Further proof that “too much money” plus “too many ideas” too often equals “just doesn’t work.”
Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) has been re-imagined into a nineteenth century Vatican-sponsored monster hunter armed with more steam-powered gadgets than you can shake Jules Verne’s corpse at. His new assignment takes him deep into Carpathia to once again root out evil, but his preceeding reputation puts him in the crosshairs of the local heiress, Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale). Faster than you can say Abbot and Costello, Van Helsing finds himself knee deep in mutant bat babies, werewolves, and vampires everywhere. Even the director may not know how it will all end or how many special effects it will take.
The opening sequence of Van Helsing was proof of concept: an old black and white film and classic camera angles taken to a level familiar yet never seen before. Moments after making this promise with the audience, the film backpedals into video game CGI land and never looks back. Director Stephen Sommers’ success with The Mummy won him the opportunity to update three of Universal Studio’s prize properties (The Wolfman, Frankenstein’s monster, and Dracula), but after shooting the moon with The Mummy Returns and squeaking by, all the stops were pulled out for Van Helsing to the point that, even in the name of high adventure, the end result was just too silly and unbelievable to accept or enjoy.
This isn’t to say there isn’t a few nifty ideas in this overblown production: Frankenstein’s monster has been reinvented to look as if the machines used to create the creature have been miniaturized to keep him alive, Dracula’s brides morph into and out of creature form so seamlessly that it almost doesn’t look like an effect, and Castle Frankenstein is just over the top enough to inspire awe without looking cheesy. To counter this, you have terrible CGI for the werewolf transformations (which at one point look like paper being torn away in sheets for a multiple moon-strobe effect), Dracula’s Castle is simply impossible to build let alone to look at, and the steam-weapons make even 007’s most ridiculous Q gadgets look plausible.
Once again, this film’s Dracula just doesn’t live up to the king of vampires, and the rest of the plot seems just as frivolous and unnecessary. Part of the blame may be that Van Helsing has been envisioned as the launch pad to a whole series of content, including a television show, animated feature, and possible sequels. But if the cost was a confusing, haphazard plot that intentionally leaves too many questions unanswered, why watch the film? Needless to say, all the properties attached to this dead weight can’t survive without it.
(a one skull recommendation out of four)