Van Helsing (4/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

Van Helsing starts out with a climax and picks up from there. Alas, itís too much. For two hours weíre subjected to Alan Silvestriís upbeat music, bats, vampires, werewolves, every monster ever begotten from Universal Studios archives, from Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), to Frankensteinís monster (Shuler Hensley) to Mr. Hyde (Stephen H. Fisher).

Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) first appeared in Bram Stokerís 1897 novel, Dracula, as a 60 year old man called Abraham. Writer-director Stephen Sommers changed his name to Gabriel and made him a 30ish hunk in the person of Jackman.

Van Helsing is sent by some shadowy organization in Rome to save the last members of an ancient family committed to the destruction of Dracula in order to lift a curse hanging over the family. Turns out the only one left is Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), a violent piece of work herself, whose brother, Velkan (dancer Will Kemp) is in the process of turning into another of Universalís  monsters, the Wolf Man.

Sommers ties all the monsters together in a story that barely hangs together. Actually you donít pay much attention to the story because there are so many special effects and so many climaxes that, who cares? Iíve never been particularly swept away by movies populated by characters who canít die pursued by characters who can survive 100 foot falls and other absurdities.

The main problem with this, a horror movie, is that itís not even an itsy-bitsy, teeny weeny bit scary. There is not one scene in this movie that induces fear or horror. Do you remember the terror generated by the Boris Karloff Frankenstein (1931) and the Bela Lagosi Dracula (1931)? How about Spencer Tracyís Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)? Even now these films effectively produce fright. Thereís nothing remotely like those scares in Van Helsing. Of course Frankenstein, et. al. were working mainly with script and lighting and ambience and acting. They werenít burdened by special effects, so they had to make sure they scared people with exceptional filmmaking.

It seemed to me that Sommers couldnít figure out whether he was making a comedy or a horror movie or an action movie or a primer on special effects. Whatever, he failed in each genre.

Despite (or maybe because of) the nonstop action and the special effects, I looked at my watch a lot. This is too long and the script is nothing but segues from one action, special effect-laden, sequence to another. After a slam-bang winner with The Mummy, (1999), which had a clever script, Sommers has missed the boat here, regardless of how much money it might make. This film is neither scary nor funny.

May 4, 2004

The End