Van Helsing is in the world to rid all evil, even if not everyone agrees with him. The Vatican sends the monster hunter and his ally, Carl, to Transylvania. They have been sent to this land to stop the powerful Count Dracula. Whilst there they join forces with a Gypsy Princess called Anna Valerious, who is determined to end an ancient curse on her family by destroying the vampire. They just don't know how! Written by
If you're a purist-any kind of purist-stay away from Van Helsing. But if you love the Universal horror films of the 30's and 40's or the Hammer films of the 50's and 60's and don't mind re-imagining them, then go. Check your brain at the door, buy a large popcorn and a soda and sit back for a fun ride.
The film is a complete reworking of everything you think you know about all the big guys. Present for your enjoyment are Dracula, the Wolf man, Frankenstein's monster and a guest appearance by Mr. Hyde. And of course, tying the whole thing together is our hero, Van Helsing (yummily played by Hugh Jackman). Named Abraham in Stoker's book but called Gabriel in the film, VH doesn't appear in any book other than Dracula, but in the more than a century since his `birth' we've become accustomed to his presence as the elder statesman of monster killers.
Completely re-imagined in this new production, VH is now young, handsome, and virile and apparently as immortal and indestructible as the creatures he chases. Don't expect great resolutions or deep explanations here, there are none. Don't expect Academy Award level acting, some of the actors apparently phoned in their performances while others decided to take up the slack. The resultant scenery chewing is uneven, but never boring. The dialogue, not to put too fine a point on it, is absurd and sometimes unintentionally, howlingly funny.
The makers of this film are clearly fans of the genre. The subject matter is treated with a loving sledgehammer. As the film progressed my companion and I made a game of naming all the classics represented. In addition to those you might expect, we were able to recognize allusions to `Young Frankenstein,' `Star Wars,' `Aliens,' `Raiders of the Lost Ark,' `Gremlins,' `Romancing the Stone,' `Lord of the Rings,' `Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' `Twister,' "Wild, Wild West" and any James Bond film you care to name among others. If you go, try it yourself.
If the producers were intending to frighten us, they failed dismally; but if they only intended to entertain us they succeeded, if not brilliantly, at least admirably. I'm uncertain if they intended quite so much humor, but both my companion and I laughed out loud most of the way through.
In addition to inside jokes, the film is filled with extraordinary visual images. From the opening encounter between VH and a startlingly oversized and athletic Edward Hyde, physicality is the order of the day. Everyone, including Van Helsing's friar sidekick is a magnificent specimen. Even Frankenstein's monster (who I nicknamed `Sparky' for the electrical discharges from his partially exposed brain) is hideously beautiful. Also, the cinematography is breathtaking. Both real scenery and CGI imagined are dazzling. I especially loved the castles Dracula and Frankenstein. Both edifices were Mad Ludwig's Neuschwanstein Castle as imagined by Tim Burton. I'd almost say that if the film had no other virtues at all, it would still be worth the price of admission for the incredible beauty of its backgrounds. However, the real star of the film is the (you guessed it) special effects.
Transformation scenes abound. At any point in the film you are only moments from watching someone turn into something. And what wonderful things they are. Vampires don't become simple bats, but snake-jawed, full size harpies. The Wolf man sprouts saber tooth fangs as he rips the human skin from his body. Frankenstein's monster's flesh partially peels from his skull and is smoothly pushed back into place and Mr. Hyde morphs from grinning giant menace to pitiful human corpse.
Not to put too fine a point on it, everyone-vampires, villagers, heroes, even horses and cattle go airborne sometime during the film. Dracula's three brides take the prize for most hang time. These ladies would be a wonderful asset to the Transylvanian Air Force with their dizzying dives, spins and barrel rolls. The camera gives us a bat's eye view of their deadly aerobatic ballet. When not in full flight Dracula and his wives walk up walls, across ceilings and carry on family quarrels while hanging from the rafters by their toes. Those characters that do not fly on their own power are lifted aloft and usually dropped soon after. The rest are climbers, scrambling up and down castle architecture like houseflies on speed. Interestingly, no one is ever seriously hurt or even has a hairstyle mussed.
The scenes shift so rapidly that it becomes difficult at times to follow the story. Fortunately, the gossamer plot is as deep as a kiddie's backyard swimming pool, so it isn't too much of a problem. Only the barest bones are needed to carry us from one action sequence to the next. Although there is no nudity and not a cussword is uttered, the film is violent. Well, of course it's violent--and about as traumatic as a Road Runner cartoon. Still, it earns its PG-13 rating. Leave the little 'uns home. The throbbing, pounding soundtrack keeps the attention even when not very much is happening.
Is Van Helsing a great film? No. Absolutely not. Is it a good film? No, not really. Is it entertaining? Yes. And maybe, just maybe, that's enough.
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