(2004)

Alan:

Ebert: Rolling Stone: TV Guide:




Warning, minor plot points revealed!

OK.  Apparently me the seven year olds down in the front rows at Van Helsing were the only people who "get" the movie.  Obviously Rolling Stone (See above) didn't.  Van Helsing was exactly what I expected.  I've seen the previews for months and I was ready for it.  And I loved it!

Van Helsing was written and directed with great affection for it's characters by Stephen Sommers.  He's the guy who directed the two Mummy movies with Brendan Fraser.  He's Hollywood's classic monster maven now.  

For those of you who saw and enjoyed The Mummy and The Mummy Returns for what they were (super action packed special effects thrill rides made for kids with enough wit for adults to enjoy) I definitely recommend you proceed directly to Van Helsing.  

It's also worth seeing this one on the big screen if you're interested because the visual effects and the art direction are fabulous.  Extra attention was given to the sets, Dr. Frankenstein's lab was recreated from the classic movie version, and the black and white introduction is super-cool.  Kate Beckinsale's last film, also a vampire and werewolf tale, Underworld, used a cool black and blue color scheme and this film employs similar tones and shading.

The story begins as the famous vampire hunter Van Helsing, coming off an assignment for The Vatican in Paris killing Mr. Hyde (yes Dr. Jekyl's other half), is sent to Transylvania where Dracula and his three vampiress concubines have had Dr. Frankenstein working on bringing his Monster to life as a test subject.  Dracula, uses the Wolfman as a sort of guard dog against the descendants of the Valerious family who have sworn to destroy him.  With the help of Dr. Frankenstein's former assistant Igor, Dracula hopes to use the Monster to replicate the life giving experiment that will zap his numerous vampiric spawn out of their undead gestation.  After her brother is bitten by the werewolf, the last remaining and sexiest Valerious, Anna, partners with Van Helsing to destroy Dracula's plans.  And with a little comic relief and gadget inventing from a Q-ish Friar named Carl, this James Bond-type Van Helsing kicks some fang!

The special effects in this movie are fantastic and non-stop.  It's cool how the people who become werewolves don't transform, but rather rip their skin off to reveal the wolf beneath.  The Frankenstein Monster is a mish-mash of corpse parts and machinery including iridescent neon generators and hydraulic shock absorbers.  Van Helsing's weapons are awesome, including a machine gun crossbow, and a Batman type grappling gun.  Come to thing about it, Van Helsing is very much like a cross between Batman and James Bond.  Dracula and his brides switch back and forth from human to demon with great effects as well.  And the sets and whole look of the film is like a pretty, yet scary, painting.

Now, Van Helsing is rated PG-13 but it's really kids who will love it and 13 year olds will probably be at the high end of the true fans.  Real teenagers may be too jaded to really get into the spirit of the fun.  There's nothing scarier than what was seen in the Mummy movies.

The actors all do a great job.  I won't tell you in detail, but there's a scene near the end when Hugh Jackman as Van Helsing does a very Wolverine type move that will probably not be noticed by anyone but the true nerds in the theater.  Stephen Sommers, the director, has peppered this film with all sorts of homage and references to other films so see what you can discover.  Kate Beckinsale is fine and super-duper sexy as Anna Valerious but one must wonder if she isn't creating a rut for herself with two back-to-back vampire/werewolf tales and the Underworld sequel currently in production.  Richard Roxburgh adds a great new performance to the long long list of people who have played Dracula.  Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid from the Harry Potter films) pops up in the beginning of the movie as the Hulk-like special effect that is Mr. Hyde.  And finally, rounding out the Lord of the Rings reunion that comes from seeing Van Helsing and Troy back to back, we get David "Faramir" Wenham in a new type of role as comic Friar Carl.  He's got some really funny parts and helps keep the movie rolling.  

Van Helsing is definitely worth seeing so don't listen to anybody who says otherwise.  It's a fun popcorn adventure movie with thrills for the kids and a few jokes for the parents.  It's summer now.  Lighten up and have fun.