Sunday, May 4, 2014

Van Helsing

Now, in films over the last twenty years or so, there have been good and bad CGI performances.  The good stuff is what you see in today's films and I'm not sure how much more they can improve on what we've seen thus far.  The bad stuff is what we saw when the CGI craze came out after Terminator 2, with Anaconda being the worst I've seen.  During the first decade of the 21st century, however, the motion capture aspect helped things out quite a bit, but there was always the problem with the eyes when creating a fully animated person or creature.  The eyes never looked quite right and it was definitely a difficult thing to perfect, until just recently where the performers are known to have their eyes filmed and it's somehow all brought together when rendering the CGI image.  Van Helsing has good and bad CGI, with the werewolf effects not so good, but the Wives of Dracula looking pretty damned good when shown in flying form.

Van Helsing is definitely not some artsy-fartsy film looking to earn an Oscar-or any other type of award for that matter-it's simply a film for the audience to have fun with, nothing more.  Stephen Sommers directed the film as a nostalgic nod to the classic Universal Monsters like DraculaFrankenstein and The Wolf Man and is basically an extension of the two Mummy films he'd directed a few years prior.

The film begins, in black & white, with Dr. Frankenstein (Samuel West) bringing to life his creation: Frankenstein's Monster (Shuler Hensley).  Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) is there and wants the doctor to use his skills and knowledge for some plans he has in store.  When the doctor refuses, Dracula kills him.  The Monster, coming to life and seeing what the vampire had done to his creator, tries to destroy Dracula-but doesn't, obviously-and flees to a nearby windmill, only to have the townspeople take chase and burn the
windmill down.  Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is introduced as the film metamorphoses into color and he's established as a monster hunter, going after Mr. Hyde (computer generated-with dead eyes-and voiced by Robbie Coltrane) in France, resorting to involuntarily killing him-as well as killing Dr. Jekyll (Stephen Fisher).  As he returns to the Knights of the Holy Order, he's chastised about killing the schizophrenic doctor, but is assigned a new task: to help the descendants of the Valerious lineage kill Count Vladislaus Dracula.  It seems generations ago, the family swore to kill Dracula and will not enter into heaven until he is destroyed.  Van Helsing, along with his trusted friar, Carl (David Wenham), travel to Transylvania to meet with the last known descendant of the Valerious family, Anna (Kate Beckinsale)- it's believed her brother, Velkan (Will Kemp), was killed by a werewolf, but was, unbeknownst to Anna, cursed with being a werewolf himself- to help find and kill the dreaded Count Dracula.

The story may sound complicated, and it is, but there's nothing that goes over your head as you watch this.  Since the whole story makes use of the well-known monsters of Universal Studios prominence, there's really no need to develop those icons any further or change what we know about them.  Everyone knows Frankenstein's Monster, we all know that Dracula's the original vampire that started it all, and-guess what?-when there's a full moon, anyone with the curse of the beast turns into a werewolf.  All these icons are household names and most everyone recognizes them when they see them.  That's the genius of Van Helsing, in my view.

The way the character of Gabriel Van Helsing is shown as some sort of 19th century "James Bond," complete with his sidekick, Friar Carl, acting as his Q, who stockpiles Van Helsing with all sorts of weaponry he'll need, is pretty cool.  I like the scenes before they set off for Transylvania, how they go into the lab where all these weapons and devices are kept, as Carl goes over certain arms and explosions.  The weapons look primitive, albeit a bit advanced, and I doubt if they'd work in real life, but it's still pretty cool to see what they do...especially those portable circular saws that Van Helsing uses on Mr. Hyde.

All the monster principles are presented and aren't really changed.  But the writers did add a scheme that we've never seen in any movie before (to my knowledge), regarding Dracula's plan and his use of Dr. Frankenstein's technology.  Although, this may be where the movie falls flat, but I like that they added it.  The subplot gives reason to have Frankenstein's Monster in the film, giving him a few memorable moments as well as a heroic scene near the end of the movie.  It's an interesting scheme that Dracula comes up with, which had originated from Dr. Frankenstein's work in creating his creature and gives them a nice tie to each other.  Since Dracula and his three wives (Elena Anaya, Silvia Colloca, and Josie Maran) are technically dead, the children that are born of them are dead...not even living-dead like Dracula and his mates.  So, he wants Frankenstein's technology to make his children live.  Trouble is there are thousands of them and only a few hundred people living in the small village nearby.  But the scene culminates pretty abruptly, raising everything to the next level.

The movie, as a whole, is very lighthearted and doesn't seem as threatening as it would have if it were an R-rated film.  But, as movie studio execs keep doing in error, they constantly churn out PG-13 films so they can widen the audience and make more money; however, it's more like they're giving the finger to real horror adherents like myself.  Even still, the film is very enjoyable, something you can watch with the whole family, especially if you want to introduce these classic monsters to someone who's never heard of them.

Although we all know Jackman as Wolverine, he's pretty proficient at changing his personality so that you don't constantly see the X-Men character every time he's on screen.  I guess it helps that he doesn't have the fuzzy porkchop sideburns down his face and that claws don't "snikt" out of his fists every so often.  Jackman even gives his character an odd accent throughout this film; it's not an English accent or his native Australian's almost in between English and American, but he keeps it the whole time.  Above all else, he definitely knows how to play the hero.

Kate Beckinsale does well as Anna Valerious, complete with the Transylvanian accent and that!  She holds her own and doesn't just sit back and play the damsel in distress-she kicks some ass!  Did I mention the outfit?

All the performances are great and I really thought this would hit it off as a multi-picture franchise.  I certainly could've seen Jackman recur this role, coming back to hunt more of the classic monsters we all know and love.  But, for some reason, this film didn't fare well with critics.  However, we'll probably see the character again-just not Hugh Jackman in the role-as word is going around that Universal wants to green light a reboot (surprise, surprise) with Tom Cruise in the lead.  I'm a big fan of Cruise, but...I don't know about that.

My final "bit" on Van Helsing is that it's a fun film with a fun story, as they're faithful to the iconic status of the Universal Monsters.  Don't miss it!

Thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

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