Van Helsing (2004/HD-DVD)
Sound: B Extras: C Film: C-
The two overblown Mummy films from Stephen Sommers
made so much money that Universal was anxious to give him another Horror
franchise to launch. With Dracula
played out, The Wolfman only now being revived and Frankenstein also played
out, they decided to just tie them all together and have them all hunted by a
silly Highlander/Matrix/League Of Extraordinary Gentleman revision of Van
Helsing (2004) played by Hugh Jackman.
The hope was to have the actor such a hit as Marvel
Comics’ X-Men character Wolverine in another wisecracking action
role. Harrison Ford was smart enough to
turn down endless Han Solo clones, but Jackman went for it. Give or take having Kate Beckinsale as your
co-star, the films other co-stars are very, very, very bad digital versions of
the aforementioned monsters always considered part of the Universal
Family. This is one family reunion they
should have cancelled.
The action is trite, visual effects awful, otherworld
set-up phony and running over two hours, a pure torture test that just gets
worse and worse. Jackman recycles
Wolverine just enough, while poor Beckinsale is not given enough to do and
asking for character development in this mish-mash is wishful thinking to the
hilt. Instead of a tense combination of
the Horror/Monster story and authentic comedy done with just enough of the
right balance to cause real tension, this film is just relentlessly silly and thinks
its audience are a bunch of idiots who will laugh at anything and think the
digital version of the monsters are “cool” or the like. Unlike Universal’s original monster
classics, Van Helsing just gets worse with age. And to think it is not even that old yet.
The 1.85 X 1 digital 1080i High Definition image is loaded
with digital work, even where it is not needed, resulting in one of the most
over plastered film images in recent memory.
Cinematographer Allen Daviau, A.S.C., has been an HD advocate early on
and though this is shot on film, too much of that film quality is lost to
endless digital tweaking and CG images.
Remarkably, this film has fans who think it is a visually terrific work,
but the color limits and obvious digital undercut any kind of designs that
Production Designer Allan Cameron pulled off.
The result is phony digital space with phony digital monsters that gives
one new respect for the stop-motion animation in the original Mad Monster
Party, reviewed elsewhere on this site.
The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix was never that impressive
to being with and this new higher fidelity version of the soundtrack confirms
it, with dippy music by Alan Silvestri, sound design too self-impressed with
itself and some sound effects that are just plain lame. The combination never takes itself serious,
so why should we?
Extras include two commentaries that remarkably are
full-length, bloopers or mistakes they actually will admit to, six featurettes
and another segment about the “art” of the film, whatever that means. It was a big budget film that Universal then
hoped would be a big video hit, then when that did not work, a DVD demo and
cult item. None of that came to
pass. Instead, it is a textbook on how
not to combine Horror and Comedy, including the wasted talent.
- Nicholas Sheffo