Worth A Look: 15.34%
Just Average: 10.12%
Pretty Crappy: 18.4%
16 reviews, 230 user ratings
by MP Bartley
Do you love the monsters of the 30's and 40's Universal films? Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster and the like? Do you really love them? Because Stephen Sommers claims to love them, which I guess proves the saying you do hurt the ones you love, as what Sommers has done with them is take beloved cinematic and literary icons and crapped all over their cherished memories. I'd hate to be someone Stephen Sommers doesn't love.If you by any chance had read or seen any interview with Stephen Sommers prior to the release of 'Van Helsing' he was smugly proclaiming how much he 'loved' these characters and how much he though of them as characters and not just as monsters. Which is obviously the reason why he's turned Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolfman into such bland CGI money shots. Someone needs to take Sommers away from his editing machine and CGI mouse and give him a dictionary to look up the words 'respect', 'excess' and 'subtlety' in particular.
"A big, long, loud, nasty head-ache of a movie"
The plot sees Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) as a secret agent/ killer for hire/monster disposer for the Vatican. Sent to Romania to dispose of Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and protect the last survivor of the Valerious family, Gypsy princess Anna (Kate Beckinsale) whose family can't enter heaven until Dracula is dead. Or something. However Dracula also has the Wolfman (Will Kemp) and Frankenstein's Monster (Shuler Hensley) in his clutches because he wants to drain their life-force. Or something. By erm, electrocuting them with lighting. I think. Why doesn't he use ordinary people? Er, pass. It's never explained.
Oh dear. Where to start with this farrago of drivel? Initially I had a good feeling about 'Van Helsing'. Going in I had a firm belief that you could count on Stephen Sommers being able to put together an action sequence. However Sommers has no clue whatsoever as how to end an action sequence. Why have a five minute fight sequence of big CGI things when you can have 15 minutes? Why smash through one CGI glass window when you could smash through 5? Why shoot ten stakes at a flying vampire when you could shoot 1000? In an interview Sommers said "I was thinking, why does Dracula change into a regular sized bat? Why couldn't he change into a fifteen foot bat?". Umm, because Bram Stoker never wrote that? Beacuse it's too silly? Because it'll look really, really bad? Stephen, you should believe girls when they tell you that big doesn't mean better. Sommers is inflicted with the belief that simply throwing lumps of CGI after CGI at the screen will constitute a plot. It doesn't, and Van Helsing can be roughly summed up as such:
Immensely over-the-top, pointless action sequence: 15 minutes
Hurried exposition: 2 minutes
MORE, BIG CGI STUFF!! 20 minutes
Hurried exposition: 2 minutes
Attempt at creating vague resemblances of characters: 2 seconds
BIGGER, HUGER CGI STUFF! STEVIE LIKE!!!!!!!: rest of the running time.
It wouldn't even be so bad if it looked anywhere decent but it doesn't. Fights and action sequences just descend into one CGI blob flying after another CGI blob. The Wolfman in particular looks very poor and looks to have been created out of Play-doh. You thought Sommers had learnt his lesson after the Scorpion King? Think again. And is anyone else sick of the wound-healing-up-while-the-character-stays-still-with-a-slurping-sound CGI shot? It was new when 'Terminator 2' was released. but very cliched now.
How much more horrible does this film get? Let me tell you. Someone should have told Sommers that with his film being set in 18th century Europe it probably wasn't advisable to fill his film film full of slo-mo, Matrix-style hero shots. But it is. Apparently Van Helsing wasn't an academic but James Bond with a crossbow. And apparently Gypsy princesses know kung-fu and vault over trees and high buildings in a single bound.
He also has no idea how to treat these characters he 'loves' so much. Apparently vampires can walk around in daylight. As long as it's a bit cloudy. The monster wasn't built out of human parts but out of pistons and glass bowls. The only thing that can kill Dracula is a werewolf (so why does Dracula keep one chained up?). But other vampires can be killed in the normal ways. Sometimes being punctured with fifteen stakes won't kill a vampire, but one hypodermic needle will. If you're bitten by a werewolf you've until the 12th stroke of midnight on the first full moon before you change for good. Unless you cross your fingers, stand on one leg and chant "Na na na I'm not listening la la la la !" in which case you probably won't either. Dracula has lots of little dwarves running around after him. Vampires can swirl around at the speed of light and create a mini-whirlwind.
The plot makes no sense whatsoever either. It's given out in huge chunks of meaningful dialogue such as: "No master not THE PLAN again?! Don't you remember what happened THE LAST TIME?!?!? or in rapidly babbled dialogue like "I'mthelastsurvivingmemberwhocankillDraculabut he'sgotmybrothersowemustgotoPraguehaveadancesmashawindowthengrabthemagicpotionandkillhimbytwelve.Got that? Good let's go find some more CGI!"
It's also riddled with holes like a bad Swiss cheese. Dracula wants to revive his dead offspring he had with his brides. So why when he goes to Prague is there a ballroom full of vampires? Has he just turned lots of people to vampires? If so, why does he need to bring his children to life (which has taken him hundreds of years) if he can turn about a hundred people in less than a day? Unless they just happened to be hanging around? Why is there a secret gateway to Dracula's castle? Why isn't just in the mountains?Why's the fact that Van Helsing is apparently alot older than he looks never touched upon? Why create convoluted links between each and every single character? You expect to see Van Helsing to turn around and announce to the Wolfman "No Wolfy...I am your father!" at one point. When they lock the monster into a tomb who's the random corpse getting out a grave to release him? Are those vampires Dracula's servants? If so, why doesn't he use them to destroy the village he apparently hates so much instead of relying on his three brides? Speaking of which, why do they all seem to be killed about 3 times but conveniently reappear? Why is the Wolfman and Frankenstein actually in this at all? Why is Mr Hyde in Paris? Why is he the most god-awful CGI creation since Jar-Jar Binks? Why does he spit out one-liners like a bad Batman villain? Aaaaggh I can't take all the chaos in my mind!
And where did they get the villagers from? 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail?'
Unsurprisingly the actors are lost at sea. Jackman tries his best but can only salvage a mere hint of his credibility. But this isn't Van Helsing from lore. This is just a random, stock, cardboard action lunk with a bit of five o'clock shadow. He has none of the intelligence and class of the true Van Helsing. Give me Peter Cushing any day. Beckinsale turns in a truly awful accent and performance as Anna (and you thought Pearl Harbor was as low as she could go). Who keeps giving her work? Roxburgh is the worst Dracula ever committed to screen, having no presence and no idea of how to muster fear (hint: you don't get it by having him endlessly walk up walls and do a little dance while he's electrocuting the Wolfman). I'll see you at the Razzies Richard. His 3 brides are plain annoying with their non-stop shrieking and very 90's one-liners. Hensley is under the impression he's in something deep and meaningful endlessly spouting off about 'friends' and 'life' but is just plain bad as the monster. Herman Munster was more convincing. And David Wenhams Q-type Karl quickly becomes irritating with his 1 punchline "I'm not a monk. I'm a friar!" (see how funny it is?) and his 2 functions: to explain and move on the plot, and to provide Van Helsing with handy MacGuffins to get him out of any situation "I'm surrounded by a hundred vampires! Quick Karl, give me that ball that burns with the light of the sun that you said had no purpose but brought with you anyway!".
They're ill-served with a script that is at its most hilarious when trying to provide 'character' moments. At one point Anna mutters:
"I'd love to see the sea. I bet it's...beautiful" (cue long stare into distance). See that kids? That's 'characterisation' for you. It's up there with Anakin Skywalker turning into Darth Vader because he doesn't like sand.
And even this moment is topped by Sommers attempt at intellectual debating about life in a scene where Karl is has a chance to destroy the monster because he's been ordered to:
Karl: "You have to die!"
Monster: " But I want to live!"
That's it! Seriously! That's the great debate about whether Frankensteins monster deserves to live! 'Young Frankenstein' wasn't as funny as this.
And when you mercifully get to then end, what could have been a mildly surprising ending is completely undone by the decision to turn it into the sappiest, drippiest ending ever. It's 'Beaches' to the power of a hundred. You'd laugh if you didn't know Sommers and Beckinsale were taking it so seriously.If this is the start of the summer season, then winter can't come quickly enough. Like a hyper-active kid in a sweet shop, Sommers just doesn't know when to stop and that's just the least of his problems. The kind of movie that makes you want to take a shower afterwards because it stinks so bad and makes you feel so icky, the only glimmer of enjoyment is the thought that there's no more cinematic icons that Sommers can cheerfully destroy. Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have the worst film of the year on our hands already.
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originally posted: 05/18/04 09:44:56