VAN HELSING (2004) 2 stars out of 4. Starring Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale,
Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Shuler Hensley, Elena Anaya, Will Kemp, Kevin
J. O'Connor and Alun Armstrong. Written and directed by Stephen Sommers. Rated
I wanted to like Van Helsing. Being a big fan of the Universal horror films of
the 1930s and '40s, I realized that the creatures I would be viewing in Stephen
Sommers' new feature would not be my dear, old friends from Chiller Theatre.
Unfortunately, Sommers must have been watching a different channel when the
old Universals aired because he left out the main ingredient that propelled
those now quaint films -- atmosphere.
Van Helsing isn't so much a horror film as is it a Universal theme park
attraction. It provides thrills and goosebumps, but fails to envelope you in
that shroud of fear like any good film from the genre.
Actually, the movie begins on a promising note. Filmed in black and white, the
feature opens with the usual mob of torch-carrying villagers chasing
Frankenstein's creature to a windmill then burning it down around him.
From that point, the movie, too, generally goes up in flames.
In the original Dracula, Van Helsing was a man of science who used his brain
to defeat the vampire.
In Van Helsing, he's a strapping, young hunk -- part James Bond, part Indiana
Jones -- who uses an array of weapons and gadgets to fight evil.
It's all preposterous nonsense that is more insult than tribute to those grand
old creatures of the night.
Van Helsing isn't so much a movie as is it a $100 million-plus video game. Its
Transylvania looks more like an arcade or home computer screen. It's cold and
flavorless. Even an old Universal soundstage exhibited more life and realism.
The problem also extends to the most part to the creatures. Too much reliance
on CGI and computer tricks reduce the fear quotient to nearly nil.
Richard Roxburgh acts more like a spoiled, flamboyant rock star than a
menacing vampire. He's about as frightening as an insurance agent.
On the other hand, Shuler Hensley adds a strong dose of pathos to his
Creature, who only wants to be accepted by mankind, instead of being hunted and
As in the original films, Will Kemp's Velken becomes a werewolf not of his own
choice, but by being bitten battling another lycanthrope.
As for Hugh Jackman's Van Helsing, he tries to bring some drama and mystery to
his character, using that age-old dodge of remembering nothing of his past.
However, he is continually overwhelmed by the demands of the special effects
department and the arsenal he continually lugs around.
Kate Beckinsale grimly marches through the film, a one-dimensional warrior
princess interested only in killing the undead.
Van Helsing, owes more to such recent features as The League of Extraordinary
Gentlemen, then its Universal ancestors. The movie is more theme park coming
attraction than motion picture.
Bob Bloom is the film critic at the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, Ind. He
can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Bloom's reviews also can be found at the Journal and Courier
Web site: www.jconline.com
Other reviews by Bloom can be found at the Rottentomatoes Web site:
www.rottentomatoes.com or at the Internet Movie Database Web site:
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