Van Helsing Review

by Homer Yen (homer_yen AT yahoo DOT com)
May 11th, 2004

"Van Helsing" - No Bite
by Homer Yen
(c) 2004

"Van Helsing" - No Bite

Were the screenwriters half-dead when they sat down to pen this film's dialogue? "Van Helsing" is all gum and no teeth. Sure, it's a rousing adventure. With its tremendous amount of CGI effects, how could it not be? But the main characters have the depth of a shallow grave. We don't really care for them or their cause. Watching "Van Helsing" is like experiencing a vacation by looking at a series of nifty postcards rather than by being there yourself. The experience never feels complete.

The story is a choppy mess as we are introduced to our brooding hero, Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman). He's a special type of bounty hunter. We catch up with him during the opening sequence as he chases the notorious Mr. Hyde through the streets of late-19th century Paris. Their encounters quickly establish the film's comic book feel. It is the kind of atmosphere that concentrates more on the artwork, settings, and fashion. However, that this film more than resembles last summer's "League of Extraordinary Gentleman" can not be a good thing. And, perhaps if you've seen both of these films, you can begin a hearty debate as to which one is worse. I think that this one is slightly better, but that's not saying much.
Next on Van Helsing's list is Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), a foe unlike any our hero has ever seen. He travels to Transylvania and teams up with Princess Anna (Kate Beckinsdale), a feisty fighter who also wants to rid the world of Dracula. The film becomes a sort of beastly convention as it assembles together filmdom's greatest monsters. Included are werewolves, vampires, Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, and even Igor. It is truly a monster mash.
The story, however, is more like a monster mush. Dracula wants to awaken his thousands of gargoyle-like offspring. Needed is the secret to life, possessed by Frankenstein's monster. Van Helsing must find Dracula's hidden lair and put an end to his plans. It sounds simple, but our hero is dogged by an unforgiving screenplay that lacks needed fluidity and character development. While character development may not be where the film wants to go, you can sense that the audience is losing interest pretty quickly.

What saves the film are the oodles of eye candy, which is spectacular. For example, an early scene takes place on top and around the fabled Notre Dame cathedral. The renderings of this landmark and of the cityscape are truly something to behold. There is also an early scene in which a mob chases a monster into a windmill, and it's clear from this sequence that special effects have advanced significantly since last summer. Moreover, outstanding morphing effects will mesmerize you as you watch humans turn into hideous werewolves while alluring sirens transform into deadly succubae.

The good news about this summer's first release is that with all the advances in special effects, you can expect this year's crop of summer films to be more enterprising. Indeed, with bigger and better offerings to come, we can optimistically say that things can only get better. The bad news is that while "Van Helsing" is a tremendous visual accomplishment, it is just a terribly conceived movie. It's all very cool to watch. It's just not any fun to watch. A summer film such as this needs to be both.

Grade: C-

S: 0 out of 3
L: 0 out of 3
V: 2 out of 3

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