Director: Stephen Sommers Cast: Hugh Jackman, Will Kemp, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Elena Anaya, Shuler Hensley, Martin Klebba, Silvia Colloca, Kevin J. O'Connor, Josie Maran, Samuel West
Duration: 132 minutes
Perhaps we haven't dated yet, but I'm going to talk about Casablanca nonetheless. It's a great film, you'd love it, ought to watch it, did you know it was supposed to be a B-movie? Sure, no expense wasn't spared and (you've really got to see it) that last shot of the aeroplane was fake. Really, it's a model. In the middle of a war and they still had to use a toy.
But do you have any idea of what really makes Casablanca great? You can arrive half way through, miss every introduction to each character, find yourself in a quagmire of events and counter-events and you'll still enjoy it between tears of joy and grief. The words caress as the drama unfolds, and the gags are hilarious.
Conversely, if you were to find yourself stumbling through the aisle trying not to block everyone's view of Van Helsing you might find yourself being both less confused and less bothered by what you missed, though sadly on account of neither lucid character portraits nor clues dotted throughout the picture. What keeps you ahead of the game, aside from Point B, is the sense of déjà vu for no other reason than that you will, must, shall indeed can't help but have seen it before. Van Helsing's director has shown no compunction in pilfering ("drawing inspiration") from horror flicks of yore and offering the thinnest morsel of a plot to string the hours along. He has beaten Tarantino on his home turf, and has perfected the tonic to pre-bought popcorn.
First demon to feel the heat is Mr Hyde (or Mr Jeckyll, whichever way wins) whose little cameo tidily links the full-frontal live movie with its animated cousin, The London Assignment, the financial first base on the Helsing franchise. Additionally, Stephen Sommers has gleefully re-released the original Draculas, Frankensteins, and Werewolf films with introductionettes on how useful they all were. Furthermore there's a new TV drama aptly titled Transylvania and set in Seattle. Or something not far from it, as Transylvania exists, but most likely in some dank and blue-tinged CGI recess of Jennifer Aniston's sofa. It's undoubtedly populated by beasts of pixelated evil and well-buxomed heroines who try their best not to look like Catherine Zeta-Jones. Not that Kate Beckinsale even tried, though the limpid irony in that offspring from "that chap in Porridge" have been trussed up to resemble Romany ladettes provides some entertainment, if only successful through its unintentional delivery.
Which untenuously introduces Point B. Published Hollywood budgets are always inflamed like an Odyssian blister, but Van Helsing certainly cost more than the price of a cinema ticket to make and, after more sham monsters than you can shake a politician at, I felt rather under-awed and never less so after each successive Dolby-volley battered my ears. Cinema is on a relentless decibel rise, and directors have realised that huge sounds can frighten where the moving image, well, won't. But this cosy idea can't hide its own shelf life. It's like Hitchcock replacing Psycho's snippets of screeching violins with a little chap endlessly scraping a blackboard between your sinuses. It would freak you for a short while, and then drive you mad. Sommer's over-amped audio merely impels you to a stupor. That's no real substitute for tension, and in no time at all you will start wondering about the test results. Or mortgage rates. Or the taste of salt.
Perhaps if there were a single hummable tune you could at least leave the cinema with something, a meagre crumb of your deposit. The recipes not bad as Alan Silvestri has produced some of the 1980's most memorable scores, though here he seems to have been given around fifty conflicting briefs as to what guise the central theme should take. Which makes increasing sense once you appreciate that for all his strutting strides and sultry hats, Hugh Jackman has in effect donated your time to nothing more than a crude marketing strategy, and so at some point fifty offstruck themes should come in handy.
It's not all bad news, and I'd be (slightly) dishonest to suggest that every second was a tundrous bore. The action sequences are engaging at first, and Beckinsale's comedy accent adds an air of exquisite campness to the grating outdoors. What irks is that between Ian Flemish one-liners and a variety of Shrek In Middle Earth melodrama you're never sure if they're all in on the joke, or even if you should be laughing at anything at all. There are times when the cast are excruciatingly close to descending consciously into an all-out farce, and then someone nice dies, in a suitably gory fashion. And just when things were darkening into Tim Burtonesque gravitas Helsing's own Q pops up and rattles off something ridiculous. Even when a vampire is about to meet its Waterloo it finds itself compelled to explain in advance how that's going to happen. But when whole villages of morons are carried off like lemmings and Richard Roxburgh makes even Bela Lugosi seem macho, how should you react? And if you can't laugh along with the wholesale diminution of your species, whatever is left? Tragic inner resonance? Perhaps for a few seconds, though one outing of the inevitable cod-philosophy dispels any remaining chance of serious interplay between screen and audience.
If you're lucky enough to resemble the drooling blob that Universal Pictures thinks personifies the Lower Male Quadrant, then you possess the necessary qualities to enjoy Van Helsing. Sommers and his team don't stop at requesting zero brain function as much as ardently requiring it and for some, alas, this is tantamount to a divine hand dragging them into the nearest multiplex. Yet for the Third World deficit spent on annihilating Stoker's quiet hero, I left the show feeling poorer from the hours that were so mischievously robbed. Projecting every childhood nightmare to 16:9 is a certifiable trove of success once certain conditions are met. And they weren't.
DVD Extras: Disc One: Commentary with director Stephen Sommers and producer Bob Duscay. Commentary with Richard Roxburgh, Shuler Hensley and Will Kemp. Explore Dracula's Castle. Bloopers. Bringing Monsters To Life. You Are In The Movie. The Legend of Van Helsing. Trailers.
Disc Two: Explore Frankenstein's Lab. Van Helsing: The Story, The Life, The Legend (mini-documentary). Track The Adventure: Van Helsing Map. The Music of Van Helsing. Dracula's Lair Is Transformed.