the big budget, special effects laden Van Helsing heralds the start of the 2004 summer movie season. While some complain about the blockbuster movie, I tend to defend them. For a great escape from the stress of everyday life, nothing beats a good popcorn movie. Unfortunately, Van Helsing is a difficult movie to defend. It takes special effects to such an extreme that it is little more than a cartoon. And like most cartoons, it will only truly be enjoyed by the very young.
The idea behind the movie seems promising. A modern retelling of all those classic horror movies of old with the addition of cutting edge special effects to truly bring them to life. And while the special effects are amazing, the characters seem more un-alive then ever thanks to a poor script and a weak plot. Visually, Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman manage to do things they've never done before, but their characters are so shallow and two-dimensional, you'd gladly trade in the effects for a halfway decent script.
Hugh Jackman has the lead role as Gabrielle Van Helsing, a monster killer who works for a secret order of Catholic priests in the 1800s. The general gist of the plot goes like this. After battling Mr. Hyde in Paris, Van Helsing is re-equipped by a Victorian Era 'Q' branch before being sent to Transylvania to do battle with Count Dracula. The good Count, it turns out, is the one who financed Dr. Frankenstein to create his monster. The real reason being that Dracula wants to have children with his three brides. Unfortunately, all of their children are born dead. He wants to use the Doctor's experiment as a means of bringing his children to life. Naturally, since these children number in the thousands, the Church is anxious that he be stopped.
Upon his arrival in Transylvania, Van Helsing quickly joins forces with Anna (Beckinsale), the Gypsy Princess. Anna comes from a long line of Vampire hunters who have all sworn to kill Dracula. To complicate matters, Anna's brother is bitten by a werewolf and comes under Dracula's power. The rest of the story involves Van Helsing and Anna's quest to defeat the Count and his brides.
For a movie that brings together three classic movie monsters, very little is done to honor their cinematic predecessors. Only the opening scene, filmed in entirely in black and white, even hints at those earlier works when it features the burning windmill scene from 1935's The Bride of Frankenstein.
In every action movie, you know that 99.9% of the time, your hero isn't going to be killed. Therefore, the film has to at least make you worry about what it's going to take to defeat the bad guy and save the day. Indiana Jones might never have been in danger of dying, but he gets the shit beat out him every time as he struggles to survive his adventures. Not so with Van Helsing, who, like a super hero in a comic book, can survive falls from enormous heights, hits that would kill a real person, and even be thrown through walls, all without a scratch. And he is not alone in his unnatural constitution. Anna also suffers the most traumatic physical difficulties, and her hair and makeup don't even get smudged.
And without this tension, the movie doesn't have a whole lot going for it. Certainly not well written dialogue anyway. "I have never seen the sea," Anna says inexplicably at one point, with her incredibly thick and theatrical Transylvanian accent. "I'll bet it is beautiful."
Eye candy is all you are left with, although at least it's quality eye candy (The look of the sets, the costumes, and the CGI, are all first class and cutting edge). The enormous set pieces ensure that at least your eyes don't get bored, even if your mind does. And you certainly couldn't ask for two more attractive leads than Jackman and Beckinsale, both of whom have proven themselves in the past as capable actors, but are given little to do here besides look good.
If some very light fun is all you're looking for then Van Helsing won't disappoint you. Personally, I was hoping for something more.
Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale in Van Helsing.
I was hoping for nothing more. This movie is rip-roaring fun! Who cares about plot details when the pace is so quick. The action never stops.
Van Helsing is a good time, no brainer film. Yes, there is lots of computer animation. So what? It mostly adds to the film. One of my favorite scenes is when the three vampire brides are attacking the village and Van Helsing is firing his crossbow like an automatic weapon.
One could sit back and ask questions like why did the vampires choose to attack the village during a cloudy day instead of at night? But picking apart a film like this is like asking why can't Lois Lane recognize Clark Kent as Superman. It's a fantasy film. Just go with it.
The only part I truly hated was the ending. It is not a happy ending, although it is slightly played up to be one. It should have ended in a much more traditional way. If you have seen the movie you know what I mean. If you have not, then you will know what I mean as soon as you do.
Other than the ending, Van Helsing is pure, harmless, entertaining, Hollywood escapism and it sure helps to watch it with children, as I did with my sons.
Shuler Hensley as Frankenstein's Monster in Van Helsing.
Like Eric I found Van Helsing to be a fast-paced, mostly fun reboot/tribute to classic horror monsters. It begins with the scene that Scott mentioned was filmed in black and white. Dr. Frankenstein's gleefully maniacal announcement, “It's Alive! It's Alive!” (a nod to Colin Clive from the original James Whale Frankenstein) and then proceeds to include Count Dracula himself (an appropriately over-the-top Richard Roxburgh), his harem of vampire brides, hordes of demon-like vampire babies, werewolves, and even Mr. Hyde – who should have been cut.
For one thing his presence adds to the already too long run time of over 2 hours. Mr. Hyde's battle with Van Helsing on the rooftops of Paris does nothing to advance the plot. It's a purely CGI driven sequence. And speaking of the CGI, it may have been state-of-the-art in 2004 but in 2015 it looks pretty dated. The most obviously fake scene, visually speaking, being the climactic battle between the demon-Dracula and Van Helsing's werewolf.
I found this incarnation of the famous vampire hunter to be a bit on the boring side. Hugh Jackman looks the part but he has no personality. He's this long-haired sensitive type who's also a death machine on a holy mission. I agree with Scott that the dialogue needed a snappy rewrite or three. It aims for humor a few times and almost hits the target once or twice. Here's an example. Dracula asks Igor why he torments a caged werewolf. Igor shrugs and says, “It's what I do.” Hilarious right?
My favorite character was Frankenstein's Monster. In appearance Shuler Hensley's a cross between Boris Karloff and Peter Boyle (see photo). He even manages to convey genuine emotion when he's dangling from the bridge and he looks up to Carl standing above him and pleads, “I want to live.” He then gets to play hero when he swings into the room where one of Dracula's brides is about to kill Anna. It's the closest the movie ever gets to a cheer worthy moment.
Sure it's flawed but for a late October matinee you could do worse than Van Helsing.
Photos © Copyright Universal (2004)