by Gary Schultz
Universal launches multi-market blitz to capitalize on their long-held class monster francises with this super-effects laden adventure tale.
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So here I am at the early premiere of Van Helsing the new film Universal Pictures has put all their money and future into. The film is written and directed by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, The Mummy Returns) who I’m not a big fan of but with all the hype and promotion this film is getting it should do well at the box office. The film stars Hugh Jackman (X-Men, X-2) as Van Helsing, Richard Roxburgh (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) as Dracula, David Wenham (Faramir from Lord of the Rings although I didn’t recognize him) as Carl Van Helsing’s assistant and Kate Beckinsale (Underworld) who is super hot and apparently can’t get enough vampire films, playing Anna Valerious.
So let me paint the picture for you-I’m running late for the premiere so I decide to take a cab rather than the train thinking it would be faster. Well the cab got stuck in traffic and ended up getting me to the theatre eight minutes before the film was set to begin and it cost twelve bucks. Mind you I still have to get a bag of popcorn before the feature begins. So I wait in the long lines while idiots behind the counter throw popcorn at each other and drink shakes made of nacho cheese. I get to the theatre entrance and the usher at the door is checking bags. I actually see the lady stop and make this guy open his bag up. I guess they were checking for recording devices or weapons of mass destruction. Seeing as how I have a backpack full of beverages and illegal narcotics I panic. Oh, crap what am I going to do. I’m surely going to get busted. So I file into the crowd and push my way into the theatre. The ushers never even questioned my bag or me. I guess I just have an innocent face.
Next problem—the theatre is packed full. The only seats, which are the best in the house, are roped off and reserved for the press. I think to myself for a moment-but I’m the press too, why can’t I sit here. Turns out these seats are for Universal’s people to sit at so they can no doubt make their catered reviews of the film as apposed to the hardcore truth that the Film Monthly staff brings you. So I end up sitting in the very front row, I suffered through a cramped neck and cracked a molar on a popcorn kernel. Damn that hurt. The film opened with two trailers, one for the new Vin Diesel movie and one for the new Matt Damon movie which, I think, may be a sequel to The Bourne Identity, but either way it looked awful.
Van Helsing opens with a remake from the classic 1931 release of Frankenstein. The sequence was shot in black and white and all I could think of was how Stephen Sommers found a way to reshoot one of the most classic scenes in horror history. That’s a dream for any director. I’m so jealous. So the movie plays on. The crowd reacts pretty strongly. This film has tons of super-overs the top action and the CGI has a cartoonish feel to it. If you accept that this is more of an adventure film than a horror film and accept the environments then you’ll have a fun time. This film does work to capture the dark moody atmosphere of the early German impressionistic films that Universal tried so hard to imitate back then.
The plot as it so happens and without spoiling any secrets is that Dr. Frankenstein has discovered how to create life-using electricity defying God himself. Dracula now seeks out the Frankenstein monster believing it possesses the power to bring life to all of Dracula’s children. See Dracula has three super hot vampire wives but they cannot give birth to a living child because they are dead themselves. So they produce hundreds of these eggs or mucus cocoon sacks that looks like the cocoons from Gremlins in hopes that they can give them life to breed a vampire army. In comes Van Helsing who has a connection to Dracula and Anna’s family bloodline. Mix in some Werewolves and Igor and you have a cool concept. Give the script to Stephens Sommers and you have lots of fluff adventure horror that doesn’t tie up storylines and leaves you asking a bunch of questions about the character of Van Helsing like why doesn’t he have any memories (like Wolverine)? And how is it that he’s four hundred years old? Does he even have any super powers or just a bunch of toys (like Batman)?
So here’s what we’ve learned so far—in Van Helsing, Hugh Jackman is not a cool as Wolverine but much cooler than Kate and Leopold. Kate Beckinsale has a thing about vampire films; she’s also set for the Underworld sequel. Dracula has good taste in vampire brides. Stephen Sommers makes fluff horror films that are safe for most of the family because the violence is campy at times. Doesn’t that make it more dangerous though? Is anybody else just a little bit sick of all the cartoon monsters? Dr. Jekyll looked a little bit better than Shrek.
Gary Schultz is an independent filmmaker from Chicago.
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