Van Helsing: 2 Disc Special Edition
February 28, 2005
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Shuler Hensley, Elena Anaya, Will Kemp, Kevin J. O'Connor, Alun Armstrong, Silvia Colloca, Josie Maran, Tom Fisher, Samuel West, Robbie Coltrane, Stephen Fisher, ,
After his financial success with The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, director Stephen Sommers was given free reign by the studios to make anything he wanted. He went off to write a small scale film but came back with the script for Van Helsing which, with a budget of $150 million, is one of the most expensive summer blockbusters to date. It’s fair to say that Universal put all their eggs in Sommers basket, but now the summer dust has settled and we can see Van Helsing on the small (wide) screen, there’s much to appreciate, from the gorgeous gothic production design by Allan Cameron to the eye-popping special effects by ILM. If only Sommers had left room for his characters to breathe this could have been the next Indiana Jones.
Not content with reimagining one classic horror icon, Sommers decided to take five and stick them in the same movie. Thus we have a swave, youthful Van Helsing, a rock-star Dracula (played by Richard ‘Weird Accent’ Roxburgh), a Robbie Coltrane-voiced Mr Hyde, a Duracell-powered Frankenstein’s Monster and a skin-shredding Wolfman (well, three if you want to get technical). Throw in three gorgeous gals as Dracula’s brides (“What does a man do with three beautiful women for four hundred years?” quips Van Helsing) and a feisty gypsy princess in the form of Kate Beckinsale, and you’ve got one helluva good time. The acting is atrocious from all concerned, but that’s strangely half the fun; seeing who can ham it up the best (Clue: it’s Roxburgh).
The film begins with a black and white homage to the original 1931 Frankenstein, with Dracula using Frankenstein to create a monster for his own evil deeds. But the angry villagers destroy said monster and Dracula’s plans are scuppered. A year later we meet Van Helsing in Amsterdam chasing down the infamous Dr Jekyl (the film’s best CGI character), after which he is sent to Transylvania. There he meets the mysterious Princess Anna and they reluctantly join forces to stop Dracula once and for all.
Taken in the spirit it is meant – a homage to the old monster movies and a tongue-in-cheek action adventure – this is a fun ride from start to finish. Sommers, never the most visually dynamic director, manages to improve his CV with glorious sweeping camera shots of Vampires dive-bombing a village and CGI enhanced Matte paintings. The downside of this non-stop barrage of eye-candy is that there is precious little time for the romance element between Beckinsale and Jackman. There are surprisingly subtle (not Sommers’ favourite word) moments such as when the two of them are caught in the rain and Van Helsing gentlemanly puts his hat on her head, but these moments are few and far between. You can’t help but feel if he had cut a twenty-million dollar action sequence in favour of more of these little character beats, he would have created the emotional investment that we need for the payoff and saved himself a few bob in the process.
A triumph of style over content (the production design alone is worth the price, as are Beckinsale’s tight trousers), Van Helsing is a theme park Ghost Train; You’ll laugh, you’ll groan, you’ll marvel at the colourful monsters and backdrops, but when the ride is over you’ll forget most of it and go home mildly happy.
Spread over two discs, the best stuff can arguably be found on disc one, so whether you should shell out the extra couple of quid for this two-disc set is up to you as it’s also available as a one-disc edition. With the movie we get two commentaries; one from an exhuberant Sommers and one from Roxburgh, Kemp and Hensley (the monsters). There are featurettes on the creation of the special effects, a tour of Dracula’s castle, behind the scenes footage and various trailers. Best of all is the hilarious blooper reel which shows how likeable Jackman is in real life, doing pratfalls and giggling like a kid when he (frequently) breaks a prop. Much fun was obviously had by all.
On disc two you can explore Frankenstein’s lab, hear from composer Alan Silvestri about the scoring process, see timelapse footage of set construction and also individual featurettes on Dracula, The Women of Van Helsing, Frankenstein’s Monster and The Werewolves. Finishing things off is a map that allows you to view more behind the scenes footage from the key locations in the movie.
A vacuous Saturday night indulgence that won’t make any ‘best of’ lists but will please the casual action fan.