Monday, 26 May 2014

Van Helsing (2004)

Pretty much the ultimate modern day homage to all the classic Universal monster flicks of the 30's and 40's, more specifically the few monster mash movies that were made including all the legendary monsters. Stephen Sommers takes his own hammy over the top Indiana Jones-esque schlock style from 'The Mummy' franchise and plumps it firmly into the Transylvanian homeland of Dracula, no CGI sparred. Oh and Kevin J O'Connor is brought along too yet again.

The plot? Van Helsing must do battle against Dracula and his minions plus werewolves and Frankenstein's monster...the end. This really is such a tough film to review for me, we all know Sommers from his Mummy films and we all knew exactly what to expect from his directing. This guy revels in complete tongue-in-cheek schlock action which is usually realised through heavy use of CGI. Its an old saying but think Indiana Jones but even more ludicrous, even more silly, even more quickfire quips and outrageously over the top everything. We all know this and going into this movie we again...all knew this, we knew it would be nonsense of the highest order, so I simply cannot complain about the fact the film is a total load of hammy cliches. I knew it would be! the only reason I wanted to see the film was simply down to the content...Universal's monsters.

This is the only reason why I had to see the film and why I give it kudos of any kind, the pure unadulterated fantastico monster mashing. But again I'm hampered! yes again!! the reason being I absolutely adored the concept behind this, the art direction, the atmosphere, the sets, the lighting, the use of that olde worlde Victorian steampunk style etc...but there are so many things about the film I hated and wanted to change. So many ideas that just begged to be awesome but the route they chose killed me artistically!

The monsters...ah those epic monsters...what the hell did they do to Dracula?! seriously! Could they have gone any further away from how this character should have looked at least. Sure Roxburgh does a good job with the role and stereotypical accent but his look...holy crapenstein! the Prince of Darkness looks like a rock star with that camp hair and God awful earrings. Yeah you could say that suits his style but the film is set within 18th Century not the present, it feels all wrong. They do get his Brides kinda right in monster mode at least although they seem to be dressed in Arabic style attire to me in human form, at least they are suitably hot although totally cliched with a blonde, a brunette and a redhead (why am I even saying cliched here?).

The werewolves look fantastic in wolf mode, love the thin pointed Batman type ears and overall colour schemes. Hated the transformation process though, instead of morphing they rip their skin off or shed which just doesn't seem right to me. That sorta indicates they would have multiple layers of skin going on and on plus what would their actual origin form be because there would always be another form underneath if you get me. The continuity is also off with the transformation because in some scenes their form seems to melt off.

Frankenstein's monster has a nice touch of the olde worlde steampunk theme going on about his person. I liked the jets of steam coming from his leg hinges/hydraulics and the metallic body sections, almost cyborg-like, but I didn't think much of the green CGI electric current on view in his head plates...bit too far there. On the flip side Van Helsing sports the usual superhero-esque long trench coat, broad rimmed hat and face hiding scarf in a dark brown colour scheme, but his weapons have a lovely steampunk style to them with a nice old fashioned cogs and wheels mechanical aspect (18th Century remember). Van Helsing feels very much like a historic version of 'Blade' and 'James Bond' rolled into one, and of course to complete that air of coolness he has his nerdy bumbling sidekick who supplies him with all his monster killing gadgets.

What I really couldn't get on with was the quite bizarre 'Alien' rip off where Dracula is trying to raise an army of his minions who have been incubated in 'Alien-esque' eggs! Apparently when vampires mate they create a sort of flying Gremlin/gargoyle type an egg, does the female vampire lay an egg or something?? The only way to do this is by using power generated from Frankenstein's monster? I think that was the game, beats me why. I also must ask why Dracula has hordes of little munchkins wearing gas masks as his henchmen, who the hell are they suppose to be? surely other vampires or zombies or something would have been better. Oh and where exactly is Dracula's icy fortress suppose to be? the good guys go through a portal of some kind to get there...sooooo is it not in Transylvania?

There are many bits that I could mention that frustrate me and force me to nit pick, I know its a daft Sommers film but it could of been a classic Sommers film had these things been different. There are VAST amounts of CGI throughout the film which at times work but at others look dreadful (more so than 'The Mummy' films, quality and quantity wise). Things like the little Transylvanian town at the start, Frankenstein's castle, moody skylines, werewolves, Dracula's Brides and some gore look really neat. On the flip side there is the entire action sequence finale where things get so absurd and incredible as the heroes leap around between these towers with ropes, seemingly invincible to everything that the film becomes a hyper cartoon. Again I know you're meant to leave you're brain at the door but really, some of the feats pull you right out of the film they are so super ridiculous. I also hated the awful looking CGI enhanced vampire jaws when vampires in human form roared or hissed showing their fangs. Why is that necessary? just use makeup and their real mouths! it looks like something out of the Mortal kombat films ugh!

A guilty CGI pleasure though must be the all out badass battle between a werewolf Van Helsing and Dracula in full winged demon form. Its a total CGI fest of course but these two monsters are pretty sweet looking and I simply can't resist it, just what a monster mash requires, almost on form with a Godzilla vs King Kong face off...almost. So yes the entire thing is practically 'The Mummy' in Transylvania but if you're of a fan of this classic genre then it should still win you over. Ironic that the film may have been even more spectacular if they had squeezed in a few mummies and maybe a creature from the Black Lagoon, overkill? nah that comes as standard with Stephen Sommers.