Van Helsing (2004) – movie review

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Movie Review by Nigel A. Messenger

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Kevin J O’Connor

Director: Stephen Sommers

There’s been a lot of anticipation surrounding the release of VAN HELSING and it’s not surprising considering the reported budget of $150 million, apparently Universal’s most expensive film to date. So what do you spend this kind of money on? Well in the case of VAN HELSING it’s clear that a lot of it went on special effects. Now some people love it and some hate it but CGI has become an essential ingredient in today’s action movies.

Action is the key word here – VAN HELSING is all about action. With a look that’s on the dark side of LXG and with a mandate from ‘Bond’, VAN HELSING tries very hard to get the vampire genre right for today’s audience. But didn’t I just mention Bond? You see Helsing (Hugh Jackman) gets his mission to eliminate evil from the church (Bond: the British government’s MI6) and he even has a friar Carl (David Wenham) supply him with gadgets (Bond: Q) who in this case accompanies him on his mission.

Now Helsing is sent to Transylvania to eliminate Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) (Bond: villain) and meets up with the gorgeous Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) (Bond: Bond girl) who is the last of her family all dedicated to slaying Dracula and his fellow vampires. They team up and learn that Dracula has spent his time having it off with his three wives (some guys have all the fun) and producing thousands of eggs containing his offspring, but to bring them to life he needs to capture Frankenstein (Shuler Hensley) and harness his energy. The only person who can stop Dracula is Van Helsing, with the help of Anna and Carl of course. Oh yes, and in addition to Frankenstein there’s also werewolves and Jekyll and Hyde in the film!

Now writing this story out really sounds kind of corny doesn’t it and in many ways it is. This is the movie’s big mistake, they’ve thrown everything in rather than just sticking to vampires and the whole thing is ‘dumbed down’ for the mass audience. The Bond theme is really an ‘in’ joke that sort of works, but aside from being a showreel for Hugh Jackman to be the next Bond has no place in the dark vampire movie that VAN HELSING wants desperately to be.

And there is the problem! On the one hand VAN HELSING is bravely trying to enter today’s world where BUFFY rules in its sheer excellence and on the other hand it’s afraid to do anything too complex in case its mass audience doesn’t understand it, so it also tries to be James Bond. Now Bond is great as Bond and I love it for what it is and BUFFY is the best thing to ever hit TV and the vampire/demons genre and I love BUFFY even more, but it would take some awesome writing to bring these two entities together and this film just doesn’t have it.

It’s got Hugh Jackman who is very good and would even probably be the best choice for the next Bond and it’s got Kate Beckinsale who is also an excellent actress and gorgeous looking too. Plus Kate has already established herself in UNDERWORLD a film that didn’t have Van Helsing’s budget but turned out to be a first class addition to the vampire genre and will even spawn sequels, which I’m really looking forward to.

But VAN HELSING has tried to lessen its risk by throwing too many known elements in, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, then dumbing everything including the script down to be on the safe side. What a shame. This could have been so good.

On the plus side when you get up and leave at the end of the movie you have been entertained. The acting is good, the visuals are great, Kate Beckinsale is hot and the effects are for the most part stunning.

So yes, I was entertained and I was never bored – but it all could have been so much more.

4 out of 6 stars