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.
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 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.
'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.