After leaving audiences with The Mummy Returns writer/director Stephen Sommers took up a different area of the classic Universal Studio monster movies. With The Mummy being done twice already, Sommers focused on the other ghouls in Universal’s vault: Dracula, Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster and, of course, the Brides of Dracula. With a mixture of this amount of evil, only one could hope to fight it: and that man is called Van Helsing. Written and directed by Sommers and starring Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham and Kevin J. O’Connor, Van Helsing debuted in May of 2004 to poor reviews but a strong box office intake.
When Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster join forces, legendary monster hunter Van Helsing (Jackman) must team up with the mysterious Anna Valeris (Beckinsale) if he’s any hope of taking down the terrible trio. Backed by a myriad of weaponry and aided by Carl (Wenham), Helsing must use every trick in the book to banish the cavalcade of villainy, especially when Dracula’s Brides get in on the fight. Filled with plenty of dazzling special effects and one liners, Van Helsing is more summer popcorn flick than true horror movie and follows in the vein of Sommers previous works, rather than something that will straight up scare the pants off of you.
At the time of seeing Van Helsing I didn’t know who the director was and probably wouldn’t have had any inclination of it until I researched it. Hell, I didn’t even realize this was Sommers film until I questioned why there was a ticket to the next The Mummy movie included. I’m actually still questioning that as Sommers has nothing to do with the third The Mummy…but, whatever. In the case of Van Helsing I had hoped knowing, like I did with The Scorpion King who was involved and having already seen it (and not liking it) once, I thought maybe I could readjust myself and learn to enjoy it. As with The Scorpion King I was dead wrong.
I still really, really cannot enjoy this movie on any level whatsoever. I love mindless popcorn flicks, but this film is just played too seriously at times to truly enjoy it. Sure, Kate Beckinsale is great to look at (when is she not?), but the acting, dialogue and whole plot of the film was just so ridiculous that I almost left the theater. This was my first time seeing it since and I had hoped the quality improved since I knew how mediocre it was but…I just couldn’t get into it.
The main issue is not the story or our heroes; it’s the villains of the film. Dracula’s Brides are more annoying than anything and Dracula himself is completely camp. Wolf Man is about the only decent villain out of the trio, and his CGI/costume/whatever it was looked like crap. For a film with a budget of $160 million, Van Helsing managed to pump out some of the shoddiest and ugliest CGI I’ve seen from a modern film. When the Brides were flying around it looked so stiff and awkward that it was in no way believable; it was simply a waste of time and looked like crap.
As previously mentioned the “heroes” side of things made for a much more entertaining area; Jackman and Beckinsale’s bickering with one another was humorous and cute, while Wenham’s role for comic relief was well played. It wasn’t until the villains really started taking up screen time did I become frustrated with it all; they simply weren’t worthy of the rest of the characters in the film.
Fun gadgets and the humorous pairing of Jackman and Beckinsale aside, this film just isn’t worth the admission price, DVD or otherwise. It drags too much in the middle and you’re looking at the clock more than you are at the screen by the time the film reaches its midway point. It just needed more excitement and less character and story exposition. Skip It.
An odd film to grant a collector’s edition to, but Van Helsing sails onto DVD in a new packaging and two-disc set, loaded with extras. The film also includes the aforementioned movie cash to see the next The Mummy and we get a whole second disc of new content, so those who hadn’t purchased the film but for some strange reason actually wanted to, you’ll get your chance for a fully loaded release with this Collector’s Edition. The set itself arrives in standard amaray DVD casing, complete with a reflective foil insert and the discs themselves inside (plain reflective mirror surface, as always).
Video and audio quality on this release hasn’t changed since the original 2004 DVD release and really, there isn’t much reason to. Aside from some dated trailers and cheesy menu designs, the films presentation on DVD has held up quite well, video and audio included. Video is sharp, crisp and clear and really looks quite fantastic, bringing to life the films moody color scheme and subdued hues all around. Audio is a powerful and boasting 5.1 Dolby Surround track that moves the room on more than one occasion and has some nice channel separation, although not nearly as much as newer tracks do. In a nutshell: it won’t be the technical presentation of the film that ruins it for you.
Moving onto the extras we find that the first disc of the set is an exact reprint of the previous 2004 release. The trailers are even the same, with a Shrek 2 preview and a trailer for the Van Helsing XBOX game. Universal did go to the trouble of printing “Collector’s Edition” onto the disc, however, so I guess they did change something about this release at least. The first extras we come upon on the first disc is “Explore Dracula’s Castle” (3:41), which, according to my notes I wrote down while going through the extras, “is stupid.” Obviously I wasn’t feeling very eloquent when writing the descriptors for these extras, even in my sleepy state when watching these extras, I was accurate at least: this extra is stupid. It’s made more for children and unless you, as an adult, feel like watching some brief clips of Dracula’s castle as he narrates, you should just float right on by this one.
“Bloopers” (5:39), which are rather humorous, although Sommers and Jackman’s repeated mentioning of this being a “low-budget” film had me scratching my head; I guess they could have been joking, but I took them seriously until I saw this had a $160 budget. “Bringing the Monsters to Life” (10:02) is your typical featurette on the CGI used in the film, while “You Are In the Movie” (4:30) proves to be one of the most unique DVD extras I’ve ever seen. During the production of the film the crew attached small cameras on top of stage pieces and other cameras, so we get a really cool behind-the-scenes view of the film. These segments can be triggered at certain places while watching the movie and I actually had more fun checking these out than watching the film itself.
“The Legend of Van Helsing” (10:09) talks about the character, while a pair of commentaries fill up the rest of the first disc: Stephen Sommers and editor/producer Bob Ducsay on one and Richard Roxburgh, Shuler Hensley and Will Kemp on the other; while both tracks are entertaining in their own right, I don’t really recommend sitting through them in their entirety. Four hours of commentary on a film that’s not enjoyable in the first place is pushing it, I don’t care who you are. A few other menu options, Trailers, Van Helsing XBOX Game, Shrek 2 Preview, and DVD Credits, wrap up the extras for this disc.
Were this the year 2004, that’s where our exploration of the film would have ended. But since this is 2008, we get to continue onto a second “Bonus Disc” (as printed on the disc itself) that is rather packed with extras. The main menu is a clickable map of the areas covered in the film and include “The Burning Windmill” (6:37), “Dracula’s Castle” (7:50), “Frankenstein’s Lab” (6:32), “The Village” (8:09), and “The Vatican Armory” (5:28). They’re all behind-the-scenes pieces and show off the greenscreen (or in this case, bluescreen) work done for the film as well and has some input by cast and crew thrown in.
Clicking on the “More” area on the map brings us to two other sections to check out. The first is “Evolution of a Legacy”, where we land upon “Explore Frankenstein’s Lab” (13:57), which I didn’t actually write “is stupid” down for; I guess I figured it was a given at that point, “Dracula’s Lair Transformed” (2:41), which is a rather neat piece where we see the construction of the set, in time lapsed form and “The Music of Van Helsing” (9:42) talks about scoring the film.
The final area on the disc is “Van Helsing: The Story, The Life, The Legend”, where, you guessed it, we get even more extras. “Dracula” (11:37), “Frankenstein’s Monster” (9:25), “The Werewolves” (12:29), and “The Women of Van Helsing: Anna and Dracula’s Brides” (14:29) are all historical retrospectives on the myths and legends of the characters shown in the film. They’re a nice addition to the “Legend of Van Helsing” extra from the first disc, but unless you really, really loved this film, I don’t know why you’d go so far as to spend hours and hours on the bonus features.
Overall this is a fantastic edition of Van Helsing on DVD, but it’s up to you if it’s worth upgrading the previous single disc edition for. You get over an hour and a half of new extras on the second disc, but, like I said, unless you really enjoyed this film upgrading to this edition may or may not be worth it. Now if you don’t already own this or the HD DVD edition (and why is there no Blu-ray edition of this film? Kind of confusing.) then it’s worth picking up this one over the previous editions, but only if you know what you’re getting yourself into. This is really a mediocre action movie that cares less about telling us why we’re watching it and more about putting pretty (at times) CGI in front of our face.
Owners of the Previous Release: Rental or Skip It.
If You Don’t Own It: Recommended, if you know you like the film.
Van Helsing: Collector’s Edition is now available on DVD.