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Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers are all names that people fear in this day and time. One will get you while you’re at camp, another can get you in your dreams, and the third will come right into your neighborhood and kill you without thinking twice. All use creative and also crude methods of disposing of their victims, but still they’re not the monsters which I fear most when someone mentions horror films. The original gang of monsters is those that not only stalked and killed their victims, but they did it with style. The Wolfman, Frankenstein, and Count Dracula knew how to take you out, but also knew how to very calmly instill fear into your heart. Yet, there’s always an Ahab waiting to get rid of them and that’s where Van Helsing comes in.
The Catholic Church has been around for centuries and back in the eighteen hundreds, they needed a little more protection then what the cross and holy water could provide. In steps a man known as Van Helsing. He is a sort of freedom fighter that usually works and travels alone, but always makes sure to protect the good from the forces of evil. He works for the church because of their loyalty and help to him when he most needed it, so this is his method of paying them back and it is most appreciated. Without Van Helsing and his assistant Carl’s help; the church would fall into disrepair at the hands of those who seek to destroy it.
As Van Helsing keeps things somewhat calm, the church soon realizes that Count Dracula is ascending into a greater position of power and looking to continue the work that Dr. Frankenstein left unfinished. If Dracula succeeds in his mission then he would have the great power of Frankenstein on his side and be almost unstoppable. Already with a clan of vampire brides and werewolves, Dracula overtakes villages at ease building up his army of evil but the Frankenstein monster is the final piece of his puzzle and Van Helsing aims to leave it incomplete. With the aide of Anna Valerious, they travel through Romania to the Count’s castle in order to stop him. Anna also has the side mission of trying to find her werewolf bitten brother which also brings about a dark secret that helps Van Helsing begin to remember his past.
Without getting too far off the beaten path, Van Helsing tries to bring about the classic stories of Universal’s famous movie monsters and give them a bit of a modern feel. That would have to be what bothers me most about this film because I wanted to love it, I really did. But just liking it a whole lot is all that could be mustered up. The tremendous special effects and modernized weapons that Van Helsing carries around aren’t needed when you have such awesome characters like Dracula and Frankenstein. Those old school films were tremendous and still are today, and they probably had a budget equivalent to two percent of what it was for this creation. Just some make-up, prosthetics, and fake hair would have been beautiful to create our movie monsters instead of using computer generated image after computer generated image. So much is taken away from the word “classic” when nothing you see is real.
A few other things may bother history buffs as well and that’s seeing Van Helsing as a younger man. He never was meant to be a young guy, but the tired old arch-nemesis of Dracula that had plagued the Count forever. Yeah that just wouldn’t have proved popular by today’s standards, but it was an integral part of the older films and stories. Some may also think that there are far too many characters included which may be true, but to me that was a bit of the saving grace. It thrilled me to not only see a trio of great monsters, but the unexpected appearance of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? That is just incredibly fantastic and excited me like no other. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that would be a character someone would have included here, but it was a welcomed surprise.
Van Helsing is one of those films that you’re going to find a lot to not be happy with, but you’ll end up enjoying if the movie monsters are really you’re thing. There just aren’t enough films floating around out there today with the classics like Dracula and Frankenstein. Those guys are truly scary when you think about them, but no-one is willing to give them a chance because giant city-eating monsters or huge sea-dwelling eels are what today’s audience wants to see. They’re all about the explosions and action and gory kills. It takes away from what makes a good horror film and that’s getting inside your head and forcing you to remember images once you leave the theatre. It’s looking over your shoulder hoping someone isn’t about to bite your neck. It’s peering through the leaves of the tree to see if a hairy fanged guy is stalking you. Van Helsing combines all of those elements together hoping to draw both the classic lovers and today’s thrill-a-second seekers.
The film is shown in 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen format and like the new version of The Mummy Returns; it appears as if this film has been touched up as well. While not as bright in color as Returns, the dominant darker tones really stand out here and allow for easy viewing.
The film is heard in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and if you’ve never seen Van Helsing before then be prepared to have your eardrums blown out…but in a good way. There is a fantastic musical score here along with tons of explosions, fight scenes, and sound effects that need to be heard to be appreciated. Very nicely done.
The Legend Of Van Helsing – Time for a look back at the history of the Van Helsing character. The monster hunter has long been around and clips are shown from the films of the thirties where the hunter took on Dracula and his daughter. This feature runs a little over ten minutes and is a nice peek inside how far he has come over time.
Explore Dracula’s Castle And Frankenstein’s Lab – Here you’ll be able to take a look around these historic locations which is really pretty cool.
Bringing The Monsters To Life – This ten minute feature is all about the visual effects in the film and making these classic Universal monsters look as real as possible. With the amount of work that apparently went into them and considering there are numerous monsters in the film; I was surprised this wasn’t a bit longer. It could have used more time and wouldn’t have been overbearing because what is shown is really interesting.
Outtakes – There are close to six minutes of flubbed lines, uncontrollable giggling, and just all around funny moments. Some really humorous bloopers here that will surely have you laughing.
Audio Commentaries – The first commentary is with director Stephen Sommers and executive producer/editor Bob Ducsay. The second is heard from the team of actors that played the movie monsters Richard Roxburgh, Shuler Hensley, and Will Kemp. Both commentaries give a little bit of behind the scenes information along with some fun stories here and there. What makes them so easy to listen to is that everyone appears to be enjoying talking about the film. It’s always better when there is some liveliness in their voices instead of feeling like they’re simply being paid to be there.
Track The Adventure: Van Helsing’s Map – Take a journey to different locations where the filmmakers provide a little in-depth information about such things as: “The Vatican Armory,” “The Village,” “The Burning Windmill,” “Dracula’s Castle,” and “Frankenstein’s Lab.” Overall they combine up to about thirty-five minutes of information, but I really have to wonder why the bridge was not included here. It’s such an integral part of the film and where a lot of action takes place yet nothing is said about it at all.
Van Helsing: The Story, The Life, The Legend – This feature consists of four featurettes that can only be viewed one at a time, but not all together. Overall it lasts close to fifty minutes. Historians along with some of the crew discuss the various monsters in the film: werewolves, Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dracula’s brides. Clips are shown from the film as well as older films as they discuss the characters’ importance and why they are such a big part of the story. A really group of fun featurettes that could have just been put together into one big extra.
Evolution Of A Legacy – Here is another feature consisting of three featurettes that could have really been all one big feature. “Exploring Frankenstein’s Lab” is actually included in here. The other two featurettes deal with the building of Dracula’s lair from scratch to completion, and the musical score of the film. In total they only last about twelve minutes which is rather disappointing because they were really good. Watching Dracula’s lair be built up is a lot of fun because it’s cool watching something so old be built up brand new. I would have liked to have seen the building of all the sets after this.
You Are In The Movie! – This is a rather neat feature with hidden camera shots on particular scenes from the film making you feel as if you’re right in on the action. Again, it’s a shame this feature is also so short (clocking in at four and a half minutes) as it was really fun.
Trailers – Shaun Of The Dead, Seed Of Chucky, The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, The Scorpion King, and Shrek 2
Van Helsing is one of those films that I enjoyed immensely, but wish it would have been done so much better. It has a great old-time feel like you’re stepping back in time to witness the tyranny of monsters people couldn’t possibly stop. Then all of a sudden a hero comes along and brings…some new modernized weapons. That really is the only thing that set me off about this film and took a little entertainment value out of it. Other then that the characters, sets, dialogue, and just about everything else was phenomenal and showed that the Universal monsters still have a lot of clout and could probably trump any new fangled monster created today. A collector’s edition set like this makes it all worthwhile too because these are some great special features, but if you already own the 2004 DVD release then I’d think twice about grabbing this one. A lot of the special features from that DVD were merely carried over to this one with some more thrown in here and there. Shelling out some extra cash for this set and only getting about four new extras may seem like a worthy investment, but that’s totally up to you. If you don’t yet have a copy of the film and are looking for the best version; then no questions asked, this is it.
And if you don’t have silver bullets handy for those pesky wolfmen; always remember the words of The Monster Squad and you’ll at least be able to run away. “Wolfman’s got nards!”
Universal Studio presents Van Helsing Collector’s Edition. Directed by: Stephen Sommers. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Will Kemp, Kevin J. O’Connor, Shuler Hensley. Written by: Stephen Sommers. Running time: 132 minutes on 2 discs. Rating: PG-13. Released on DVD: July 8, 2008. Available at Amazon.com