VAN HELSINGSTEPHEN SOMMERS STICKS IT WHERE THE SUN DON'T SHINE
May 5, 2004 | In Theatres May 7th
God damned Dracula and Van Helsing to an eternity of Hell on earth, and tonight, Chris and I suffered along with them (well, at least for half of the movie). Straddling chaos and eye candy and mutantoid bat babies rose poignant moments, but those would soon be drowned in cheese. In fact, there’s no other way to explain it except by saying this movie was totally “Nachos” = cheesy and corny. As thrilled as I was by all the swashbuckling choreography, the thumping score by Alan Silvestri was the only thing keeping me awake at times. The stage was completely overloaded with CG braggarts from nearly five different visual effects teams such as ILM and Weta (of Lord of the Rings fame). There were more stuntmen than actors. The ping-pong storyline was fed on a high-caloric cliché roster with lines such as “I’ll see them again” -- referring to dead relatives reunited later in some romanticized Simba-esque crap at the end, shamefully denying the Bible references, too. AND Josie Maran gets killed off way too quickly. Phew!
Now that I’ve gone through most of the main peeves of this movie, I want to stress that even though Van Helsing was flawed beyond belief, I still think you’ll leave the theatre somewhat satisfied. There’s tons of action and charisma, and a few endearing characters that are portrayed well by competent actors. But it sputters across theology and never fully investigates the evils of mankind nor the destructive terror of power; instead you get a revamp of Coppola’s Dracula at soap opera speed. It’s unfortunate, because it may have done quite well with an overhaul of the second and third acts and immensely condensed editing (this seriously did not need to be 2 ½ hours long!). It’s a really bizarre ride with some anthropological statements that fall flat, but its definitely good for a giggle.
Sure, I can tolerate, and even love a cheesy film, but I draw the line at Limburger. Overly long, unfunny, and not even the slightest bit thrilling, Van Helsing is further proof that 2004 is fast becoming the banner year for crappy films.
Van Helsing takes its cues from the classic Universal monster movies of the 1950’s and 60’s, of which Sommers is supposedly a big fan. The Van Helsing of Sommer’s film is not the delightfully mad Professor Abraham Van Helsing of classic Dracula lore, but a distant relative named Gabriel. This Van Helsing is an amnesiac agent of a secret Vatican order (think Catholic church equivalent of MI-6), tasked with eliminating occult and supernatural threats in order to earn back his memories. Fresh off a mission that ended in the death of Mr. Hyde, the Van-Man is assigned to go clean up the trash that has moved into the Transylvanian suburbs (namely: the Wolfman, Frankenstein, and Dracula.) Armed to the teeth with a rapid fire crossbow, pistols, spinny-blade-thingies, and silver stakes, Van Helsing sets out to clean up the Transylvanian suburbs.
Now I must admit, this premise is quite cool. Unfortunately, Sommers manages to trip things up before they even get out the door. Before even the slightest bit of suspended disbelief can hope to be established, Sommers trademark uber-lame-church-camp-talent-show humor sends you crashing back to reality. Sure, it would be no problem if the monsters were even slightly interesting, but sadly these guys don’t even achieve the status of “mildly amusing.” Dracula is the weakest excuse for a vampire this side of Anne Rice’s rock star Lestat. Frankenstein’s Monster is alarmingly well spoken for a pseudo-zombie made from the corpses of seven men. The Wolfman is at best, forgettable. As far as physical, genre-exclusive action is concerned, we just have one stake through the chest (it’s not even through the heart). There’s no true silver bullet action, though we do get some two fisted gunplay, and--well, that’s pretty much it. But even with these dreadful shortcomings, Sommers could still hope to dazzle us with amazing advances in special effects technology. Sadly, even this is not the case.
CHRIS-FACT: No matter how great an effect looks, if CG is used as the primary method of delivery, the human eye will identify the effect as artificial. As soon as this realization of un-reality is communicated to the brain, the action has no hope of holding an emotional impact.
This principle can apply to nearly every effect in the film. Though they
seem to have used quite a few stunt people, every action sequence features
at least one instance of a cut and pasted actor or digital double bounding
along like Mario and Luigi. Even a simple sequence where Kate Beckinsale’s
character is hanging off the side of Dracula’s castle uses this weird
composite stunt-double effect. The Wolfman transforms rather impressively,
but as he is an entirely CG character, you never really feel the pain of
his transformation. When villagers are being tossed around by CG succubi,
you don’t even care. When Dracula attacks, his jaw extends to some
ridiculous WB-vampire length, looking far more retarded than threatening.
While these effects are certainly not The Legend of Zu
(aka: Zu Warriors) bad, there’s no questioning the emotional
detachment they generate within their respective sequences.
But at least there is some partial redemption found in the performances--no, make that on-screen “presence”-- of the actors. Hugh Jackman is a passable, if somewhat un-intriguing Van Helsing. Kate Beckinsale satisfies the eye candy requirement as Helsing’s love interest, Anna Valerious. And finally, Josie Maran is hot for the whole two seconds she’s physically on screen. Regardless of said attractiveness, I’m afraid these positives are not enough of a reason to recommend this film.
Van Helsing is a staggeringly lame, bloated action comedy.
If you’re looking for a fun monster mash, check out Monster Squad
from your local video store. If you want quirky Dracula and Frankenstein
horror-comedy, check out the Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol cult classics,
Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein. While Van Helsing
is the first film in this Summers’s blockbuster lineup, it is most
likely the most forgettable. I sincerely hope it doesn’t set a precedent
for what’s to come over the next three months.