Van Helsing: A Review

The recently released movie Van Helsing reputedly cost about 160 million dollars to make. The movie stars X-Men hunk Hugh Jackman as the legendary vampire hunter Van Helsing. It looks like it spent nearly every dollar of its costs on special effects. The result is two hours and twenty-five minutes of nonstop action. The special effects come at you so fast and furious that it is hard to keep up with what passes for a plot.

This seems to be the trend these days: to let special effects substitute for a substantive plot and decent acting. Oddly enough the only substantive acting in the whole movie came from the monster Frankenstein (played by Shuler Hensley), for whom I actually felt some empathy. As for plot, I don’t mean to say that Van Helsing doesn’t have a plot but it’s hard to follow with all the special effects. After wiping out Dr. Jekyll, this immortal Prince Valiant Van Helsing is summoned to the Vatican. He is quickly dispatched with “Friar Carl” (played by David Wenham, or “Faramir” in the Lord of the Rings movies) to Transylvania. There for some reason I quickly forgot (because it truly doesn’t matter) he must keep Dracula from finishing off the Valerious family. Rest assured the producers went to great lengths to throw more Dracula, Frankenstein and black arts imagery at you that you will see in a dozen vampire films. Transylvania seems to be a place that is perpetually snowy and never lacks a thunderstorm or a full moon. The movie is visually stunning. The problem I have with the movie, like so much of what is turned out by Hollywood these days, is that it has no soul.

It was probably designed to be pure entertainment. In that sense it succeeds very well. Still, pure entertainment can be fun and memorable. The Indiana Jones movies come to mind. When I see this much money spent on a movie whose sole purpose is to separate me and millions of others from my hard earned money, only to find out it is like a soda that quickly goes flat and is forgotten, it is hard not to feel disgruntled. Is it too much to ask a little more for a $6.50 matinee ticket and three hours of my time?

This is a movie that bears every mark of being scientifically created to draw in the maximum number of theatergoers. The producer’s logic must have been something like this: We have to bring in the teen market and as many of the 20 and 30 somethings as possible. Let’s do Dracula then and let’s add one real hunk of a guy (Hugh Jackman), one exceptionally cute gal with her bosom constantly in the camera lens (Kate Beckinsale), one evil but somewhat charismatic dude (Dracula, played by Richard Roxburgh), one comic relief character (David Wenham). Then let’s wrap enormous amounts of special effects into it, throw in a few lines of humor and let’s call it a blockbuster.

For all that effort though it feels like an obscene waste of money. Granted the movie will probably prove profitable. Through last weekend the movie had earned about $85 million dollars. Add overseas revenues, DVD rentals and sales and shareholders will be happy. But it’s a shame to spend so much money for something that will have no enduring value. It won’t win awards for anything, except possibly most over the top and pointless special effects.

The movie could have been a real drama that genuinely terrified you or gave you new insights into vampires. We could have actually felt something for the characters. Instead everyone just goes through the motions. We don’t care. We came to see spectacle. We get spectacle. But there is no meat here. It is cartoon violence. It is utterly vapid.

If you want to turn off your mind for a couple hours from the distractions of real life Van Helsing should do the trick. If on the other hand you’d rather feel like you’ve seen a real movie, as opposed to a special effect extravaganza you’d better pass this movie up. May I suggest The Ladykillers instead? This is a fairly fluffy movie too, but it is a quirky movie that I guarantee you will remember. Van Helsing will likely leave you feeling like you’re another victim of the Hollywood marketing machine.

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