Reviewed November 20th, 2004 by Brian White
Is it curious that somebody would make a movie featuring some of the greatest horror monsters of all time, and in no way make it a horror film? Van Helsing is an expensive, flashy and fun action flick. It is full of stunts, and some great special effects. While there is plenty of bang for the buck, Van Helsing is less than the sum of its parts. There is plenty of cool stuff going on, but you only need one trip to this trough. This is a rental only.
Hugh Jackman stars as Van Helsing, a modification of the character from classic horror films. The nineteenth century hero works for an MI6-type organization, based in the Vatican. Van Helsing hunts down monsters. In the film, we see all the staples of twentieth-century horror: Mr. Hyde, the Werewolf, Frankenstein and Dracula. The MI6 parallel is perpetuated by the Q-like character that gives Van Helsing his weapons.
There is plenty of CGI at work in this film, and it comes off quite well. There are great morphing effects. While you have seen many of these things before, a tip of the hat must be made to the execution of the effects here. Well done.
Van Helsing is a great setup for a franchise, and Hugh Jackman is perfect in the central role. Also, Richard Roxburgh’s Dracula is interesting, if a little too tongue-in-cheek. Kate Beckinsale is a powerful ally, and she looks great in tight clothes.
The problem with the movie is that it does not take itself seriously enough. Certainly, this is not Shakespeare, but if the movie had even an Indiana Jones level of self-respect, it could have been a lot more involving. There is too much of a popcorn movie here, which sacrifices much of the potential. You can be tongue in cheek, and still involve the audience. Also, as mentioned earlier, there is little in the way of Horror cinematography. Sure, there’s the great black and white intro, but then the movie morphs into an action flick. As a result of the popcorn factor, there is really no need to see Van Helsing more than once, if at all.
The video on the DVD is what you would expect from such a large Hollywood project. There is plenty to look at here, from the moody, dark interiors, to the glorious costume ball. The 1.85:1, anamorphic transfer is quite lovely. Strange that such an epic does not have a 2.35:1 transfer, but what do I know? A full-frame version of the movie is available on a separate DVD.
For audio, a very decent 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is included. Certainly the mix is properly exploited for actions scenes and music. There are a few really cool surround effects, but the mix is not as active as one might expect.
For extras, there are a number of behind-the-scenes type features, as well as two commentary tracks: one by director Stephen Sommers and Editor/Producer Bob Duscay; the second by actors Richard Roxburgh, Shuler Hensley and Will Kemp. You can play through the first level of the XBOX game, and there is some background on the Van Helsing character. There is lots here, but I bet we’ll see a special 2-disc edition next Halloween.
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