Van Helsing Review

by Jerry Saravia (faust668 AT aol DOT com)
May 26th, 2004

Reviewed by Jerry Saravia
Viewed on May 25th, 2004
RATING: Two stars

A friend of mine told that today, movies are aimed to thrill at every second that counts. Audiences want not just vampires in their sleek, creepy-crawly mode, they want vampires that shoot other fang-bearing animals and indulge in fist-fighting. It isn't enough for someone like Professor Van Helsing to confront Dracula with a crucifix and a wooden stake, the good professor must also be able to fight mano-a-mano with the Count. My, the glory days of Universal horror films when the biggest special effect was usually seeing a transformation scene or a vampire changing into a bat.

In this frothy adaptation of "Dracula" and "Frankenstein," Van Helsing is now Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) who may or may not be working for the Vatican (and he is no professor). This Van Helsing is like a secret agent, a hired killer, sent to kill his share of vampires and werewolves, not unlike the crossbow-packing James Woods character from "John Carpenter's Vampires." His first encounter is with Mr. Hyde (Robbie Coltrane), shown as an overgrown, hulkish sociopath, though he appears too animated to be realistic. Next mission: find Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and kill him. Also up for the impossible mission is the beautifully seductive Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), the last of her family's ancestry whose sole mission had always been to destroy Dracula. Why? Well, Dracula is not just a bloodsucking vampire. He also has numerous offspring which can be brought to life by electricity. The offspring are, by the way, not just vampires but vampire bats in womb-like cocoons (not unlike "Aliens"). In this wisp of a plot, a whining Frankenstein's Monster (Shuler Hensley) also figures into the action, as well as the Wolf Man. And I'll be darned if there isn't a nod to James Bond, as well as "League of Extraordinary Gentleman."

"Van Helsing" is chock full of special-effects and CGI effects - in fact, the movie has more effects than characters. Vampires morph into winged vampires, electricity shines ever so brightly and strongly in Frankenstein's laboratory, and there are several werewolf transformations that are not any better than the transformations in "Hulk." We also see the traditional burning windmills, ostentatious masked balls (there may be a nod in there to "Fearless Vampire Killers"), carriages that careen wildly, crucifixes, torches, silhouettes, etc. There is even a stupendous opening sequence in black-and-white that is a hark back to what made those early horror films so much fun. But this new movie is not much fun, just a lot of fire and brimstone with too much rapid-cutting and far too many effects. Though there are some brief moments of excitement and a couple of scares, there is not enough to sustain a feature-length film. It is as if director Stephen Sommers ("The Mummy") was packing in as much as he could in every frame to keep the audience awake. Did he think he was making "Lord of the Rings"?

"Van Helsing" is chock full of itself, a big, lumbering, excessively loud whimper of a blockbuster. There are moments when human characters are flung across the screen with such force that you're surprised their bones remain unbroken. Scenes like that remind you what an unbelievably preposterous movie it really is.

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