Commentary by actors Richard Roxburgh, Shuler Hensley and Will Kemp
360° Tour of Dracula’s Castle
“Bringing the Monsters to Life” featurette
“You Are in the Movie” (miniature cameras on-set)
The Legend of “Van Helsing”
Play the first level of the Van Helsing Xbox game
Van Helsing’s latest assignment is to kill Count Vladislaus Dracula, a vampire living in Transylvania. He is to team up with Anna Valerious, the last of a long line of gypsy monster killers dedicated to killing Dracula and his three vampire brides.
When Van Helsing arrives in Transylvania, he finds that he’s facing more than he bargained for. Not only must he and Anna battle Dracula’s brides, but his werewolf servant as well. The two also discover that Dracula has an insidious plan to unleash a new horror upon the world. It just so happens that Frankenstein’s monster, thought destroyed long ago, is the key to making it happen. With Anna and his friar sidekick Carl in tow, Van Helsing heads into battle once again.
Van Helsing is rated PG-13 for nonstop creature action violence and frightening images, and for sensuality.
The movie begins with a show-stopping opening that instantly sets the mood and had me hooked. Filmed in black and white, you quickly feel like you’re watching a classic Universal monster movie. The sets, costumes, and characters all scream classic horror movie. Dr. Frankenstein even yells out the old “It’s alive!!!” line. Throw Dracula into the mix and it’s enough to make any horror fan think he’s reached nirvana. The film then flashes forward to a battle between Van Helsing and Mr. Hyde that is pretty cool (and puts LXG’s Mr. Hyde to shame). The rest of the film has geek fulfilling moments like Dracula vs. the Wereworlf, Dracula vs. Frankenstein’s Monster, Van Helsing vs. Dracula’s Brides, etc. It’s all quite a bit of fun.
Sommers also tinkers with the monster legends just enough to retain the classic characteristics of them while still making them unique to the movie. Dracula’s Brides have a unique, bat-like look as well as a few new powers. Frankenstein’s Monster has a modern, effects filled look while still retaining the bolts in his neck, bad walk, and flat head. The werewolves also transform in an interesting way not shown of screen before (as far as I know). This helps to give the film a new look and feel while still keeping the creatures familiar. (Unfortunately, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelly aren’t credited anywhere in the film for creating the characters.)
Hugh Jackman stars as Van Helsing. He’s kind of a mix of Wolverine (who has a mysterious past), James Bond (adventurer with cool gadgets), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (fighting the supernatural), and Hellboy. I’m a fan of Hugh Jackman, but I didn’t think this role brought out his best qualities. Van Helsing is kind of one-dimensional compared to Jackman’s other characters. It didn’t help that he didn’t have much chemistry with Kate Beckinsale. However, Jackman did handle the action well and he is a fun hero to root for, so he makes a pretty good Van Helsing.
Kate Beckinsale as Anna Valerious supports Jackman. She fulfills her role well by being tough and pretty, but not much more is asked of her. (And how does she battle monsters in high heels?) David Wenham also couldn’t be more different from his Lord of the Rings character as Friar Carl. He provides most of the comic relief for the film as Van Helsing’s sidekick and “Q”. It’s unfortunate that he’s rather annoying, but he otherwise does what’s asked of him as well.
The effects are a bit of a mixed bag. Some of them aren’t that great while others are spectacular. Many of the werewolf shots are quite impressive. They give the character impossible strength and speed and they make him appropriately scary. The shots of Transylvania and the castles are also quite impressive. I also thought that though Mr. Hyde was a bit CGI, he still looked great and made a formidable opponent for Van Helsing. Overall there’s some nice eye candy in the film.
I also have to say that I liked the film score by Alan Silvestri. The action scenes and monster scenes feature powerful, booming base drums that instantly set you in the mood for the story. It’s a great action score. Then during other moments he uses a guitar to set a lighter mood for Van Helsing himself. The score is at times over the top, but that’s just what this popcorn flick needs.
As already mentioned, Van Helsing has a fair amount of camp included in it. For example, characters swing around doing gravity defying feats that Spider-Man would be hard pressed to imitate. Anna Valerious swings hundreds of feet in the air in the rain one handed and catches an object unnecessarily thrown to her. Other times she does impossible flips to land a perfect 10… in high heels. Then there’s Van Helsing who has an automatic crossbow that fires a seemingly endless supply of arrows. Then there’s the dialogue that is also campy. One of Dracula’s brides actually says, “Too bad. So sad.” At another time Anna Valerious stops dead in her tracks and then randomly says how she regrets having never seen the ocean. (A sure sign of impending doom.) It goes on from there. Your enjoyment of the movie will depend greatly on how you react to the campiness of the movie. If you hate it, then you’ll hate Van Helsing. If you’re OK with it or enjoy it, then you’ll enjoy the movie.
Also bad is Dracula himself, Richard Roxburgh. Dracula is supposed to be scary, sexy, and intimidating. I didn’t find him to be any of these things. There are a few occasions in the movie when he has monologues with his brides where his over-the-top performance was downright laughable. I thought he was going to say, “I vant to drink your blud” once or twice. Any time the brides and Dracula appear on the screen together, you can expect a cringe-worthy moment to come. Dracula also has some Oompa Loompas from hell called Dwergers that were pretty lame. I guess every bad guy needs lackeys, but these were not that great.
I wasn’t terribly fond of this incarnation of Frankenstein’s monster, either. In Mary Shelly’s novel, he was incredibly fast, strong, and well educated. In this movie is slow and clumsy, though he is very strong. It made him seem more like a liability or an afterthought than a major ally of our heroes. He shows real promise during the opening of the film, but that quickly goes away by the end.
As already mentioned, some of the effects are pretty bad. One that really stands out is when a horse coach jumps a broken bridge in slow motion. It looked terribly CG and not believable at all. I think a good portion of the audience and I groaned, “Oh, please…” when it happened. Some trapeze artists late in the movie also looked particularly weak, especially when Van Helsing joins in on their routine. I could name other scenes, but it would be beating a dead horse.
This leads to my last point the movie left a lot of questions in my mind. Why did Van Helsing lose his memory? Why has he been alive for so long? There are other questions I have, but I can’t get into them without discussing the end of the movie. Suffice it to say that I think a lot of plot holes and lapses in logic appeared in the story for the sake of bringing all these separate, classic characters together on the screen. Whether or not that’s a good or bad thing will depend on your personal tastes.
I think Van Helsing is worth seeing but again, your reaction to the campiness will affect your liking of the film. Your thoughts on The Mummy Returns will be a good measure of that.
Commentary by director Stephen Sommers and Editor/Producer Bob Duscay This is probably the more interesting of the two commentaries. Sommers and Duscay deliver a lively commentary full of trivia about the shooting, the story, their choices of visual images, and more.
Commentary by actors Richard Roxburgh, Shuler Hensley and Will Kemp Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman provide the second commentary for this DVD. Unfortunately, this commentary was the first time the guys had apparently seen the completed film, so they don’t offer a whole lot of info about the filming. They spend more time marveling at the sets, trying to remember the scenes they shot, etc. You’re probably better off listening to the other commentary if you want more info.
360° Tour of Dracula’s Castle This is a video tour of the castle set. The set itself is quite impressive but this tour is kind of weak. Dracula and his bride provide commentary as you go through it. It doesn’t take long to get annoying.
“Bringing the Monsters to Life” featurette This 10 minute video gets into detail about how the monster effects were made. They highlight Mr. Hyde, Dracula’s Brides, the Wolfman, and more. ILM gets to really strut their stuff here and it is impressive. If you’re into visual effects like I am, you’ll find this to be the best of the bonus features.
Outtakes This is a fun 5 minute long blooper reel. It has your typical flubbed lines, trips, and a lot of breaking props. This, too, is a highlight of the bonus features.
“You Are in the Movie” (miniature cameras on-set) This is a different twist on behind the scenes footage. They put miniature cameras hidden on the set and recorded the shooting of key scenes from a variety of views. The result is a unique look at how the movie was filmed. You can watch this short feature with the clips, then watch the movie itself with even more scenes by clicking on icons that pop up.
The Legend of “Van Helsing” This short feature talks about the literary origins of Van Helsing, his various movie incarnations, and his character in this film. Sommers talks about his spin on the character as well as Hugh Jackman himself.
The Bottom Line: