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Van Helsing

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Van Helsing

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale
Director: Stephen Sommers
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 132 Minutes
Release Date: May 2004
Genres: Action, Horror

*Also starring: Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Will Kemp, Shuler Hensley, Elena Anaya, Silvia Colloca, Martin Klebba, Samuel West

Review by Harvey Karten
2 stars out of 4

"I vahnt to sock yourrr blahd!" You might expect to find that

quote uttered in Stephen Sommers's ("The Mummy") high-tech,

expensive reinvention of the Dracula myth. Yet what a shame it

would be to plagiarize Bela Lugosi's expression of his deepest

desire in the classic, 1931 "Dracula," Tod Browning's masterful

re-creation of the Transylvanian vampire working his evil spell

on perplexed groups of Londers. Now with a new score by

Philip Glass, Browning's "Dracula" is still the king, reigning over

such hybrids as George Melford's "Dracula" of the same year

featuring provocatively-dressed women; John Badham's 1979

"Dracula," with a great cast featuring Frank Langella, Laurence

Olivier, Donald Pleasence and Kate Nelligan; "Bram Stoker's

Dracula" Alan Gibson's take with Peter Cushing and Christopher

Lee; and an assortment of lesser films like "Dracula and Son,"

Mel Brooks's comical "Dracula: Dead and Loving It," Freddie

Francis's "Dracula Has Risen From the Grave," etc. etc. as you

might expect from filmmakers eager to exploit such a blood-

curdling medieval myth.

If we're to compare this Sommers version to its predecessors,

we'd have to say that he's got first prize for technology but that

neither Bela Lugosi nor Frank Langella nor ever Bram

Stoker whose novel published in 1897 is provided the

motivation for a wealth of cinematic treatments should feel

threatened. Still the large target audience of youth would dig

the current scene, given the wildly creative computer graphics

backed by Alan Silvestri's eardrum-paralyzing soundtrack while

the pro-classic biddies like me would have preferred a close

rendition of the Stoker novel. Who needs Drac to turn into a bat

or his brides into ghastly birds giving rise to thousands of "Lord-

of-the-Rings" monstrosities that would make Alfred Hitchcock's

"The Birds" seem like an Aristophanes comedy?

Since Professor Van Helsing might not go over with a modern,

youthful audience if he were rendered like Bram Stoker's aging,

Amsterdam professor called into action to aid the failing Lucy,

Sommers gives us the ruggedly handsome Hugh Jackman, now

so much in demand that fans can't get enough of him at

Broadway's Imperial Theatre where he performs in the role of

the boy from Oz. Jackman's Van Helsing is directed by a

cardinal in Vatican City to head East to Transylvania, though

this time the late-19th century hero is equipped with weapons at

least one of which looks both forward and backward a classy

crossbow with a telescopic-like sight that can shoot a half-

dozen arrows per second. Never mind the garlic, the crucifixes,

the stakes. Van Helsing discovers in his earliest meeting with

Dracula (a stunning, sure-footed Richard Roxburgh given just

enough make-up to render him on the barely human side of

paleness) that the old remedies simply tickle Dracula's funny-


The film, which recalls the battles in all three editions of the

"Lord of the Rings" (therefore taking away some of the virtues of

reinvention), cost $148 million and looks it. However, you don't

always get what you pay for, and here's why. When I was a kid

and movies were still black-and-white, we thrilled to Tod

Browning's 1931 classic version because of its simplicity.

Dracula (Bela Lugosi) would rest in his wooden coffin during the

sunlight hours and go into action only after sunset. The story

was absolutely focused on the plan to drive a wooden stake into

his heart, preferably while he was reclining without defenses in

this box. Sommers, who both wrote and directed the current

version, throws in everything perhaps including even the kitchen

sink, wasting time with werewolves, Dr. Frankenstein's monster,

and Dracula all having receiving filmed versions by Universal

Studios, even giving us a battle between Van Helsing and a

Hulk-sized Mr. Hyde. There is absolutely no reason to blow

Hyde up in this way, making him paradoxically less scary than

he was in the Robert Louis Stevenson's down-to-earth saga

about the negative side-effects of scientific exploration.

Consider this formula when you see the picture: the larger the

demon, the fewer scares he engenders.

The writing is the weakest link in the chain of command, the

clunky dialogue giving rise to no small number of unintentional

laughs by the audience. Sommers's pace is frantic, giving the

impression that he's afraid that members of his audience will

actually consider the spoken words: he therefore distracts us

with endless visuals, Van Helsing's Sancho Panza in the form of

Friar Carl (David Wenham), providing little comedy and less

relief. Dracula's brides, who could take the form of blind dates

from hell and prom queens depending on which side they wish

to expose, are bolstered by standard-issue CGI, while Kate

Beckinsale as Anna Valeriou, to whom Dracula gives priority as

she is the last of the royal clan, goes through the rules of genre

romances by playing hard-to-get at first until she trusts Van

Helsing to kill her own wolf-man brother, Velkan (Will Kemp).

There's little doubt that the $148 million will be recovered, if

not completely in the box office, then by the video games that

will emerge therefrom. But is anyone actually scared these

days by vid-games?

Copyright 2004 Harvey Karten

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