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TAC Reviews...Van Helsing

 

Gabriel Van Helsing is based upon the character Abraham Van Helsing, who appeared in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. The film also includes characters from other works including The Wolf Man and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The film was written, produced and directed by the master of over-the-top CGI Stephen Sommers.

 

Van Helsing Poster

 

If you've read Dracula then you will be familiar with the character of Abraham Van Helsing, now whilst I have read Dracula I cannot say that it is one of my favorite books, however, I can appreaciate it for the ground breaking nature of the story. Before this vampires did not exist, and it is a book that Bram Stoker basically recieved no recognition for. Borrowing from elements of a number of classic monster stories including obviously Dracula comes Van Helsing an over-the-top monster movie that I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

So, this is kind-of a meeting of several classic horror characters, the question is: Does it come together to make something great or something shit??...Join me as we open the coffin lid to find out...

 

In Transylvania in 1887 Doctor Frankenstein (Samuel West) brings his Monster (Shuler Hensley) to life and is praised by the man who financed his work, Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh). At the same time his castle is attacked by a mob from the local village. Dracula reveals why he wanted the Monster created but Doctor Frankenstein his horrified and refuses to allow his creation to be used for such evil. Dracula murders the doctor and as the mob draws in the Monster is seemingly destroyed.

 

A year later amnesiac Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is hunting Mr Hyde (or more accurately a huge computer generated version of Mr Hyde – voiced by Robbie Coltrane). After dispatching him Van Helsing returns to Vatican City where the Knights of the Holy Order (fighters of evil, defenders innocents, etc) give him the task of eliminating Dracula so that the family that has spent generations fighting him can enter Heaven.

 

Van Helsing is joined by a friar named Carl (David Wenham) who has a knack for creating technologically advanced weaponry including a gas powered crossbow. Carl also equips Van Helsing with crosses, holy water and various other tools for fighting vampires.

 

Once in Transylvania Van Helsing joins with Anna (Kate Beckinsale) the last surviving member of the Valerious family. Together they battle the Count and his brides as Van Helsing’s past slowly begins to resurface.

 

Stephen Sommers (the man behind The Mummy and The Mummy Returns) is not someone who has a problem with computer generated effects. Whilst other directors seem to adopt the less-is-more approach and use CGI sparingly, Sommers clearly believes in a more-is-more approach. Van Helsing is certainly an example of virtually every monster being the work of CGI with the exception of Frankenstein’s Monster who is a guy in a make-up.

 

Computer effects can blow the audience’s mind (take the film Avatar in which the joins between CGI and live action are almost seamless), and can make cinema goers really believe that what they are seeing is real. Unfortunately Sommers doesn’t seem to be concerned with making his audience believe that his creatures are really there. From Mr Hyde to Dracula’s monster form, almost everything in Van Helsing is obviously a creation of CGI. The excessive use of CGI almost seems to be laziness on the part of the special effects department or due to a director who was in a hurry. Some over-the-top movie monster is created and either the special effects people are not allowed to make it appear more real by whoever, or they simply cannot be bothered to make it look more lifelike. There are any number of examples of films (especially courtesy of Underworld) in which computer generated werewolves look like something that is truly real and seem easily capable of ripping someone’s throat out. The werewolves in Van Helsing just don’t look lifelike enough for the audience to be even a little afraid of them. They look like they lifted the creatures directly from the film tie-in game, if anything some of the monsters probably look better in that than in the film because at least they fit in the world they are in. Here one computer generated monster sharing the scene with another tends to get a little dull and really takes you out of the story.

 

The CGI aside Van Helsing does have some good things going for it, spercifically the cast.

 

Hugh Jackman clearly enjoys playing the role of the amnesic vampire hunter, and the lovely Kate Beckinsale plays his feisty love interest. However, it is Roxburgh who steals the show with his portrayal of Count Dracula. He is brilliantly funny and a joy to watch. It is clear that Roxburgh is just having some fun with the character and creates a camp, energetic, charismatic Count that moves like lightening and has little to no regard for anyone aside from himself. Sommers seems to have given him the freedom to play the character however he wants and it always helps when a cast seem to really be enjoying themselves and are not taking what is obviously a very tongue-in-cheek film too seriously.

 

There are the diehard Dracula fans who will remember when the Count was truly terrifying (mainly when he was played by Christopher Lee in the Hammer Horror Series) who will be outraged by Roxburgh’s portrayal of the character. The excessive amount of dodgy CGI might also be enough to put off potential viewers, however, despite its flaws Van Helsing is still a good fun film with a kick-ass vampire hunter, a feisty leading lady, and a geeky sidekick fighting it out against a camp Count Dracula and his three gorgeous brides. 

 

Apparently Sommers changed the name from Abraham to Grabriel because Abraham is an "old-persons" name and Sommers wanted his character to sound younger. I honestly wouldn't have cared because most of the time others refer to him as Van Helsing but die hard Dracula fans might be angry about the liberties that Sommers has taken with the character. But if that is the case then they'll probably be spitting blood when they see how Roxburgh plays the part of the charasmatic Count.

 

Personally I enjoyed both Hugh Jackman and Richard Roxburgh’s portrayals of Van Helsing and Dracula respectively, it is a real popcorn movie, yes it would have scored higher if the CGI had looked more realistic but I am still happy to give it a solid Thumbs Up

 

 

7/10 - There is a lot of CGI in Van Helsing but if the audience can look past that then Hugh Jackman and Richard Roxburgh performances make this worth a watch

 

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© Chris Sharman