Van Helsing

Let's play Spot The Redeeming Feature...

Released in 2004, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 07 May 2004 by Craig Eastman
Van Helsing image

If there's any justice in the world, somewhere at Universal Studios, perhaps at this very moment, someone is crying into a very big box of tissues. About eighteen months ago that same person decided to take an esteemed back-catalogue of intellectual properties spanning the most famous villains in horror movie history, and hand them to Stephen Sommers. Along with such priceless gems he was bestowed with a stupendous budget and the knowledge that he was not only going to write and direct a film that would incorporate all these characters, but that he was also creating a bespoke franchise encapsulating animated prequels, theme park rides and no doubt cheap plastic lunchboxes. Jurassic Park's Ian Malcolm would be proud...

Of course the tears being shed aren't those of joy. Rather they are the weeping woe of an abortive experiment that, in the true spirit (though unintended) of Dr. Frankenstein himself, has resulted in a monster. Quite why one would set out to formulate such a potentially monumental bandwagon and then expend all three of the studio's largest scare assets in the opening chapter is beyond me, suffice to say this is one broth that has been well and truly spoiled. Hugh Jackman is uncharacteristically vacuous as the titular Van Helsing; a Vatican City-sanctioned hitman who hunts the evil and undead in the name of all that is Catholic. After a messy, adrenaline-redundant prologue involving his assassination of a rampant (and offensively CG) Mr.Hyde at Notre Dame, Van Helsing is despatched to sunny Transylvania to hunt down one Count Vladislaus Dracula (a woefully camp Richard Roxburgh) and his band of Wailing Beyatches, AKA the Brides of Dracula.

The rot sets in early as Sommers immediately resorts to a CG overload, expending any risk of audience involvement with a tide of tired so-called setpieces that quite frankly fail to excite in any way whatsoever. Presumably having taken the criticism levelled at him after The Mummy Returns and it's last minute CG cock-up left audiences rolling in the aisles with laughter to heart, Sommers seems to have rushed immediately to his Silicon Graphics Workstations, only this time he's forgotten his actors instead. The result is a tiresome tirade of computer graphic stunt after computer graphic stunt that has quite the opposite effect of that presumably intended. See Van Helsing leap along a row of galloping horses, swing across a massive ravine on a rope and be hauled into the air on the talons of a winged hellspawn. Oh, what's that? You saw all that the last time you plugged in your PS2? Bugger...

Van Helsing image

By the time Roxburgh's dastardly plot to use Frankenstein's Monster and The Wolfman (admittedly quite a menacing creation. Nice CG slavers...) to give life to his still-born children is revealed you'll either be asleep or at the very least more interested in picking your nose. Either way it's highly unlikely you'll be paying attention to the screen. If for some reason you are still squinting at the explosion of mindless pixel art (say for example you've got to review it to spare other people the time and mental anguish, cough cough) you'll be witness to the most soulless waste of vast reams of money in recent memory. Even for a marketing exercise like this, Van Helsing manages to be quite the exquisite misappropriation of the kind of dollar sum that might otherwise be used to fund a small war.

Even if he were to allow the characters time to emote a little Sommers would have been wasting his breath, but as it is he doesn't bother anyhow. Wether this was oversight on his part or simply the realisation that his cast couldn't be bothered from the start is unclear, but the net effect would be identical either way. Jackman might as well have been asleep most of the time for all the effort he puts in. Maybe the fact computers thieved any hint of physicality away from under him resulted in his near-comatose state, but he clearly doesn't give a hoot in which case why should an audience? As for his backup, token love interest Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) is as 2D as they come. Supposedly the last surviving member of a family terrorised for generations by Dracula and his cronies, Beckinsale is as stunning as ever to look at (certainly more so than any of the effects work), but effectively she's just reprising her role from Underworld, minus the guns, plus one shitty accent. The rest of the cast are a shambles of no-names and no-brainers who are so unworthy of mention that...well, I shan't even mention them.

I honestly cannot remember a film surrounded by such hype (they released the teaser posters last summer for Pete's sake) that fails so drastically to deliver on pretty much any level. With action scenes low on action, performances low on conviction, a script that seems to have it's pages mixed up and a director who seems to have fallen asleep at the autopilot you'd be forgiven for thinking Universal had no quality control department. If you're looking for a lesson in structure, composition, pacing, writing, plotting, how to point a camera at things, speaking, reading, cooking, washing your car, buying a newspaper, slipping on a banana skin...oh hang on, keep that one in...or floating through the air like a magnificent bee, look elsewhere. If you want an immaculate instruction on how to send people to sleep slowly over the course of two mis-spent hours however, saddle up and let Stephen Sommers take you for a ride. And I do mean take you for a ride.

Disko awards this Sasquatch-baiting, balloon of a whale 1 out of 5 Disko Twig Strippers. Muff.

Stephen Sommers
Cast list:
Hugh Jackman (Van Helsing)
Kate Beckinsale (Anna Valerious)
Richard Roxburgh (Drah-koo-lah, ah-ah-aaaah!)