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Van Helsing (***)
Directed by Stephen Sommers
Written by Stephen Sommers, based on characters created by Bram Stoker, Mary Shelly, Guy Endore, and Robert Lewis Stevenson
Van Helsing
Principal Cast
Hugh Jackman -- Van Helsing
Kate Beckinsale -- Anna Valerious
Richard Roxburgh -- Count Vladislaus Dracula
David Wenham -- Carl
Shuler Hensley -- Frankenstein's Monster
Elena Anaya -- Aleera
Will Kemp -- Velkan
Kevin J. O'Connor -- Igor
Alun Armstrong -- Cardinal Jinette
Silvia Colloca -- Verona
Josie Maran -- Marishka
Tom Fisher -- Top Hat
Samuel West -- Dr. Victor Frankenstein
Robbie Coltrane -- Mr. Hyde
Stephen H. Fisher -- Dr. Jekyll
Ratings
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

I enjoyed Van Helsing more than I expected to, especially the opening scenes, which are a black and white homage to the Universal Studios monster pictures. In fact, the whole movie is really just one homage after another, with visual quotes from everything from Stagecoach to Raiders of the Lost Ark. But it owes its greatest debt to Chuck Jones and the Roadrunner and the Coyote, cartoon horror, with cartoon physics (good cartoon physics, you understand) and always an unbelievable coincidence just around the corner.

The special sub-genre of horror that began with the Universal monsters, Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolf Man, was always more about fun than fear. That is why Abbot and Costello fit in so well in the final film of the series. I've always had a special fondness for this triumvirate of monsters, and its many happy returns, from Dark Shadows to Neal Adams' Monsters, have been welcome.

Hugh Jackman is acceptable as Van Helsing, but he does not come close to Anthony Hopkins, his most recent predecessor in the role. I am afraid that most of his charm as Wolverine was due to the make-up and the character he was playing, rather than his personal charisma. It doesn't matter really -- he is CGI for at least half of his screen time. Dracula, as played by Richard Roxburgh, is a far more interesting character.

What writer/director Stephen Sommers lacks most is a sense of pacing. He gives us a big special-effects scene, then a few lines of dialogue. Then we move to a new setting, the camera does a panoramic 360, we get a close-up of the character's face. The low, suspenseful music starts, and we get another big special-effects scene. There is no sense of any larger structure, no building intensity, no climax. The beginning is more exciting than the end. The plot is just one fight after another, with a little clever dialogue along the way. My favorite line belongs to Igor, when Dracula asks him why he keeps torturing the monsters.

There are no surprises. Every plot twist is telegraphed by one of the characters, who looks straight at the camera and says, "Well, things are going to get pretty tight after a while, but look -- I have this nifty device that does this or that and while I don't know, I think it just might come in useful." And, of course, it does.

Don't expect anything to make sense. Characters strive mightily to kill one another, then pass up easy kills, then strive mightily to kill one another again. One of the characters even comments on this fact. Dracula tells Frankenstein one of his greatest secrets, apparently just to make conversation. Characters moving at ninety miles an hour in one direction can grab something and change direction in mid-flight. A timid man with no training suddenly develops the skills of an aerialist. It takes a clock about fifteen minutes to strike midnight. And, after running and leaping and swinging and flying all over an enormous castle, everybody winds up in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. But the action is full of clever bits, and it nice to see the big three monsters together again.

No credit cookie.

Copyright © 2004 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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