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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 May, 2004, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Review: Van Helsing
By Victoria Lindrea
BBC News Online Entertainment staff

Hugh Jackman
X-Men star Hugh Jackman plays 'bounty hunter' Van Helsing

Stephen Sommers' action adventure Van Helsing, opening in the UK and US on 7 May, proves loud, contrived and humourless.

It is also laden with superior special effects, a dashing protagonist (Hugh Jackman) and a host of fantastical creatures ripe for merchandising spin-offs.

Welcome to the first of the summer blockbusters - their reputation precedes them.

Stephen Sommers, director of The Mummy, drew his inspiration for Van Helsing from the classic Universal Studios monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s.

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It was his aim to interweave the stories of Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man through the character of Van Helsing, a gothic "bounty hunter" invented by Dracula author Bram Stoker.

Notional plot

Despite assertions that for screenwriter Sommers "the story is everything", the plot here, such as it is, amounts to little more than edited highlights from the Hammer House of Horror library.

Hard on the heels of 2003's Freddy vs Jason, it promises the onscreen clash of cinema's most legendary mythical monsters.

Kate Beckinsale
British actress Kate Beckinsale stars opposite Hugh Jackman

But if the screenplay's notional plot does not bear scrutiny, it does at least provide Sommers' with a chance to show his best side: a sound command of special effects and some dazzling production values.

From the brilliantly realised cityscapes of Paris and Rome to the gothic spires and icy tracts of Transylvania - straight out of the pages of a comic book - Van Helsing boasts some stunning art work.

The startling architectural detail and epic landscapes owe much to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, in a film which borrows many of its most memorable motifs from other movies.

Film references

Indiana Jones, Hulk, even Moulin Rouge! are all referenced here - while the underground armoury where Van Helsing receives his weapons for the mission to Transylvania is directly lifted from the Bond movies.

Throw in the diabolical dialogue and mock-Romanian accents, and you might even spot Monty Python's influence, except it just is not funny.

Sommers' The Mummy achieved worldwide box office glory by marrying spectacular special effects with tongue-in-cheek humour - much like its cinematic forerunner, Indiana Jones.

Richard Roxburgh
Moulin Rouge! star Richard Roxburgh plays Dracula

Van Helsing, however, proves singularly low on humour. Hampered by a stilted script that seeks to explain the plot as it unfolds and the limited comedic talents of leading lady Kate Beckinsale, it barely rustles up a snigger.

Clearly, Van Helsing is intended as a darker piece, but if it is short on humour it is also short on tension.

Excruciating finale

Characters are iconic, with little or no emotional weight. The seemingly invincible Dracula broods and rants, but his darkness holds no menace.

And when he does finally confront Van Helsing, their CGI-boosted clash has all the drama of a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

Gone too are heaving bosoms and quivering pulses common to the Dracula myth, the sexual overtones subjugated in favour of comic book-style action more palatable to a 12A audience.

Without humour, tension or romance, the screenplay limps from one spectacular set piece to the next. It is left to the pounding music to pick up the film's momentum, as it drags towards its excruciating finale.


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What did you think of Van Helsing? Was it a great fantasy adventure or a dismal way to begin the summer blockbuster season?

I was looking forward to this film since it was announced last year, bitterly disappointing after all the hype, lack of a story plot. Did you notice that there was basically little story and it was just 10 action sequences linked together?!
William Chiu, Hong Kong

It was loud, silly, and fun. It scared my friend, and I enjoyed the action. Oh yes, there also was that one actor. What's his name? The eminently watchable Hugh Jackman. I didn't squirm in my seat even though it was a long film.
Stephanie, Milwaukee, WI, USA

I fell asleep once and tried to again but could not for all the ridiculous screeching. I had high hopes for this movie but left feeling totally disappointed. Blockbusters are seriously suffering from the 12A syndrome.
Ross Allen, Canberra, Ozzie

Richard Roxburgh really needs an inner menace stronger than simply looking a bit brooding. He does no justice to such a fantastic character as Dracula.
Rahman Qureshi, Gunma, Japan

Van Helsing is so horrid that it's become a great gag-comedy. The most dramatic moments only elicited laughter from the audience. It was as if the plot, which was full of holes, came from a textbook. Personally, I enjoyed the film because it was so horrible.
Melon, Monterey, California, U.S.

I thought it was a very enjoyable adventure movie. sometimes people are just looking for something fun to watch. The movie didn't really appeal to my emotions, but it did have me on the edge of my seat. Speaking of which, whatever happened to good horror movies (Werewolf, Dracula, Frankenstein)?
Omar B., Asheville, NC

I saw Van Helsing last night & I'm still trying to work out what, exactly, I got in exchange for my money except stolen landscapes from Lord of the Rings, and a script which could have been written by a GCSE English student under instructions to link Dracula with as many random famous beasties as possible. Dracula was supposed to be "the evil guy"; but he doesn't really have any particularly evil aspirations & even limits the number of people he bites to the minumum required for his colony (half a month). Ooooh, you scary, scary Count...... in short: DON'T BOTHER!!!!
Will Graham, Wakefield, England

It's hard to imagine that a film filled with so much action, good ideas, imagination and talent could be so disappointing and boring; yet this is exactly what happens when one lacks a good story. Yet the film will succeed and the film will profit. Why? Because like so many summer blockbusters, the film has been carefully managed and marketed towards a specific audience that will not so much care for a good story, but for a good action sequence; the targeted audience is children, and it is this audience that will continue to fuel the summer movie blockbuster.
Zach Cowley, Toronto, Canada

I'm a huge fan of vampire movies and especially the classic Christopher Lee ones. I knew this film was going to be a bit tongue-in-cheek but I almost left the cinema as the story and characters were appalling. Dracula is supposed to be a dark but sexy character as the ultimate 'bad boy' but instead he was this comical spoilt boy. Very disappointed. This film goes into the top 3 worst films i've every seen.
Kerry, Edinburgh, UK

A superb film. If people stopped thinking and just enjoyed the ride (and what a ride) they might actually enjoy it rather than whinge about its imperfections. Film fans will love it, you can definitely see where the money went and the pure size and scale of the project is breathtaking. I was so bowled over I went back to see it the same day. GO SEE THIS FILM. I look forward to "Van Helsing Returns".
Martin, London

I was looking forward to seeing this film but was disappointed. The story was too fast, the characters were underdeveloped and Hugh Jackman didn't smile once! And don't even get me started on an ending that was so cheesy it had me cringeing! However, this film deserves some credit. 1. It had a semi-decent portrayal of Frankenstein's monster, as in he actually spoke and didn't just grunt like a teenager forced to get up after a night of drinking. 2. David Wenham's character had some funny one-liners and actually got Faramir from my mind quite quickly, but i do suspect that Karl is the ancestor of Q. 3. A very good score. 4. Hugh Jackman wet. 5. Hugh Jackman semi-naked. ..Well, all films have some highlights!
Jen, Aslockton, Notts, England

I saw it on a rainy afternoon. The only thing that attracted me to that movie was to see Hugh (whatever that guy does, I'll go and see it!)and snare at the amplificated bossom of Kate! The rest, well, far too many monsters and sci-fi effects. The monk was obviously a direct link to "Q". Nothing to write home about.
Alex Vienne, London, UK

The film is so terrible that I had to leave the cinema after half an hour, I'm glad I did because when everyone else left two hours later they were clearly in a trance. The characters are shallow, the story is missing and the imagery is copied from other movies. I could tell all this within the first thirty minutes! Don't movie producers have to watch the films they are releasing? It should be shown in prisons as punishment.
Ian Warren, Hyde, Cheshire, UK

Yes it was loud, brash, thin on plot, and a little too heavy on substandard "let's-throw-everything-we've-got-at-the-screen-and-see-what-sticks" effects. But I went in expecting a Stephen Sommers movie starring Hugh Jackman and that's exactly what I got. If you were disappointed, I suspect you have only yourself to blame.
Natalie, London

If you go expecting a full-on Gothic horror, you'll be disappointed. If you like kiddie-friendly, action-packed monster movies, you'll love it. I liked the way David Wenham's sidekick echoed the "Q" role in the Bond films (kitting Van Helsing out with all his vampire-killing gadgets) but the accents and the ending were just cringeworthy.
Alison, Reading, UK

An excellent example of what happens when a film has too big a budget: plot and character sacrificed in favour of loud SFX-driven set pieces. Ultimate proof was at the end - still enough money left over to use expensive CGI for final credits! It's a shame that Hollywood thinks this is enough to keep us interested. Despite being less than 100 minutes, it felt much longer to me, as I sat fidgeting in boredom.
Richard Wiseman, Ipswich, UK

They seem to have spent their budget on special effects (which were brillaint) and nothing else. It was one of the worst films I have seen in a long time. I felt sorry for the actors, as the cast was an accomplished lot, shame they had such a terrible script. The cinema was filled with embarrassed laughs throughout and I just hope that the person we overheard on the way out saying 'Oscar winning' was joking.
Emily, London, UK

I really enjoyed the film. I wanted to watch an easy action movie with fight scenes and special effects. That is what I got. Good to watch and I would definitely recommend it to others!
Tamara Jones, Lancashire, England

God what a terrible film... Just so over the top, but not in a good way. And the dialogue was awful. And that ending! Oh dear...
Valerie, London, Uk

Once again, a film that could have produced something entertaining is cut down by the magic of the 12A certificate. Although the film had its moments it was restricted so i could be viewed by a younger audience. I just hope the rest of the summer movies are better. Come to think of it, i may as well stay in my fantasy land.
Ben, Warrington, UK

Apart from a few niggling complaints (I thought Roxburgh as Dracula was woefully under par here with an appalling "Romanian" accent, the cheesy ending, there was not the slightest hint of chemistry between Jackman and Beckinsale so you couldn't care less when they kiss at the end - oh, and and the actor providing the voice for Frankenstein was - frankly - laughable, the same guy that voiced the caterpillar in A Bug's Life?) this was a film that did exactly what it said it would on the tin. If you saw the trailers you already knew exactly what to expect - a loud, dark, special-effects-laden extravaganza. I didn't take it seriously and thought it was a lot of fun as a result - some really breathtaking scenes and effects. But please, Stephen Sommers, don't use the same casting agent and scriptwriter next time...
Lukas Glynn, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany

So lifeless and cartoonish. Take some wet paint along. I kept expecting Scooby Doo and the gang to show up !
John O'Neill, Scotland

I saw the film last night after really looking forward to it and I also was really disappointed. The effects were good but I couldn't help but keep checking my watch. Upon leaving the cinema, I wasn't so much raving about the film, just mumbling that it definitely wasn't as good as I thought it would be. Such a shame, seeing as I'm a big fan of Mr Jackman!
Amanda, Birmingham, UK

It was such a bore! A real let-down. I didn't expect this to be so cartoonish. The adverts were misleading, at least here in the states. Had I expected a comic book-style movie perhaps I wouldn't have been so disappointed. But it was nice to look at, especially Mr. Jackman.
Maria, Chicago, USA

Bilge. Why does a werewolf landing on a wooden stagecoach set in on fire? Why is Mr Hyde so massive, Scottish and blue? And Dracula? I've had scarier meals than that.
Tom Pringle, Oxford, UK

Van Helsing was a visually-stunning film. As a fan of werewolves and fantastic creatures in general, I found the visual renditions of the characters to be amazingly well-done. The scenery - from Paris to Rome to a shoddy little Transylvanian town - was fantastic. The detail was exquisite, and it is obvious that as far as looks go, no expense was spared. However, I found that the characters fell short of what they could have achieved quite easily. Van Helsing himself was as could be acceptable: stoic, rather distant, heroic, etc etc. But the other characters (especially and mainly Dracula himself) just didn't achieve the level of fullness and/or darkness that could have easily been achieved.
JM, Cloudcroft, NM, US

Great special effects and an excellent score but the script is dire and the accents laughable. The only decent character is that of Van Helsing's sidekick (played by David Wenham,who steals the show). That said, Hugh Jackman does make a great action hero. I just hope that he chooses his next film more wisely.
Katherine Williams, Liverpool, England

What a fantastic high budget movie! Just relax and go with the flow, all those analytical heads out there are missing the point. This is a must for the DVD collection! :-)
Giles Heaton, Crawley, England

I feel bad for saying this, as I am generally a fan of Hugh Jackman's work, but I expected far more from this film than I actually got. Hugh seemed to be entirely reprising his wolverine role (lack of memory, something of a wolfman..)and Richard Roxburgh's Dracula seemed more camp than scary. Some of the sound effects served only to deafen me, and the scant attention paid to creating characters worth investing emotional attachment in resulted in my really not caring what happened either way. In fact the only characters I really had any sympathy for were Dracula's brides, with their thwarted maternal instincts. Too much dependence on CGI, and not enough effort to make a film for grown-ups.
Lisa, Kent, UK

Plot? Since when has that mattered in most modern movies? The wife and I went in looking for a light-hearted action flick and that's exactly what we got. Plenty of action, loud noise, and special effects. Well worth the ticket price.
Paul, England

I am ashamed that I dragged my poor boyfriend to watch this. OK, the special effects are stunning but that is ALL there is. The actors are drownded by the big scenery and the big fights that they try to counteract by over acting. Dracula is more like a mardy teenager than a menacing evil, the rest of the characters are just plain shallow; suffice to say that the one with most charisma is Frankenstein's monster. And as mentioned here before the chemistry between the main couple is luke warm and the ending is SO tacky it is untrue. However the worst of all was that this wasn't even a funny movie. I bet they released it same time everywhere so that they would get the production costs back before people notice how awful the film really is.
Hilkka Jarvela, Coventry, UK

Having read the graphic novels I can safely say I was jipped of my fiver. Yes, Hugh looks the part but I laughed myself silly throughout the film - sadly it's not supposed to be a comedy. Nice end credits though.
MKW, Birmingham, UK

I was really looking forward to a good solid, Dracula Action film. And while I got a solid CGI Action film, Dracula had gone AWOL, leaving behind his not really that evil and limp younger brother. If you like good horror characters like Dracula, Wolfman, Van Helsing then don't bother watching this film! The Only character to come out with any credit was Frankenstein's monster.
Richard Corless, Bridgend, S.Wales, UK

Van Helsing's brilliance is purely in its simplicity. It doesnt try to be anything else but an entertaining movie. Although darker & without the commanding presance of Johnny Depp, i would say Van Hesing will be the 'Pirates of the Caribean' of 2004. Slightly funny, slightly scary, kick-ass fight scenes, vampires, werewolves. If you want a fun time at the cinema, go watch it!
David Hainsworth, Braintree, UK

I had a great time watching Van Helsing! The sound and visual effects are amazing. The story is also attractive. It's not only an adventurous movie, but also includes love, humor, and humanity. Cool movies!
Elle, Taiwan

Unforgivably bad. Such potential (Dracula v. Wolf Man - who wouldn't want to see that scrap?) but it did not deliver one bit. I think Kate Beckinsale was quite sweet, but she was completely unconvincing in this genre. (And that accent! How I laughed!) Why on earth were we not given the opportunity to get to know Van Helsing better? Where was his dialog? Stoic is fine, but he is the lead character in a movie - we are supposed to form some attachment to him. The only high point was Hugh Jackman taking his shirt off, and the set for the masked ball which was stunning. Potential of a good story totally forsaken to meet the 12a crowd.
Sarah, Livingston, West Lothian

Utterly disappointing and an insult to the Vampire/Dracula Genre. I am a huge fan of the classic Hammer Horrors, right up to The Hunger and Interview with the Vampire, Blade etc. The acting was wooden, the humour was embarrassing and Kate Beckinsale's accent would fit much better in a low budget blue movie. The only saving grace was the opening scene, but unfortunately this only set me up for disappointment as the film went rapidly downhill from there. Roxburgh was dreadful and so obviously trying to be Gary Oldman. Gary should feel insulted by this shameful copy-catting. The special effects were relied on to pull this story less cartoon into the epic film category, but failed dismally. The idea was great, but the reality was a waste of 6, and Hugh Jackman can definitely do better!
Emma, Surrey, Chertsey

I too was massively looking forward to this film but was let down in a big way. Once the loudness and the explosions have gone, there is nothing left. The story has tried to name-drop as many characters as possible, leaving very little time for Van Helsing vs. Dracula. Kate Beckinsale looked stunning, but what was Van Helsing's hat all about?
Stephen, Rochdale

120 minute advert for the action figures, video games, comic books, sequels, bubble bath...
Sandy, Southern England

I can't remember the last time a film disappointed me this much, I think your review pretty much sums it up. There really was very little that could be called plot and most of the scenes were either pure action or lifted almost directly from other movies. It was neither funny nor scary, although it did have some nice action sequences and effects. I'd sum it up by saying it appeared as if the plot had been written in a single lunchtime after the writer had stayed up all night watching old horror B-movies. It shows how bad writing can ruin a perfectly good concept. The actors did their best to save it, but there's only so much they could do.
Colin Wright, UK

I am surprised by the number of bad comments this film has received here. Obviously these people weren't pure action fans. I don't know where people got the idea that this was meant to be a horror movie, it was pitched as an action film, pure and simple. I do agree Dracula was disappointing, he talked too much and killed ... only once as I recall. In summary, it is an action movie for the younger generation.
George Lin, London UK

This has to be one of the daftest horror films I've ever seen, but entertaining nonetheless. Worth seeing for the ridiculous portrayal of Dracula (which was funny, even if not intentionally so at times). The annoyingly irrelevant back-story (how old was Van Helsing supposed to be?) was the only real downside.
Emma, Cambridge, UK

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SEE ALSO:
Stars attend Van Helsing premiere
04 May 04  |  Entertainment
Blockbusters square up for summer
07 May 04  |  Entertainment
Beckinsale's monster career
07 May 04  |  Entertainment
2004: The next 12 months in film
29 Dec 03  |  Entertainment


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