Van Helsing (2004) – Stephen Sommers

After his fairly positive success with two Mummy movies, and the cult favorite Deep Rising, Stephen Sommers looked to do an homage to the Universal Monsters and hopefully launch a new tentpole franchise with the Hugh Jackman led Van Helsing.

This is the next recommendation from DK Canada’s Monsters in the Movies by John Landis, as I continue to work my way through the chapter on Vampires, and I have to admit, I was eager to watch this one again, as I hadn’t seen it since it came out.

Joining Jackman is Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Robbie Coltrane and Kevin J. O’Connor.

Jackman as Gabriel Van Helsing comes to Transylvania to stop Dracula (Roxburgh), who is using the research conducted by Frankenstein, leading to an appearance by the Monster (Shuler Hensley), and he has a werewolf giving him aid. And his plan is something that hadn’t been seen before in a vampire movie and it’s actually an interesting if implausible (but what in this movie isn’t?) idea.

But Van Helsing is not alone, he is joined by Anna (Beckinsale) and outfitted with all manner of steampunk like gadgets by Carl (Wenham), a monk assigned by the Vatican (which Gabriel secretly works for) to keep an eye on the adventurer.

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What follows is a popcorn movie that would be quite at home in a movie theater during a Saturday matinee, and that is all the film aspires to. There are some nice updates to the Dracula character (as well as the other iconic characters), and the way it is shot and acted also pays homage to the incarnations that have gone before.

In keeping with the homage to the Universal Monsters, the film begins in black and white, as a way to help set the viewer’s mindset, but the basic target audience of the time, and more so now, didn’t know that.

It’s a fun, mindless film, much like Sommers other cinematic confections. However, putting Jackman in a wide hat, reminiscent of a fedora you can’t help but compare one adventurer with another, and he is not Indiana Jones.

And looking back it a decade on, some of the CG work has not stood the test of time very well.

There are some missteps with the backstories for both Van Helsing’s character and Anna’s. Van Helsing’s in particular seems a little contrived to tie in with Dracula’s more than it ever did in past versions.

This one is a silly piece of popcorn entertainment that is never as thrilling, scary, or action-packed as it could be, and there’s no real emotional buy-in with the characters. It feels like it’s trying to hard on that count. But if you’re looking for something mindless with vampires and classic monsters, there are worse choices.

And it does have a fairly good cast.

If this one doesn’t appeal, then pick up a copy of DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies and find something else to sink your fangs into.

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