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Van Helsing

USA/Czech Republic 2004
produced by
Stephen Sommers, Bob Ducsay, Sam Mercer (executive) for Universal, Carpathian Pictures, Stillking Films, The Sommers Company
directed by Stephen Sommers
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, Dana Moravková, Zuzana Durdinova, Jaroslav Vízner, Marek Vasut, Samantha Sommers
written by Stephen Sommers, music by Alan Silvestri, special effects by Industrial Lights & Magic (ILM), Dracula and Van Helsing created by Bram Stoker, Frankenstein created by Mary W. Shelley, Jekyll and Hyde created by Robert Louis Stevenson

Van Helsing, Dracula, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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After having taken care of Jekyll (Stephen Fisher) and Hyde (Robbie Coltrane) in Paris, Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), a demon hunter for the Vatican, is sent to Transylvania with his sidekick friar Carl (David Wenham) to deal with Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh). Once there, he soon meets Princess Anna (Kate Beckinsale), whose brother Velkan (Will Kemp) has been turned into a werewolf, and who is now out to not only kill Dracula (with quite an array of weapons) but to also get the antidote for her brother's lycanthropy.

Soon enough, the two find out that Dracula these days resides at castle Frankenstein, where he has peruaded Doctor Frankenstein (Samuel West) to create life (in the form of the customary monster played by Shuler Hensley), but once he has achieved that, Dracula killed the good Doctor. (But in some turmoil, the monster has later escaped and now resides in the customary burnt-out old mill, but more of that later.)

At Castle Frankenstein, Van Helsing and Anna find out why the vampire count is going to such length to create life: he and his brides have procreated, but their offspring is still in a larva state in a giant incubation room, and now it takes some, I don't know, lifeforce to bring them to life as such. Dracula has already tried to get the lifeforce from mere humans, but with disappointing results: his offspring, little bloodsucking gargoyles, has hatched alright and shown first signs of life, however for some reason soon enough, the little creatures just blew up ...

Now Dracula tries to get the lifeforce of Velkan the werewolf, which leads to the first clash between Van Helsing, Anna and the Count, but even that doesn't work properly. There's only one conclusion: The Count needs the lifeforce of the monster.

And of course, as these stories go, Van Helsing and Anna somehow stumble over the monster, who lived in happy anonymity below the mill, and made friends with him ... but somehow through them, Dracula finds out where the monster is ...

To save the monster, Van Helsing, Anna and Carl make a hasty escape, but to no avail, not only does Dracula finally get his hands on the monster and can take him to a secret place, Van Helsing is even bitten by a werewolf and will now turn into one himself ... unless they find Dracula, who has the cure. And then, Carl even finds out only a werewolf can kill Dracula the age old vampire.

... but Dracula is well hidden, and it takes a bit of dimensional travelling to find his castle ... that includes a giant incubation room - now only think what would happen if all those larvae would hatch, thanks to the monster ...

It all ends in a massive battle of Van Helsing - always on the verge of becoming a full fledged werewolf -, Anna, Carl and the monster against Dracula and his vampire brood, in the end though, werewolf Van Helsing does not only kill Dracula, he also gets the antidote just in time and is now human once more. Only Anna has to die a heroine's death ...

 

I have to admit, I kind of liked this movie.

I liked it because it does pay loving hommage to the Universal Horror Cycle of the 1930's and 40's, and to movie serials from that time ... and I have to admit I'm a bit of a sucker for both. And surprisingly enough (at least for a Hollawood blockbuster), the director (Stephen Sommers) proves in the film that he knows his sources beyond a quick and superficial flick through a reference book.

I only liked the movie kind of because it tries way too hard to be a big budget film at the same time as a hommage (and it has cost enough - reportedly 160 million Dollars - to fall into that category) ... and that's where the film miserably fails: Most of the CGI-effects - which must have taken most of the budget - are rather unconvincingly done and rather destroy the film's (nostalgic) atmosphere, for example the werewolves look way less convincing than Lon Chaney jr in The Wolf Man - and even though I like that movie, Chaney jr did not look very convincing -, most of the computer generated stunts - not at all helped by rapid editing - fail to convince the audience of any real danger for the characters, and the vampires' offspring, the gargoyles ... they do look cute but not at all menacing. And then there's of course Van Helsing himself, who has nothing to do with the aged professor from Bram Stoker's Dracula but is instead portrayed a bit like Clint Eastwood's Man with no Name in Sergio Leone's Dollar Trilogy - which seems a bit out of place in this film. And then there are these stupid plot ideas - like Dracula hiding his castle in another dimension - towards the end of the film, which just fail to make much sense ...

Still, I have to admit it's by far not as bad as I expected it to be, while silly, it might entertain you if you're in a mood for a bit of nostalgia and can forgive some horrible special effects and a storyline that at the end leans towards the esotheric. And then there's of course lovely Kate Beckinsale ...

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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written by
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