VAN HELSING Collector’s Edition DVD Review

     July 16, 2008

Reviewed by David Kobylanski

His name is Van Helsing… He has come to a forbidden land to battle enemies that are legend… Evil has one name to fear…” And that’s why his superiors are sending him into hell to battle it all.

His life, his job, his curse is to vanquish evil and while some say he’s a holy man, others declare him a murderer, but it’s a bit of both and director Stephen Sommers brought it all crashing together for Van Helsing. Fresh off the success of the first two Mummy incarnations, another famous character was brought to the screen with an entire parade of friends and foes. It’s not merely a high-tech revisionist’s homage to a single classic but rather a monster mash of three Universal classics including Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man.

After a prologue concerning Dr. Frankenstein’s 1887 death at the will of Count Dracula but in the hands of his Monster, we meet up with a shady and wanted Van Helsing in the streets of Paris. He is a monster hunter and part of the elusive Knights Of The Holy Order. His first assignment is to track down Mr. Hyde venturing out for murder, who seems to also mingle in the Hunchback of Notre Dame’s choice of high tower living. That job does not end as planned. As usual, but not conveniently, the monster turns back to human form for blame to be left for Van. Helsing then moves on to Vatican City to get further instructions, to be supplied with high-tech weapons and a few Hail Maries.

Next stop: Transylvania, with an assistant training to be a monk, Carl. The two arrive in a village to be greeted by pitchforks and what ironically saves them is an attack by three flying seductive Brides. Seductive at least when they’re in human form and not flying around naked as bats. It should be the other way around if you ask me. They enjoy scooping up their victims and flying off to savor their blood, far away from sunburn. Van Helsing fights them using a device that fires arrows like a machinegun and thus leads to his meeting the beautiful Anna Valerious. Ms. Valerious, yes, Miss Valerious represents the last of nine generations of a special family. She’s all the more tormented after her brother Velkan gets a little of a wet nose and large growling k9’s, if you catch my drift. And who is this family? This family concerns Van Helsing’s mission as they will never find eternal rest in the afterlife until Dracula is destroyed. And if you kill Dracula, all the vampires he created will also die. Thank heavens. Anna and Van soon become partners in vengeance and sit by each other on a rollercoaster through every action sequence ever created.

Stephen Sommer’s explosion of design may have led some to conclude this as a complete bomb. The CGI at times does get tiresome as in any case visual effects can get when it allows characters to fall hundreds of feet and somehow survive, swoop down at the ends of ropes while at the same time not having any superpowers. Van Helsing did under perform in the domestic box-office, was able to turn a profit internationally yet was mauled by the claws of critical audiences as far from a terrible movie yet just as distant from being a loved one. It’s a fun ride with certain flaws and like a ride, it’s meant to be injected for a quick high without any real time for deep thought-provoking analysis. The CGI was used to an extent to create a visual feast, and here the cinematography by Allen Daviau of The Color Purple fame and the production design, by The Mummy’s and Hollow Man’s Allen Cameron, join with Sommer’s imagination for spectacular sights. The highlights may be seen at the masked ball in Budapest, which is part real with musicians and physical performers and also the elaborate coach chase scene along the edges of cliffs and over demolished bridges. There are without a doubt unbelievable moments, even if you wanted to believe, but it’s not meant to be taken seriously, it’s make-believe. Any discourse this film has in your mind began with trying to incorporate and establish every major horror film in a single movie. Instead of starting off with a simple premise and building around it, they made the foundation massive and had no choice but to build a behemoth in all directions. In that respect, the film succeeds and ends on a high-voltage note.

The new 2-disc collector’s edition doesn’t offer any new extras that weren’t included on the previous editions that came after the original release. It also has less than the Ultimate Collector’s Edition which included the old Dracula, Frankenstein and Wolf Man films on a third disc and had far more impressive packaging design. Perhaps the folks at Universal over-bloated their merchandising the first go around. To illustrate my point, let us all consider the option to put the DVD in your X-Box console to play the first level of the nightmarish game, which was released in 2004. Yes, you can now play the first level of an old game on your newer console. Isn’t that spooky? But would Universal really leave you with just the old tricks and treats? No! It’s been done! They were the ones to do it! And it was about time to outdo themselves. It would have been fantastic if I had something to back that tease up with. This new addition doesn’t really add anything past the point of tying-in with the re-released Mummy movies ahead of this summer’s third one due in August, non-Sommers related.

The 2 discs have extras that include commentaries and multiple featurettes which are for the most part self-explanatory: Bringing the Monster to Life, The Legend of Van Helsing, Explore Frankenstein’s Lab, The Music of Van Helsing, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Werewolves, The Women of Van Helsing: Anna & Dracula’s Brides. Explore Dracula’s Castle allows the viewer to roam a 360-degree self-guided tour, discovering the stunning environments of Van Helsing. You Are In The Movie gives you a chance to experience movie-making magic through miniature cameras on the set that give you the actor’s perspective on the filming of a scene. Dracula’s Lair Is Transformed has time-lapse photography capturing the transformation of Dracula’s Coffin Room. But no bloopers or trailers! Just kidding, they’re in there.

So catch a silver bullet, let your stitches loose or hang some garlic to make yourself feel better and watch Gabriel Van Helsing again on DVD.

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