Van Helsing (2004)

van helsing

“Do unto others before they do it unto me!”

The Scoop: 2004 PG-13, directed by Stephen Sommers and starring Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, and David Wenham

Tagline: The One Name They All Fear

Summary Capsule: A Batman/Aragorn cross hunts vampires with a mad scientist of a friar and a chick in a corset.

Lissa’s rating: I should have listened to the forum.

Lissa’s review: Hugh, David, Richard… you’re probably wondering why I’ve asked you here today. Well, sit down boys. We need to talk.

Now, you know I love all three of you. Seriously. Good looking, yeah, but beyond that, you’re great actors. David and Richard especially — character actors are hard to come by. But I just got back from your newest effort, which I was really looking forward to by the way, and guys, guys, guys… oh man, am I disappointed in you.

First of all, did any of you actually READ the script? Anyone? Anyone? Okay, David, you can put your hand down. I vaguely understand why you took the part of Carl. I’ve gotta admit, there were some good, funny lines in the movie, you got them. But Hugh and Richard, did you guys honestly read some of the crap you had to say? I mean, I had to check IMDb to make sure George Lucas hadn’t written it. (He hadn’t, thus proving that there are more bad but well-funded script writers out there.) Could one of you be a dear and please tell Mr. Sommers that he does much better with the wisecracks? Thanks.

Now Hugh, let’s talk about your Van Helsing for a moment. Um, did you ever sort out exactly WHO he was? (Oh yeah, and that whole “lost memories” thing… didn’t that strike you as familiar at ALL?) I mean, I really had a hard time following exactly who he was in his former life or whatever. Or would I find out if I went to the sequel? (Please tell me that you wouldn’t be so stupid!) And while I realize you were trying to keep him separate from Logan, I kept feeling like you watched Viggo Mortensen play Aragorn one too many times. I mean, the hair was the same (except clean), the clothing was comparable, and the delivery was similar… I even expected the voice to be the same. It always shocked me when you spoke.

On the plus side, feel free to do more movies where you rip off your shirt.

And Richard… you do such a wonderful smarmy hero. Your turn as the Duke in Moulin Rogue! proves that. But when you’re given a role this campy, if you can’t run from it, go a little more over the edge here. Ham it up even more. Bottom line guys, this was not a movie actors of your caliber should have been in! It should have been B-actors, all the way. But on the plus side, you looked well for Dracula. Although how you could stand your brides who came from Magenta’s School of Shrill Overacting is beyond me.

Um, David, get back here and rejoin your fellow Aussies. You’re not off the hook yet. Although your role was okay and your delivery good (you really are a great character actor, and definitely distinguished this from other roles I’ve seen you play), what were you thinking letting that stylist near your head? And where did you find them? Freddy Kruger’s Beauty School? UGH! And you wonder why you didn’t make my hot men list.

You guys must have seen a different script or something. No amount of cool monsters and style and an admittedly semi-unexpected ending could have justified you three being in this load of crap. Next time, let’s chose a little more carefully, okay? Disappointment is a hard thing to live with.

Understand? Good. I’m glad we had this little talk.

And by the way, could one of you be a dear and tell Hollywood that it’s really hard to run around in a corset and heels? Thanks so much!

I’ll see you boys in your next movie!

Kyle’s rating: Here’s proof that nothing is idiot-proof

Kyle’s review: Van Helsing is a film that a whole lot of people were looking forward to. Pretty much everybody likes Hugh Jackman, except for crazy misinformed prejudiced people and vengeful ugly people, and everybody likes popcorn monster movies. Especially ones with those iconic monsters of old: Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein, with a surprise or two tossed in. It’s set in Transylvania, and essentially it’s a James Bond story with gadgets and charm and some hot Bond/Helsing girls, and monsters thrown in instead of megalomanical billionaires. So what went wrong?

I think the emphasis here was on making a fun film that theoretically hits all of the high points of those monster movies of old, with a modern film formula and a modern special effects budget. And you know, Van Helsing seems like, with a nudge or two or 250, it could have been one of the best summer blockbusters ever. Instead, it’s really stupid and largely illogical. It’s also comprised of 60% bad acting and 40% incoherent plot contrivances. Subsequently, approaching Van Helsing with 60% of your brain turned off is a great idea. Otherwise you’ll be tempted to either come up with alternate Van Helsing script while you’re stuck in the theater, or mentally prepare your next five years of tax returns just to keep your brain stimulated.

On the one hand, Van Helsing is really bad. It’s almost unworthy of a Mutant review (mighty words!) just because it’s bad beyond bad and good-bad back into the inky darkness of horrible. There are cult films that some people love to watch and get a “cult” label for being so bad it’s good. I’ve noticed there are people out there who think Van Helsing is a cult movie because it’s really bad, yet they find it fun to watch. But it’s not even fun, in my opinion: it’s really bad. Is this giving you a headache? I’m getting a headache as well. Damn. That Van Helsing is one bad… BAD movie! No! Please be careful if you are even considering seeing it.

Van Helsing is monstrously bad. I feel guily about laying such a “smackdown” on the film, yet I gotta be me. Meanwhile, the use of “smackdown” is problematic, here in my review. It makes me wonder if Van Helsing isn’t meant for me (you know, a really smart, good-looking guy) and is instead meant for those people who are smart in their own way and can be entertained by something that is shiny and glittery. That sounds really pretentious and egotistical, doesn’t it. But so is any film like Van Helsing that manages to talk down to us by being really dumb. My argument doesn’t make sense. But neither does Van Helsing. Oh well.

I will say this: the Van Helsing toys are actually pretty cool. Lots of articulation and detailing. If you’re a toy person, go for it! If you’re a film person, don’t do it! See Mean Girls instead. Ah, Mean Girls.

Drew’s rating: Even with vampires, “this sucks” isn’t always a compliment…

Drew’s review: So has anybody reading this seen The Monster Squad? Mid-80s, low budget, pre-teen comedy… gets shown on TBS around Halloween a lot? I ask because on the surface, it sounds like exactly the type of movie you should hate — a plucky gang of junior high stereotypes save the world from Dracula’s evil plot by befriending Frankenstein’s monster, cursing a lot, recruiting the cool kid in school (You know it’s him because he wears a leather jacket. AND shades), spying on undressing teenage neighbors, and kicking the Wolfman in the balls. And yet, somehow, perhaps through the Awesome Power of sheer 80’s nostalgia, it’s a hilarious, extremely entertaining movie that I never fail to watch every year like clockwork.

You may be wondering why I’ve spent the entire first paragraph talking about a completely different movie, but the reason is simple — for all of its cliches and ’80s cheesiness, that flick is about a hundred times more fun than Van Helsing. And that’s without a single CGI succubus, mind you.

Now let’s be clear — I’m a man who has never had any trouble suspending his disbelief. James Bond just used his 20-shot handgun to take out 50 Russian guards equipped with Uzis? Sure, why not — they were probably all terrible shots. But holy crap, how many times in one movie can a character grab a random rope or cable, cut it, and swing hundreds, sometimes thousands of feet to exactly where they need to go?

And a small piece of advice for the director: Mr. Sommers, in your next movie, when you need a character to explain all the secret and complex plot elements to the protaganists and the audience, maybe you should think about NOT making it the one who’s been living alone in a cave for the last year, ever since being brought to life, with nothing to learn from but the Bible. Not to rag on the Good Book, it’s just that I didn’t remember the part where the Lord said to Abraham that lo, there WERE thousands of baby vampires in Dracula’s castle that only Frankenstein’s monster could bring to life, and that yea, any man bitten by a werewolf WOULD become one at the next full moon. Probably buried in Deuteronomy or something.

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy any elements of the movie. I was, for instance, gratified to see that Dracula has been raiding Mr. Wonka’s chocolate factory for assistants, though I’m still not sure how he lured the Oompa Loompas away (better dental?), and I was disappointed that they didn’t do any of their trademark songs.

In all seriousness, though, there were other good things. The exploding bag of “shrapnel stakes” was a neat idea, as was the automatic crossbow. I really liked a lot of the special effects, CGI and all, particularly the werewolf transformations, and the atmosphere of the film was great, especially in the opening sequence. And I appreciated how they tried to incorporate some of the lesser-known supernatural “rules” into the movie — sunlight is something that never bothered Dracula in Stoker’s original novel, so it was gratifying for the hardcore geeky (i.e., me) to see his Brides out and about during the day. So A+ for effort… but then D- for consistency with the little sunlight grenade that scorched some vamps later in the movie. Carrying on with that, they brought out the fact that werewolves only change during the full moon (which in Europe is apparently every 4 days)… and then had not one, but two scenes with werewolves very clearly present in the daytime. What?

And finally, we have a strange subplot where Dracula accuses Van Helsing of being the one who initially murdered him 400 years ago (and stole his ring! Thief Helsing! We hates it forever!)… and then doesn’t say anything more about it or how that turned him into a vampire, virtually guaranteeing a sequel. (NOOOOOOO!!!!!) What’s the point of there being only one way of killing the guy if even that probably won’t be permanent?

As for the acting… well, Hugh Jackman does well enough with the character we’ve all seen before in a hundred summer blockbusters. Strong, silent type, broken up by the occasional pithy comment and a hidden sensitive side. (Though for anyone who’s kicked around New York in recent months, frequent billboards for “The Boy From Oz” have ensured that he can never again be taken seriously as a badass. Alas.)

Kate Beckinsale shows us that you really CAN fight vampires in 3-inch stilettos, although her skin is so fair that it completely blends in with her shirt, to the point where I almost thought she was topless a couple of times… not a horrible thought. There actually are some pretty good lines in the movie, most of them given to David Wenham’s Carl; he seems to be having a lot of fun with it, and it translates into a more enjoyable sidekick than most. Richard Roxburgh, unfortunately, is stuck with a role that has already been masterfully defined by many actors before him. His version of Dracula really isn’t bad, but in an attempt to make the Count “cooler,” I guess, they eliminated a great deal of his aloof lordliness; what’s left seems almost like Dracula Lite, a bad parody of the Vampire Lestat. (It doesn’t help that his accent is so pronounced, I genuinely couldn’t understand what he was saying sometimes.) Kevin J. O’Connor does a terrific job hamming it up as Igor, and I actually wish we could have seen more of his interactions with Dr. Frankenstein (Samuel West). Sadly, that’s relegated to the initial black-and-white opening sequence, which is probably the best part of the movie.

Overall, there were just too many questions that drew me out of the movie and kept me from enjoying it on a purely popcorn blockbuster level, unlike The Mummy and its sequel. Why were there werewolves around in the day, and whatever happened to the first one, who just sorta disappeared after his encounter with Velkan? It’s all well and good to say that the vampires only kill 2 or 3 people a month, but why, when they clearly hate humans? Why does Dracula keep the one thing in the world that can kill him around constantly? How does Frankenstein’s Plot Device know everything? (What, Drac just happened to let slip where the secret werewolf antidote was located? And if he’s gonna need it in a hurry, why keep it at the absolute opposite end of the castle?) And at the conclusion, why on earth did they give him a 6’x4′ raft to cross the ocean with? (Nice knowin’ ya, Frankie.)

In the end, I guess it’s not terrible if you can really shut your mind off and ignore all the plot holes, but it’s definitely not your film if you’re any kind of a monster purist; I felt the way I’d imagine Old West historians would feel watching “Bonanza.” Director Stephen Sommers claims he envisioned the movie as a tribute to the classic Universal monster films, but take my advice — watch the originals instead. Or, heck, watch The Monster Squad. But if you’re going into Van Helsing, be sure to check your brain with Igor at the door.

This does something MESSED UP to my sex drive, let me tell you!

Intermission!

  • Kate Beckensale wants to be Nicole Kidman?
  • Hmmm. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen versus Van Helsing: Battle of the Stylized Suckitude.
  • Mr. Hyde’s plumber’s crack (the last thing you WANTED to notice.)
  • Strageic red designs on Ms. Beckinsale’s shirt.
  • Vampire young are really gross.
  • Heck, so are vampire brides.
  • So are vampires in general.
  • Automatic cross bows!
  • Dr. Gabriel Van Helsing and Batman… have they ever been seen in the same place?
  • Ditto Aragorn son of Arathorn.
  • Viscous liquids are bad.
  • Insane attachment to a hat. Remind of us any other action heroes, hmmm?
  • Carl’s lab. It’s just cool.
  • So that the production company can hold certain rights to the character, the original character from the Dracula series Abraham Van Helsing was changed to the new ‘kid brother’ Gabriel Van Helsing instead. Director Stephen Sommers claimed in an interview he changed the main character’s name from “Abraham Van Helsing” to “Gabriel Van Helsing”, as he did not think he could have a lead character named “Abraham”. (Why? Abraham sounds like a good name to me.) The Irishman who wrote Dracula, Bram Stoker, named the character after himself – Bram being a shortening of “Abraham”.
  • Richard Roxburgh’s interpretation of Count Dracula is taken from the supposedly contemporaneous appearance of Gypsies.
  • The role of Igor was written specifically for Sommers’s friend and frequent collaborator, Kevin J. O’Connor.

Groovy Quotes

    • Carl: See! I told you! Viscous liquids!

Dracula: Igor, do unto others…
Igor: Before they do it unto me!

Frankenstein’s Monster: Let me go!
Carl: Where are you going to go? I don’t know if you’ve looked in the mirror lately, but you kind of stick out in a crowd.

Anna: Some say you’re a murderer. Some say you’re a holy man. So which is it?
Van Helsing: A bit of both.

Van Helsing: And you’re coming with me.
Carl: Hell, no. Damn, I’m not.
Van Helsing: Carl, you’re cursing. Badly, but still cursing. Monks can’t do that.
Carl: Actually, I’m a friar. I can do whatever I want. Dammit.

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