Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Van Helsing

directed by Stephen Sommers

Van Helsing poster  
In a remote part of Transylvania, Dr Frankenstein is creating unnatural life whilst a pitchfork-wielding mob threatens to storm the castle. And who should be overseeing the work but Count Dracula himself.

Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is a monster hunter for the Vatican. We meet him as he's dispatching Mr Hyde, Dr Jekyll's other self, in Notre Dame cathedral. Like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, this is a film that plunders late nineteenth-century mythology, melding it all together into the Van Helsing story. Why revamp one legend when you can have them all?

The effects in this film are bold and noticeable, CGI characters interacting with real ones at every opportunity. In the spirit of "more is better" that has gripped most aspects of this movie, the action is relentless and the set pieces are over the top.

Chase scene? Check.

Explosions? Check.

Dangling precariously from ledges? Check.

Horde of flying snot-bombs? Check.

It may not make much sense to have an assassin working for the Vatican, and Van Helsing is something of an enigma. He has lost his memory, and he works for an underground church organisation that secretly dispatches demons and other supernatural menaces. There's more than a hint of James Bond to their covert operations and hidden base of operations. The friar Carl (David Wenham), is the nineteenth-century equivalent of Q. He's instructed to tag along on the next mission, presumably to provide comic relief. Van Helsing is to go to Transylvania to protect the remaining members of the Valerious family. They are sworn to kill Dracula, and if they fail none of the family will ascend to heaven.

The is the excuse for the rest of the movie's vampire hunting. It's not as though there is a lack of vampire films, and the Dracula legend in particular has been retold many times. The undead continue to fascinate us, but this version doesn't really add any new insights about them. Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) is improbably kitted out for a vampire hunter. With her corset, ringlets, and high heels she doesn't look prepared to take a dog for a walk, never mind ready to tackle werewolves or vampires. Richard Roxburgh plays Dracula as suave and villainous, yet tired of eternal life and unable to feel emotions in the way mortals can. But his performance comes over as lacklustre, perhaps because of all the clichés that are being dredged up. He lets his brides do most of the dirty work. These vampires regularly transform into their winged forms (and somehow absorb their own clothes) looking a little like chalk-white harpies, to terrorise Anna and the local villagers.

It's all fairly predictable, and the fight scenes are overlong. The possibility of a decent plot is hinted at with the backstory of Van Helsing's origins. But this is left dangling. Either the plot is full of holes and loose ends through bad scriptwriting, or this is deliberately planned because it's hoped to be the first film of a series.

Van Helsing isn't without its enjoyable moments, and it will please people who don't go to movies to flex the grey muscle. It's a glut of spectacle. The ending is sentimental, perhaps even melodramatic, and it doesn't chime well with the rest of the testosterone-filled mayhem. It is the first pause for thought in well over an hour. If only they hadn't waited until the very end to inject some meaning into this monster-mashing orgy of violence and CGI transformations, it would be a more watchable movie.

Film Details

Year: 2004

Categories: Films


Classification: 12

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2 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson


kristen     24th October, 2004 00:36am

i LOVE this movie!!!!i;m OBSSESSED with it. i've watched it almost 5 times.

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