Gabriel (?!) Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), 19th-Century James Bond/Batman action guy forthe Vatican, is dispatched to Transylvania, where Dracula is up to no good. Dracula wants to usethe Frankenstein Monster’s life force to bring to life his thousands of vampire offspring, littlebat-gremlin thingies that so far only live for a few moments before expiring. Should Draculasucceed, the world will be overwhelmed with vampires. Jackman is aided by Kate Beckinsale (ina wildly anach…onistic skin-tight get-up) and is hampered by the fact that he’s been bitten by awerewolf.
Sigh. I suppose it’s too much to ask that Stephen Sommers be clapped in irons the next timehe takes it in his head to rework a classic monster (and apparently next on his butcher’s black isthe Creature from the Black Lagoon), but won’t someone PLEASE explain that CGI is not to beused at all times and in all places, ESPECIALLY in a horror film. The opening of the film is abeautiful B&W re-creation of the classic Universal monster films, in particular the 1931Frankenstein. The look is so gorgeous that the scene is actually depressing, because youknow what is likely to come next. Sure enough, what follows is unbounded stupidity, lame comicrelief, dangling plot threads (the mystery of Van Helsing’s past, about which such a big deal ismade, is never properly explained), and shriekingly obvious CGI. The humans bounce around asartificially as the monsters, so there’s no sense of danger, and the climax features a battlebetween a bad CG werewolf and a bad CG bat. Sommers may be a big fan of the classic films,but he has absolutely no sense of what made them work.
The music is huge, portentous and booming, promising much. And if the movie itself fails todeliver, the soundtrack is still spectacular. Some of the score is even more disturbing than in thetheatres: the electronic beat that begins in the Paris sequence seems to be coming from inside theviewer. The bass is rich, and the environmental effects are superb. Great stuff.
It’s time to think of sow’s ears and silk purses, because the awful story and wildly variableeffects are blessed with an absolutely tip-top transfer. There is no grain or edge enhancement, andthe image is perfectly sharp. The B&W in the opening is to die for, and the blacks remain perfectonce we shift into colour. The contrasts are very strong, and the picture is never murky. Greatcolours too, and ditto for the flesh tones.
There are two commentaries. The first is by Sommers and co-producer/editor Bob Ducsay.Lots of technical info from Ducsay, and Sommers seems extremely pleased with himself and hisfilm. He shouldn’t be, as in such moments when he and Ducsay burble about how convincing theCG Notre Dame shot is, when there are computer games out there that do a far better job.Commentary 2 features cast members Richard Rosburgh (whose Dracula is one of the worst onrecord), Shuler Hensley (the Monster) and Will Kemp (Velkan). They appear to have rather lessinvested in the film. “Explore Dracula’s Castle” is an interactive feature where you selectdifferent views of the castle. This is really no more than a rather pointless showing-off of the setdesign. “Bringing the Monsters to Life” and “The Legend of Van Helsing” are the usualpromotional featurettes, and of some (but very limited) interest. “You Are In the Movie” is aglorified behind-the-scenes feature, which can be triggered while watching the film, or you canlook at the individual scenes directly. There are bloopers, the trailer and the Superbowl TV spot,a few extra trailers and previews, an Xbox game preview, and some DVD-ROM features. Themenu is fully animated and scored.
Bloated mess as this is, it DID prompt the release of the Universal Monster Legacy series.Buy those instead.
Special Features List
- 2 Audio Commentaries
- “Explore Dracula’s Castle” Interactive Feature
- “Bringing the Monsters to Life” Featurette
- “The Legend of Van Helsing” Featurette
- TV Spot
- Xbox Preview
- DVD-ROM Features
- “You Are In the Movie” Behind-the-Scenes Feature