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3 stars
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Overall Grade
3 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
2.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
3 Stars
High-Def Extras
1 Stars
Bottom Line
Give it a Rent

Van Helsing

Street Date:
September 15th, 2009
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
September 22nd, 2009
Movie Release Year:
2004
Studio:
Universal
Length:
132 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

It's as if Stephen Sommers awoke one day and said, "How can I create the most outrageously bloated monstrosity of a movie ever? Oh, I know…" Thus 'Van Helsing' was born! Well the big budget movie version anyway.

Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) hunts monsters for the Catholic Church. His list of "victims" runs the gamut of the who's who of monster myths. He hunts everyone from Mr. Hyde to werewolves. The film also gathers together the myths of Dracula, Dracula's brides, Dr. Frankenstein, and Frankenstein's Monster. Oh, it all fits together in some semblance of a plot, but it's paper thin.

It seems Count Dracula is planning something sinister. We see him with Dr. Frankenstein on the night Frankenstein brings his creation to life. Obviously the monster that has just been brought to life by lightning figures into Dracula's plan somehow. Soon, the obligatory angry mob is trying to break down the gates to the castle. It all ends with a chase up to the famous windmill, monster holding creator, only to be burned alive by the mob.

Dracula, played by Richard Roxburgh, constantly hisses and screams his orders to his three undead brides. Most of his time is spent merely screaming painfully into the heavens. Van Helsing has been dispatched to Transylvania because an important family line is about to die out. Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) and her brother are the last of the Valerious family. The end of the line after nine generations. Most importantly, the family will never find eternal rest until they have vanquished Dracula from the earth. This is all because of an oath made long ago. Dracula has been picking off the family one by one hoping to destroy the line.

From there we find out that Dracula's sinister plan may very well indeed involve finding a way to bring his dead children to life. How you give birth to something dead, well that's a mystery. Cocoons of slime hang from inside his castle, but he just can't seem to keep the little buggers alive for more than a day. There must be a better way.

'Van Helsing' continues along this path, bringing us face-to-face with every monster that's been talked about throughout the ages, except for a mummy, but that's only because Sommers already used mummies in another series of movies you may have heard of.

At over two hours 'Van Helsing' feels so bloated the campiness factor quickly wears thin. Combining all the monster myths into one is a fascinating idea, but taking too long to explain it all, really shoots the film in the foot. After about 90 minutes it isn't even "dumb" fun anymore. After 120 minutes you're lucky to still be awake.

Whats more, the movie constantly hammers away at the audience with CGI. It's hard to find a scene that doesn't contain computer animation. Unfortunately, like so many summer blockbusters before and since, 'Van Helsing' proves that all too often, showing off comes at the expense of telling a compelling story.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

If you do indeed find the film enjoyable, you'll be very happy with its extremely solid 1080p/AVC MPEG 4 transfer. Arguably the best looking part of the movie is the black and white opening when Dracula is in Frankenstein's laboratory. The blacks are at optimum levels and contrast perfectly with the lighter whites on screen. Transylvania is given a bluish hue most likely to represent the overall feeling of the town. (Being used as snacks by the various monsters about would really take a toll on the psyche.) The bluish tinge is contrasted perfectly when bright red blood is introduced. If DNR was applied it isn't noticeable. Textures and faces are maxed out in the detail department. It's a great looking transfer, but it does lend itself to exposing the CGI effect to be even more dated looking.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track is a fantastic upgrade from the DVD. Sounds are constantly moving through the channels, creating a truly omnipresent feeling. Wheels turning and creaking, wind howling, and lightning striking all are just some of the clear sound effects that pepper the audio track. The LFE is frequently engaged, but almost too much and too deep, drowning out other sounds at times. Action scenes seem to take over a little too much, hampering dialogue and other important sounds. You may find yourself turning the volume down just a tad only to have to turn it back up once the action subsides. The soundtrack engulfs with the best of them, but it's occasionally inconsistent when it comes to balancing all the parts to complement each other.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

  • Audio Commentary by Director Stephen Sommers and Editor/Producer Bob Ducsay - I recommend listening to this audio commentary so you can see how Sommers' style of directing is directly proportionate to his personality. Like an excited youngster Sommers tries to dazzle us by acknowledging what is computer animated and what isn't. Bob Ducsay does a good job at trying to keep the whole conversation level-headed, but it's as if Sommers is floating on a cloud. It's actually quite comical to listen to.
  • Audio Commentary with Richard Roxburgh, Shuler Hensley and Will Kemp - Man, I really love ensemble commentaries. Why movies don't do them more often is beyond me. Each of the men represents one of the three main monsters depicted in the movie. They have a great chemistry together and you can tell that the three of them have become friends while working on this project.
  • Van Helsing: The Story, The Life, The Legend (SD, 58 min) - This extensive feature covers a lot of the making-of information, and also provides some intriguing info about the monsters in the film.
  • Track the Adventure (SD, 34 min) - This is an in depth look at the film's sets and where it was shot. We get glimpses of the windmill, the Transylvanian village, and Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory.
  • Bringing the Monsters to Life (SD, 10 min) - This is a step-by-step on how the computer animated parts of 'Van Helsing' were created. Just a quick look at the processes that were undertaken to make some of the CGI creatures.
  • You Are in the Movie! (SD, 4 min) - Cameras were placed around the set from different points of view so we could see filming from the perspective of some of the crew.
  • The Music of Van Helsing (SD, 9 min) - Alan Silvestri, composer for 'Van Helsing,' shares insights into what it was like, and what it took to create some of the music for the film.
  • Bloopers (SD, 5 min) - Actually one of the funnier blooper reels I've seen on a film.
  • Dracula's Lair is Transformed (SD, 2 min) - This is just a short time lapse featurette that shows us exactly what it was like putting up and taking down the set that was used for Dracula's Lair.
  • The Masquerade Ball Scene "Unmasked" (SD, 25 min) - Back again, Sommers takes us on a tour of what it was like creating the masquerade ball scene. An hundred or so dancers were hired to create the scene. Sommers is his usual giddy self, in explaining how it all came to pass.
  • The Art of Van Helsing (SD, 5 min) - A still photo gallery that scrolls through artwork from the film.
  • Monster Eggs (SD, 1 min) - How does one even explain this feature or why it's called Monster Eggs? Anyway, it's just footage from on set that seems to have fallen off the blooper reel and landed here. I still don't know why, or what the aim for a feature like this is…and I've already spent more time writing about it than it takes to watch it.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

  • U-Control - Here you can control a PiP option within the movie to control whether or not you want to see interviews or behind-the-scenes footage while the movie is playing.

Final Thoughts

'Van Helsing' is so silly, so grandiose, so bloated that it can never be taken seriously, and maybe that's the point. Although, when it clocks in at over two hours, I think viewers in general expect much more of an epic movie, and the film just fails to deliver on that note. The strong video and audio may entice some. While it's a fairly lousy cinematic experience, as far as HD viewing goes 'Van Helsing' fares much better.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-25 Single-Layer Disc
  • Region Free

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG 4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Spanish DTS 5.1
  • French DTS 5.1

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • French
  • Spanish

Supplements

  • Featurettes
  • Blooper Reel
  • Audio commentaries
  • Theatrical Trailer

Exclusive HD Content

  • U-Control