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VAN HELSING (PG-13) (2004)


Official Site

Director: Stephen Sommers

Producers: Bob Duscay and Stephen Sommers

Written by: Stephen Sommers

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Shuler Hensley, Kevin J. O’Connor, Samuel West



That time is upon us once again. The time when school’s out, the weather is hot, and Hollywood unleashes its torrent of high-concept, high-budget, and low-plot fare. The first new flick in Hollywood’s summer movie season happens to be Stephen SommersVan Helsing. Over the past decade, early May has proven to be an ideal time to release new, big-event movies. Stephen Sommers films have found great success with early summer releases in the past, with 1999’s The Mummy and its 2001 sequel, The Mummy Returns. Sommers, as director, writer, and producer has shown a knack for making rousing, exciting, unpretentious, nostalgic, and yes—even cheesey (hey, some people like cheese) popcorn movies… and Van Helsing is no exception.

Sommers kicks off the festivities with a more traditional, old school style. The film begins in black and white as Transylvanian villagers break out the torches and pitchforks to prepare and evict Doctor Frankenstein (West) for “robbing graves.” You’d think the more devout Transylvanians would be more upset with a mad scientist trying to play God. After bringing his creature to life (Hensley), the Duke… er… COUNT Dracula (Roxburgh, once again playing to type as what else? The villain!) decides to take possession of his investment for his own nefarious purposes. After some scuffling, the sniveling Igor (Sommers staple O’Connor) incites an angry mob. Frankenstein’s monster disappears in a burning windmill and Dracula’s scantily clad brides (Josie Maran, Elena Anaya, and Silvia Colloca) grieve.

A year later, the story moves to the more romantic setting of Paris. It seems that Wolverine was a professional mutant, monster ass kicker for the Vatican in the 1800s. Paul Jenkins never mentioned that in Origin. After dispatching Mr. Hyde (Robbie Coltrane), on loan from Alan Moore and 20th Century Fox’s LXG, Gabriel Van Helsing (not to be confused with the original character, Abraham), is ordered to Transylvania with his trusty sidekick and weapons maker, Friar Carl (Wenham). The brooding, amnesiac (sound familiar folks?) monster hunter must protect Anna Valerious (Beckinsale) and help her vanquish Dracula and his minions. Of course, Van Helsing is the best there is at what he does, and what he does isn’t very nice.

Hugh Jackman does good work here, giving the Van Helsing character some brooding edge and charisma, despite the drawbacks of playing such a kitschy, classic action hero archetype. The character was written too much like Jackman’s Wolverine and to a lesser degree, Indiana Jones. Jackman looks really cool in his costume, and the only thing missing is a talking left hand. David Wenham surprisingly demonstrates great comedic wit as Carl, also showing more range in the role than as his character Faramir in The Lord of the Rings. Kate Beckinsale did not annoy me too much as the very capable and athletic Anna Valerious, though her less-than-authentic Gypsy accent tends to grate on you after awhile. Much hatred has been spoken of Roxburgh’s portrayal as Dracula, which really isn’t too bad. Roxburgh does have moments of coolness—like when he claps his hands to his victim’s heartbeats. But I recommend not to expect Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee standards with the role.

The sweeping production design is excellent and gives the film an exaggerated, yet also romantic and epic quality. I believe the producer, Bob Duscay, talked about one of the sets being re-used for a spin-off television series called Transylvania, and I’m guessing it was the main town square used for the setting of a fast-paced fight between Van Helsing and Dracula’s brides. Alan Silvestri serves up an above-average score for the film, which at times sounds a bit too heroic when it should have a more brooding, scary mood.

People going into this movie expecting deep, complex plots and subtext other than numerous homages and allusions to classic Universal monster flicks should just not see it. This is a popcorn movie plain and simple. Is it silly and overblown at times? Yes, but somehow that adds to the appeal, especially in the prolonged third act and suspenseful action sequences. The movie does suffer from boring exposition, and the second act drags quite a bit. It’s not that the story is hard to accept, despite some of its less than logical aspects, but the characters continuously over-explain things. But hey Stephen, I empathize dude, because I do the exact same thing in my writing. Look, I’m doing it right now! I’m not going to say “check your brain at the door” because I don’t believe in that philosophy, but give it a shot and try to have a good time. Oh, and remember to bring extra cash for popcorn because a small is going for about $4.25 now at the Met, yeesh.

—Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris


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