March 31, 2003
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, ,
The veritable assault and battery that Universal Pictures marketing department have bestowed in recent weeks is now all abundantly clear. Realising the celluloid travesty they have on their hands the powers that be have invested as much money as possible in advertising to guarantee a decent opening weekend. Good move but word of mouth will ensure Van Helsing is remembered as one of the worst summer blockbusters in recent memory.
Writer/Director Stephen Sommers has spent $150 million dollars making a vapid, moronic, utterly tedious video game that achieves the lofty distinction of not bearing one redeemable quality. Every aspect of this overblown piece from SFX, costume design, score, cinematography, editing and acting is so terrible one can only pray that poor box office receipts abort plans for the inevitable sequel.
The casting of Hugh Jackman as the titular Van Helsing should have done the film a few favours in the charisma stakes (excuse the pun) however so cripplingly is the director’s vision that he is rendered lifeless and bland. No time is wasted on creating a credible character with some form of logical background or motivation. Instead we are subjected to a series of mind numbing monster-mashing sequences that seem to blunder on for an eternity. While watching you feel as if you’re caught in a SFX induced spin cycle that, like a petulant child throwing a schizophrenic tantrum, refuses to give in.
The hopeless plot and story, as it is, sees Van Helsing monster hunting for the Vatican which, we are led to believe, operate like a 18th Century MI5 complete with cardinal figure as ‘M’ and a quirky weapon inventing Friar as ‘Q’. Not only is this segment unimaginative plagiarism (which is actually true of the entire film) its so clearly tacked on to allow Van Helsing and co access to 21st Century friendly weaponry that I, as a reasonably intelligent audience member was mortally offended that the filmmakers deem us so dense as to not even raise an eyebrow.
Having dispatched the Mr Hyde half of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in the film’s 2nd long winded opening sequence (don’t ask) Van Helsing finds himself shipped off to Transylvania to assist Gypsy princess Anna (Beckinsale) and her band of rowdy villagers against the fiendish plots of Count Dracula (Roxburgh) and his brides.
From here things get even more nonsensical – Drac is using Dr Frankenstein’s method of creating new life to clone a group of vampire babies so he can take over the world. Anna’s brother (Will Kemp) is running around the place as a werewolf to stretch out the running time and provide Jackman the opportunity to be thrown against walls and from speeding stagecoaches.
I’m sure Sommers believed he was throwing in some contemporary themes with the whole Frankenstein/cloning vampire babies subtext but let’s face it if you’re going to include these elements, even in a blockbuster, you should at least make a reasonable attempt to explain why, how, when, who and what.
So preoccupied is he with the next big thrill that all other fundamental ingredients of basic, adequate film-making are jettisoned in favour of bombastic action with the deluded notion that if employed quickly enough no one will notice the gaping lack of logic and coherence. Big flaw here being that the special effects are rubbish. Like Matrix Reloaded nearly ever scene is so heavily CGI’d that even the humans are rendered 3 dimensional and not in a good way. An absolute lack of thrills ensues with some of the blame landing on the doorstep of the person responsible for the trailer. Nothing happens that hasn’t already been well and truly signposted so any hope of tension is lost.
The hapless Beckinsale adopts a comedy East European accent that’s more Sesame Street then authentic Romanian and thoroughly exhausts her two expressions. Not only is she absurdly well groomed the outfit is pure Jean Paul Gautier who, to my knowledge, didn’t have a shop in 19th Century Transylvanian. Did the costume department not think that if you spent your days running from flying vampire brides in a muddy village then high heel velvet boots probably aren’t the most sensible choice of foot attire.
Dracula’s brides, by the way, are ridiculous and provide most of the, unintentional, humour especially when they attempt to display anguish. The actresses employed are an embarrassment to the craft of acting.
Richard Roxburgh, so wonderful in Moulin Rouge, delivers a Count Dracula that fails to be remotely scary, sexy or even mildly interesting. The accent, hair and facial mannerisms made me wonder if his agent had mistakenly told him he’d signed up for Scary Movie 4: Career Nadir.
Jackman plays it all like Shakespeare who, along with David Wenham as his funny-as-colon-cancer comedy sidekick, muster the kind of buddy buddy relationship that make Clint Eastwood and a monkey seem positively inspired. Jackman is a talented actor and capable of so much more than this – he’s involvement in this reeks of easy money and considering he already has a franchise in X-Men, pointless.
Van Helsing is the perfect example of inane, soulless big budget Hollywood filmmaking. This is wretched and deafening proof that studio movie making has finally hit rock bottom.