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Fri May 7, 2004
The film relies like many other American offerings too much on special effects.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
Even "X-Men's" heroic Hugh Jackman can't save "Van Helsing" from sinking in computer graphics and lurid costumes as it assembles the great 30's a 40's monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula, and Wolf Man from the old Universal Pictures. Like "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," this film tries to entertain too many literary and film icons so it ends up sliding over the surface of promising characterizations for the usual American overdose of special effects.
Jackman plays 19th-century Dr. Gabriel Van Helsing, who is to rid the world of these creatures, whereas he should be removing "The Mummy's" director Stephen Sommers' from any influence over dialogue for future horror flicks. When Igor (Kevin J. O'Connor) says he tortures because "It's what I do," the best line of the show is not more than an anachronistic clich?. Some of the dialogue attempts a modern, casual irony better suited to "Die Hard" action than a hybrid of horror and comedy.
However, visually "Van Helsing" is impressive: The comely young women/bats in Dracula's harem wear form-fitting body suits that demand attention, fly with acrobatic aplomb, and show dentally dynamic incisors at the right transforming moments. Wolf Man is hugely menacing, powerful and realistic with dental work every bit as impressive as the ladies'. The waist of Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) is corseted as small as those of the schoolgirls in "Picnic at Hanging Rock." As for the embarrassing accents, neither she nor Richard Roxburgh as Count Dracula should consider other work asking for anything but their native speech.
The film relies like many other American offerings too much on special effects; it seems every transition is loaded with action like the race with 2 six-horse coaches or Van Helsing shooting his rotary-magazine crossbow. The CGI power comes a bit, I suspect, from the dark frames, where more precise detail can be ignored and the big mattes overwhelm like dark drapes.
The best example of where this film goes wrong is with Frankenstein's monster, who turns out to be likeable in the way homely Shrek is. Although in "Prometheus" Percy Shelley described "Phantasms so foul through monster-teeming Hell," Mary Shelley created her monster with affection. Like P.B. Shelley, James Whales scared the heck out of his audience with an ugly, pathetic, uncivilized hybrid. "Van Helsing" is more Mary than Percy and monstrously far from Whales.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com.