If there is one thing proven by 'Van Helsing', Universal's big budget adventure movie, it is that appending the number of popular figures in a movie, does not necessarily equate to an escalation in its resulting quality or entertainment value, something which viewers learned with last years campy but fun LXG. Stephen Sommers, the writer and director behind this swift moving abomination, turns an appealing concept into an unpleasant watch by stitching together schlock effects and a nonexistent concept, resulting in a tired, messy time at the movies.
The opening sequence, set in late 19th century Europe, offers one of the very few commendable aspects of the production. A vintage black and white first act introduces Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and the Frankenstein monster in the town of Transylvania, where a mob breaks into the castle that the infamous doctor has been using to conduct his experiments. A second sub-intro, set a year later, is slightly less fun to watch because of the heavily animated nature of the effects which place the eponymous Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) face to face with Mr. Hyde in France. Following an unimpressive and needlessly blatant battle atop a cathedral, a familiarity dreadfully sets in. You start to realise that much of the onscreen fights will consist of loud cacophony, fickle shock tactics and people being thrown many feet in the air, only to have them land safely on ground. I try to tell myself that this is an acceptable norm when it comes to summer movie ethics, because this is supposed to be a dumb yet enjoyable romp. I curb my disregard and continue watching.
Enter Kate Beckinsale's character, Anna Valerious, a princess whose bloodline has been involved in trying to hunt down Dracula over the ages. In fact, everyone in the small Transylvanian hamlet seems ready with pitchforks. This is like a national pastime for them. Helsing is sent here by the order of the church, for which he performs the nasty bidding of creature hunting. His profession isn't very different from what a dog catcher might do because bats and werewolves are also involved. What brings all three classic horror characters together is the Count and his triumvirate of brides and their quest to give life to their swarm of undead children, a task that will require Frankenstein's body, werewolves transformation and lots of thunder on a cloudy evening.
It doesn't take too long for anticipation to give way to apprehension. The first thing that struck me was how cheapened and clunky the quality of the effects was. There are countless shots of people transforming into creatures and they are terribly cartoon like. The climatic showdown takes place in Dracula's castle, revamped here into a college science lab, where two lifeless animated beings bout out against each other. Gone is the funny and self aware aura that the director was successful at creating in his Mummy series. As a movie, Van Helsing is closer in tone and feel to 'The Mummy returns' in its overuse and reliance on effects and noise to do the talking.
Sommers is usually a capable director, which is why he was allowed to work on such a massive scale. But where his budget was spent is unknown. This is a wreck of a movie, having something in common with each of its three central villainous attractions; the lifelessness of a vampire, the stilted movement of the Frankenstein monster and, well, I still haven't been able to quite figure out what the Werewolf was there for. - Faizan Rashid