Van Helsing

May 6th, 2004 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Directed by: Stephen Sommers

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham

Hollywood, Hollywood, Hollywood, when will you ever learn?

When will you learn that the more eye candy you inject into a film, the less story you can fit? When will you learn that pouring the GDP of a small nation into marketing a movie will not make it a success .. especially if it’s money that should have gone into script development. Haven’t you learned that after the CG blockbusters that underperformed at the box office in the hysterical 2003 blockbuster season because of advertising fatigue?

When will you invest in characters, stories, originality? When will you take a leaf out of Peter Jackson’s book and use the tools of the trade to tell a better story, not drape a series of effects-saturated spectacles loosely onto a plot?

To be fair to Universal’s American summer holiday hopeful, Van Helsing doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. It’s a huge, popcorn-flavoured event movie. They certainly have their place at the movies, but that place is narrowing more each year as we sit through the same stuff over and over again.

Ironically, it’s such a strong premise it could have been the film of the year. Van Helsing (Gabriel rather than Abraham) is an undercover monster hunter working for The Vatican. They assign him to a bleak Romanian province called Transylvania, where vampires have been menacing a village in the shadow of a brooding castle.

Think a small, dark, slightly erotic treatment by The Hughes Brothers or Neil Jordan and the back-story of Stoker’s famous vampire slayer (and that of the most famous monsters in history) becomes intriguing. But injected with a multi-million dollar sugar rush where sets and pixels meld worlds in almost every frame, and its just another video game.

Under the employ of the mysterious Count Dracula, the scientist Frankenstein brings his famous creation to life to serve the diabolical purpose of the Count and his three (disturbingly foxy) vampire brides, a plot to populate the Earth with his kindred.

As this is an Eastern European village in the dark ages, the townsfolk are all scruffy, unattractive peasants except for the single babe who’s always wearing sexy, catlike gear and has perfect hair and makeup. And for Princess Anna (Beckinsale), it’s personal as always.

Anna, Van Helsing and his friar companion Carl (David Wenham, in tedious comic sidekick mode) team up to push the powers of Universal’s post production crews to the limit as they battle Dracula’s hordes of vampires, werewolves and little worker bee critters that look like a cross between Nazi death camp officers and Jawas.

Van Helsing’s mysterious history is alluded to several times, but don’t be under any illusions that this is a character-driven piece. The secret of his quest is dispensed with in a heartbeat so Sommers & Co can get back to the serious work of smashing things and starting fights.

The thrills and spills — we’ve been seeing snippets of them in the trailer for a while now — are front and centre and they’re many. Many are ridiculously over the top, making it at hard times to distinguish between Van Helsing and the other overblown CG-driven action movies of the last 12 months.

Showing moviemaking expertise in marketing and the latest 3D software but nothing more, it’s a bit exciting and certainly looks good but a sausage-factory script and too much reliance on special effects make it banal and instantly forgettable.

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