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Van Helsing /

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, Elena Anaya, David Wenham

Directed by: Stephen Sommers

Produced by: Bob Ducsay
Written by: Stephen Sommers
Distributor: Universal Pictures

 

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     If youíre familiar with my reviews, you know that I strongly dislike almost every movie with zombies, super-humans, or blood-sucking creatures in it. Thatís why itís so surprising to me that I actually was enthralled by Van Helsing, the latest $160 million dollar budgeted monster-mash to come out of Hollywood. Itís even more stunning to see that this is about the only film of its kind that the critical community abhors, considering Iím being so affectionate towards it. Roger Ebertís review represents the sole favorable take on the movie Iíve seen published as of now. No matter; Iím here to aid the minority, and make my opinion heard. Van Helsing is the first unearthly action-extravaganza to deserve gigantic box-office since last yearís The Hulk.

     This is one of the few cases in which a film actually lives up to the promise it exhibits in its first act. Van Helsing introduces us one by one to each monster that it features, and there are quite a few of them. Off of the top of my head: Count Dracula, Frankensteinís Monster, Wolf Man, Mr. Hyde, Draculaís fleet of babies, and Igor. Remember, too, that this is coming from the memory of the guy who knows nothing about the mythology of these creatures. Iíve just begun to watch Dracula movies; before this month, all I knew about him was that he had big, creepy fangs and sucked peopleís blood. Okay, maybe there isnít much more to it, but you get my point.

     The famous Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), another character I had never heard of before seeing this movie, has been sent on a mission by the infamous church, with his sidekick Friar Carl (David Wenham). He must protect the family of Anna Valerious (a very good-looking Kate Beckinsale), who have almost entirely been plucked away by Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) for generations. The minute he enters Valeriousí hometown of Transylvania, which is depicted in an eerie and chilling way in this movie (just as it should be), there is action abroad, as Draculaís trio of flying, blood-thirsty bitches stop by for a visit. Before long, Valerious and Helsing engage in their mission to destroy Dracula. Was there really any other possibility screenwriter Stephen Sommers couldíve entertained, in order to reach a climax?

      This is one of the rare occasions where special effects overkill is only appropriate; each battle actually feels cool instead of exhausting and distraught. Sommers, who directed Van Helsing in addition to writing it, executes in a swift, disposable manner, always leaving us properly hungry for another well-done fight sequence. He has a wonderful knack for crafting action, allowing his audience to feel whatís happening, instead of just throwing one mindless effect after another into every corner of the screen. Sommers was also responsible for The Mummy movies, which are lesser pictures than Van Helsing, but share common grounds in craftsmanship. There are small, little features which distinguish his creations, setting them apart from normal action-blockbusters. When I noticed a particular reference or throwback in one of the battle sequences, I smiled at the screen. Van Helsing is actually a lot smarter than the plot accredits it for.

      There is an exchange of dialogue in the movie, in which Count Dracula begins to say the line ďDo unto others...as you would like them to do unto you,Ē but Igor finishes it for him. Only, instead of reciting the actual proverb, he continues it with the line ďBefore they do it unto me!Ē You could call The Countís beginning delivery of the phrase to be sarcasm, as if he only wanted such a response to come from Igor, but such an interpretation doesnít really make sense. He couldnít actually be advising someone else to treat others the way theyíd like to be treated, for he is evil. Instead, heís merely setting himself up to be outsmarted by Igor, with a big, loud, rebuttal-like comment. And in Van Helsing, when a person raises their voice, itís simply a queue to the audience that they should get ready for some magnificent action in a coming scene. This doesnít have to involve the characters who signal it; it just has to happen. That is, essentially, all that the movie is aboutóbeing big and loud. It succeeds in doing so, and I couldnít be happier, ironically. This is one of the rare occasions where big and loud actually works. There isnít anything unlikable in Van Helsing, actually; it is a harmlessly adventurous concoction.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (5.9.2004)


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