Van Helsing

  • Title: Van Helsing
  • Director:  Stephen Sommers
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre: Horror, Action, Adventure
  • Cast:  Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh
  • Format:  B/W prologue only, then Color/Widescreen (old)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You’ve never been out of the Abbey, how do you know about vampires?” – Van Helsing
“I read.” – Carl

“My life, my job, is to vanquish evil. I… I can sense evil. This thing, man, whatever it is, evil may have created it, may have left its mark on it, but evil doesn’t rule it. So I cannot kill it.” – Van Helsing (re: the Creature)

Van Helsing is much more about style than substance, though as the CGI-heavy film moves along, it does improve – and it has some great moments.

The film opens with a black and white prologue – Dr. Frankenstein is doing his famous experiment to create the Creature, but after it becomes alive, he is confronted by Count Dracula. Dracula kills Dr. Frankenstein, but the Creature escapes with Frankenstein’s body to the famous windmill. There, a crowd of local people confront the Creature with torches, quickly burning down the windmill, presumably killing both Dr. Frankenstein and his Creature.

One year later the film opens into full color, and shows Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) chasing Hyde of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fame. Unfortunately, when Hyde falls off a roof he turns back into Jekyll – and dies. Van Helsing is blamed for the murder. However, he really doesn’t have much to worry about because he goes to a supernatural MI6, where the cardinal, like M, is the voice of exposition. M explains that Van Helsing must go to Transylvania to rescue the last members of the Valerious family by destroying Dracula. Due to some sort of curse, that Van Helsing’s Secret Order was also involved in, if Dracula isn’t destroyed before the last members of the Valerious family die – the entire family (including the dead members) will be cursed for eternity. Yeah, OK – it doesn’t make much sense, but plot is more of an excuse in this film, than something that’s well thought out. Have plenty of popcorn and enjoy the show. Anyway, while at his secret headquarters, the Cardinal, like M in a James Bond gives Van Helsing basic info, some clues, and a torn piece of a scroll bearing a mysterious signet – which is identical to the signet on Van Helsing’s ring. Conveniently, Van Helsing has also lost his memory. After getting information from M, I mean the Cardinal, Van Helsing goes to see Carl, a friar with more than a passing resemblance to Q in the James Bond films. Carl (David Wenham) kits out Van Helsing with special gear. However, Van Helsing surprises Carl by requesting he come along to Transylvania. As he is a bookish, scientist-type, Carl isn’t that happy about it.

Van Helsing and Carl travel to Transylvania where they meet Anna, the last member of the Valerious family (her brother had been recently transformed into a werewolf). Anna, Van Helsing, and Carl need to find and defeat Dracula.

There is a lot of CGI in the film, and the entire thing is digitally graded to make it look darker. The action scenes are good to excellent but lack depth because the characters are not that well drawn. This is probably why I haven’t watched the film since it originally came out and I originally purchased the DVD. Anna is strong, capable, and an excellent fighter – but still manages to get captured by Dracula and has to be rescued by Van Helsing. Carl is an excellent character, and his ability to put together information from libraries and stained glass windows is a valuable addition to Van Helsing’s quest. I also liked his character. Van Helsing is cool – especially his costume, and his weapons, but because he has no memory, and the audience for the most part only sees him when he’s fighting – he’s an enigma, so as a character he’s hard to like – despite a good performance by Hugh Jackman.

About halfway through the film, as Anna and Van Helsing are escaping through some water-logged tunnels, they encounter the Creature. However, the Creature speaks, and feels bad for himself because everyone hates him. He also knows Dracula’s secrets. Despite orders to the contrary – Van Helsing not only works with the Creature but in the end lets him go. The Creature shows surprising humanity, and is one of the better things in this film.

Overall, Van Helsing felt like a graphic novel adapted for the screen, though the credits list it as an original film (that is, written for the screen). The visuals were very typical CGI, but at times were impressive. They made have been more impressive in 2004. The entire cast, especially some of the smaller roles, also did a very good job – the acting can’t really be critiqued negatively. The director also at times did some great things. A scene with a mirror in what turns out to be Dracula’s Summer Palace is particularly memorable. Likewise, there’s a hidden door scene that’s far from the norm done seriously in so many films and parodied brilliantly in Young Frankenstein. However, the film also reminded me of The League of Extra-Ordinary Gentlemen.

Special Note:  I have the Ultimate Collector’s Edition, which not only includes the film Van Helsing but the original monster films Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man from the 1930s – all of which are worth watching at least once. And the original Frankenstein can easily become a Halloween tradition to re-watch.

Recommendation: Some good elements, but a bit average
Rating: 3 out of 5
Next Film: Wayne’s World

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