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Van Helsing (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: One

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc One: Commentary with director Stephen Sommers and producer Bob Duscay; Commentary with Richard Roxburgh, Shuler Hensley and Will Kemp; Explore Dracula's Castle. Bloopers; Bringing Monsters To Life; You Are In The Movie; The Legend of Van Helsing; Trailers.
Disc Two: Explore Frankenstein's Lab. Van Helsing: The Story, The Life, The Legend (mini-documentary); Track The Adventure: Van Helsing Map; The Music of Van Helsing; Dracula's Lair Is Transformed.

HOLLYWOOD’S thirst for action and special effects proves almost as insatiable as Dracula’s lust for blood in Van Helsing, the first big-budget extravaganza of the 2004 Summer season.

Sadly, it makes for a viewing experience every bit as cold as the fanged one’s heart in this excruciatingly painful take on the vampire legend.

Van Helsing is indicative of a worrying new trend in modern movie-making - that of placing spectacle above all else in the hope that audiences won’t notice the glaring lack of plot or characterisation.

But while this may delight the computer game generation, who aren’t accustomed to stretching their brains for any great length of time, the more discerning viewer is likely to leave the cinema feeling as battered as one of the console victims.

Van Helsing is a classic case of a movie with vast potential being hopelessly squandered. It is reportedly Universal’s most expensive film ever, boasts some cracking special effects, and a charismatic lead performer in X-Men favourite, Hugh Jackman.

Yet in director, Stephen Sommers, who helmed the equally derivative Mummy Returns, it has someone who doesn’t know when to stop - you can literally count the seconds between each action sequence, such is the movie’s inability to pause for even a minute.

Jackman stars as the legendary Van Helsing, a man cursed with a past he cannot remember, who is charged by a secret organisation to seek out and defeat evil all over the world. He operates as a sort of James Bond cum Indiana Jones, armed with a quick-firing crossbow, and all manner of gadgets.

When dispatched to the shadowy world of Transylvania, he finds a community living in fear of the evil, seductive and undefeatable vampire, Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh).

Allying himself with Kate Beckinsale’s Anna Valerious, one of the last of a powerful royal family, Van Helsing bids to find and destroy the count, along with his evil minions (including a werewolf and his vampish brides), but finds himself inexplicably linked to Dracula and his evil intentions.

The ensuing adventure unfolds at breakneck pace, squandering any potential offered by its premise, and repeatedly ripping off other, better movies.

It’s somewhat ironic that a movie about the undead should be as lifeless and soulless as Van Helsing, but Sommers’ film doesn’t seem to credit its audience with an attention span long enough to justify any serious story-telling, and feels moribund instead.

Hence, while some of the special effects sequences are undoubtedly impressive (such as an early vampire attack involving Dracula’s brides), many of the others fall by the wayside, amid a ‘seen it all before’ type feeling, and a mounting desperation to catch one’s breath.

Jackman struggles manfully to inject some deadpan charisma into proceedings, but is frequently let down by a non-existent script and the performances of those around him, with Beckinsale and Roxburgh both succumbing to hammy accents, and some truly dire acting.

They are all hampered by Sommers’ inconsistent directing style, which doesn’t seem to know whether to keep things tongue-in-cheek and camp, or jump out of your seat and horrific - some of the creature make-up is such that the young (its core audience) may find it a little too scary.

Sommers clearly intends that his movie should breathe new life into some of the classic Universal monsters, but, instead, threatens to places a very large nail in their coffin.

So at a time when epic adventures, such as The Lord of the Rings, and nostalgic romps, such as Pirates of the Caribbean, prove that it is possible to marry special effects and action with good old-fashioned story-telling, Van Helsing’s failure to do either is made all the more glaring.

It is, at the end of the day, yet another Summer blockbuster which sucks.

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