A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Van Helsing

December 3, 2010

Van Helsing

Do you love cheese? I mean, really, love the strongest, stinkiest, greenest cheese you can find? How about computer generated special effects? How about Kate Beckinsale? Hugh Jackman? If so, then this might be the movie for you.

Back in the forties there was an attempt to keep milking the classic Universal monster movies with derivative and sub-standard fare like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Sort of like the Freddy meets Jason movie from a couple years ago. This was just before the monster movie genre degenerated into self satire with the Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein. Tonight’s movie is a CGI laden “homage” to these lesser monster movies. It is like a cross between the Universal movies of yore and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The movie starts with a black and white segment where Dracula kills Dr. Frankenstein as a Transylvanian mob attempts to break into his castle. Frankenstein’s monster has apparently been commissioned by Dracula for some nefarious end in this strange mashup universe. We don’t learn more about that purpose for a little while because once the monster escapes from Dracula’s castle we cut to Notre Dame, where we meet our hero.

The Gabriel Van Helsing of this movie is not to be confused with Abraham Van Helsing, the vampire hunter from Bram Stoker’s novel. This Van Helsing is also a vampire hunter, but that and the name are about the extent of the similarity. Gabriel, for one thing, is a monster hunter and assassin in the employ of the Vatican. Being as he is played by Hugh Jackman Gabriel also has Wolverine-like memory problems and doesn’t really know anything about his own past. We join him at the start of the movie as he is hunting the nefarious Mr. Hyde – who here is a colossal digital creature with the first of a long series of ridiculous accents. (It’s at this point that the LXG vibe really begins to take over.)

A cardinal in the Vatican City (in Rome according to the title card) sends Van Helsing to kill Dracula. But first Van Helsing has to visit Carl, a sort of medeival Q in his lab where he has all kinds of useful monster-killing gadgets. Carl is played by David Wenham of LOTR and 300 fame who here is the comic relief with his strange accent, shuffling gait and submissive hunched posture. When the two of them reach Transylvania they team up with Kate Beckinsale, who here is NOT a vampire, but is the last living descendant of a long line of gypsy kings who have sworn to kill Dracula. Her brother, it transpires, has been bitten by a werewolf.

The mythology of this movie is a little muddy here. It’s unclear to me just where the werewolves come into things. When I first saw this movie I thought that the curse on the gypsy kings was somehow responsible for the werewolves (since traditionally werewolves are associated in my mind with gypsy curses.) I think that’s not really the case though. Dracula seems to have somehow created the werewolves to act as his servants, or as experimental test subjects for his attempts to us Dr. Frankenstein’s life giving electrical gadgets to bring his vast horde of stillborn children to life. Or something. Maybe it’s not actually SUPPOSED to make any sense. Maybe I should remind myself it’s just a show and I should really just relax.

I’m not altogether sure how this movie got made. It’s clearly got a huge budget, and it’s got a bunch of big name actors, but the entire thing from beginning to end sort of treads a thin line between stupid cheesy action and outright satire. It’s abundantly clear that film makers knew very well just what kind of movie they were constructing. It never takes itself particularly seriously. The one-liners and quips are often wince-inducingly awful. The menacing threat that must be stopped at any cost is a horde of flying digital vampire monkey babies that have a tendency to spontaneously burst into globs of green goo – which tends to undermine some of the tension. I love the design for Frankenstein’s Monster in this film, but his exposed electric brain would seem to be a fatal flaw for him. Kate Beckinsale’s character Anna spends practically the entire movie in a strangely corseted outfit that looks as if it’s trying to force her breasts to burst through her blouse – which you would think would make it hard to slay werewolves and vampires. In short, this movie is a complete mess.

So why do I still like it? Because I love my movies dripping in cheese. I’m slightly regretful that this didn’t spawn an entire franchise – although since the Wolf Man, Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster have already been dealt with it’s hard to imagine who Van Helsing would battle next. The Mummy and the Invisible Man I suppose.

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December 3, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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