Worth A Look: 15.93%
Pretty Bad: 17.99%
Total Crap: 47.2%
16 reviews, 243 user ratings
by Scott Weinberg
Despite that fact that it's one of the loudest, driest and most willingly insipid Popcorn Movies in a few years, I was tempted to give "Van Helsing" a 2-star rating because of the production design. And then I remembered how enthusiastically "Van Helsing" urinates all over the beloved Universal monsters of yesteryear. So screw the production design; a few amazing-looking castles aren't enough to make up for the overwhelming affront that is "Van Helsing".The worst thing that ever could have happened: We made The Mummy a huge hit all over the world. This one simple act led to the following beliefs:
"or, How to Whore your Immortal Classics for a Big Opening Weekend"
1. That Stephen Sommers is a good filmmaker.
2. That summertime movie audiences will shell out nine bucks for basically anything that has a lot of CGI moneyshots in the trailer.
3. That a movie studio will happily and completely bastardize its own immortal movie monsters if the box office tallies are massive enough.
As if we didn't learn our lesson when Universal allowed the swill to churn unmolested (that'd be The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King), now here comes the main event. The two Mummy flicks were just warm-ups, ponderous eyestrains used to test the waters for something as wrongheaded and lifeless as Van Helsing.
It's a movie that hopes to get you into the theater with promises of "Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man!!!" But once you sit down and watch the thing, you realize that Sommers has as much respect for the classic monsters as Michael Moore has for President Bush. It's like being invited to a barbecue that turns out to be a two-hour vegan presentation on the evils of red meat.
In a recent interview with MSNBC, writer/director Sommers offered the following admission: "I'm a PG-13 guy. I don't like scary movies." Folks, that is absolutely all you need to know about Van Helsing. Having Stephen Sommers direct a movie about vampires and werewolves and undead behemoths is akin to having Donald Trump direct a movie about how tough it is to be a welfare mom.
Van Helsing is a bad film, by any definition. Churned hot off the assembly line, it's an ugly and disposable piece of ultra-expensive formula product that exists solely to kick-start a new revenue stream.This is a project that's already spawned an animated DVD prequel, a reported sequel, a few video games, a theme park attraction, and an upcoming mini-series entitled Transylvania... products forged months before Van Helsing was even released. That's synergy, folks, while you and I are simply grease for the machine. You'll even find Stephen Sommers being interviewed on each of the conveniently-just-released DVD compilations of the classic Universal horror films. That makes sense: a filmmaker who freely admits to disliking scary movies...being interviewed on the new Dracula resissue, all in the name of merchandising tie-ins and flimsy cross-promotion. Classy moves all around.
Obviously it's a foregone conclusion that something as flashy and loud as Van Helsing is bound to be a huge hit, which only lends credence to my sssertation that practically nobody involved with this movie even bothered to try.
OK, that might be being a bit unfair to the hundreds of set designers, makeup artists and CGI technicians who clearly did what was asked of them. But a worthwhile cake always has something beneath the icing, and the annoyingly sad fact of the matter is this: Van Helsing is all icing; too sticky, too sweet and way too insubstantial to warrant any real recommendation.
The plot of the movie is as nonsensical as it is inconsequential; it's just a twig of a coat rack that cannot possibly support this amount of expensive apparel. One-note monster-hunter Van Helsing is dispatched to Transylvania to rid the area of the vampires and werewolves and Frankensteins. Oh my. Since it would cost way too much to produce one 2-hour action sequence, we are therefore forced to withstand an unending collection of pointless plot expositions, characters' exchanges, and poorly conceived sections of dialogue that hastily try to explain either what just happened in the last scene ("Apparently vampires CAN fly in daylight!") or what's about to happen in the next one ("Ummm, OK. The ONLY way to kill Dracula is by biting him with a werewolf!!"). Too many scenes consist of people swinging on ropes; Van Helsing's arsenal of silly weapons feels like nothing more than something to be soon "sold separately".
It's all very exhausting, and not in a good way. Feeling like the world's most expensive clothesline, Van Helsing exists exclusively as support for its bloated action sequences, none of which even come close to offering a bona-fide 'thrill'. From the rather ridiculous prologue (in which our hero kills a member of the LXG) to the low-rent James Bond-in-the-19th-century stupidity of Van Helsing's secret hideout to the dingy and sadly repetitive monster attacks in Transylvania...Van Helsing feels like a big, lumbering Frankenstein of Commerce. It's patched together rather poorly, it's frequently unpleasant to look at, and the words that come out of its mouth are sadly very stupid. You'd pity Van Helsing for being so bad if its badness actually mattered.
To say that Sommers takes disrespectful license with these immortal characters would be a stunning understatement. He has no idea what makes a vampire scary or why Frankenstein's monster is a tragic figure. All he knows is that they're gross and popular, so let's just ramp up that CGI machine! Clearly Mr. Sommers has the keys to the Universal kingdom these days, but does that mean the execs have to let him pen his own screenplays? Clearly this is a director who has a lot of talent as far as a movie's visual scope is concerned; hire him screenwriter who has some love for the genre and I suspect that a Van Helsing could have been an absolute joy to behold. As it stands, it's nothing more than a monster-centric video game with no heart, no soul, no passion. Van Helsing is cinematic scrapple (look it up), only not as tasty."Oh, but the 12-year-old boys out there will LOVE it!" Yes, that's true, and it's also the mantra that Universal is chanting all the way to the bank. But come back to those same 12-year-olds when they're just a little bit older and I bet they wonder how they could have enjoyed a film that's only marginally less atrocious than, say, "Battlefield Earth". Yeah, it's THAT bad.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=9518&reviewer=128
originally posted: 05/07/04 15:58:05