Van Helsing

1 stars


14th September 2004

As far as tantalising taglines go, 'The new movie from the director of "The Mummy" and "The Mummy Returns"' must go down in history as one of the worst. Having already defecated on one classic horror franchise, Stephen Sommers is now attempting to breathe life into three, and all in the one picture. It's certainly a brave gamble to have Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolfman all in the one movie, but Universal took their chances did what any self-respecting studio would do - they threw all the money they could at it. Unfortunately, all the green in the world couldn't save Van Helsing from being a crushing disappointment, a grotesque puppet-show featuring once great horror figureheads reduced to flailing around in a CGI wankfest.

Where do you start picking apart its corpse? How can you define the individual elements that caused Van Helsing to be such a bloated disaster? It's like sifting through the wreckage of the Hindenberg, looking for the black box recorder. Sommers has undoubtedly got some heavyweight stars on board - a girly-haired Hugh Jackman looks every bit the action hero and does his best with a terrible script, but Kate Beckinsale is depressingly two-dimensional as a cliched heroine (apparently, she still hasn't learned her lesson from Underworld). However, David Wenham gets the wooden spoon as spoddy sidekick Carl (with some truly awful slapstick gags) and Richard Roxborough is in full-on panto villain mode as Count Dracula - his appallingly over the top accent and flamboyant gesturing mustered more titters than terror from the audience. The only saving grace is Shuler Hensley as Frankenstein's Monster, who, ironically enough, is the least human character in the whole film.

With an estimated budget of around $160m, it's not difficult to see where the money went - barely five minutes passes without an action set-piece, usually involving a CGI character or two. If Quentin Tarantino thought The Matrix Reloaded's overuse of visual effects sounded the death bell for movie making, then Van Helsing will have him spewing bile in the direction of Mr. Sommers. The awesome creatures in Dog Soldiers proved you can have realistic and scary-looking werewolves without breaking the bank, but the slobbering mutts in Van Helsing just don't convince and because you don't believe it for a second, you never really feel involved in any of the action sequences. On the few occasions when you're faced with CGI Beast #1 fighting CGI Beast #2, there's so little atmosphere that you'll have trouble breathing (at least, I assume that's why people in the cinema were beginning to fall asleep). Yes, for all its hairy beasties, classic creatures and ambitious set pieces, Van Helsing is resolutely boring and pompous with it.

With sketchy, uninteresting characters (wow, Hugh Jackman can't remember his past, how completely original) that never once threaten to be likeable, Van Helsing was always going to rely on spectacle, and a reliance on seemingly unfinished visual effects has hammered down the last nail in its coffin. Despite cribbing the best bits from some great movies - Indiana Jones has been raided, and an early scene is straight out of a Bond movie - it remains a criminal waste of brilliant source material, not to mention Jackman's star potential (and, lest not we forget, a sum of money that could easily clothe and feed an entire civilisation). Man, another movie with vampires and werewolves that sucks? Harry Knowles just can't get a break.

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