Commercial success

Culture | Movie Review

Issue: "Iraq: The image war," May 22, 2004

The official website for the film Van Helsing is illuminating. Only one link on the main page takes readers to a section about the film itself. It is surrounded by links to the film's many ancillary products: "Van Helsing: The Game," for Playstation 2 and Xbox; "The Monster Legacy Collection," repackaged editions of old Universal horror films; Transylvania, a new tie-in television series coming to NBC; Van Helsing: The London Assignment, an animated DVD; "Fortress Dracula," a new ride at Universal Studios Hollywood; and, finally, a link to other Van Helsing merchandise.

While there might not be anything intrinsically wrong with all of this, the pressure of so many products shows in the film. Time and again, scenes in Van Helsing seem to be staged based on how they'd look in a trailer or a video game, not how well they benefit the story. Van Helsing features some remarkable special effects, but to say that the script has shortcomings is more than a modest understatement.

Van Helsing (rated PG-13 for nonstop creature-action violence and frightening images, and for sensuality-it's strong on all counts, pushing the limits of its rating) follows the exploits of the famed vampire hunter (Hugh Jackman) from Bram Stoker's Dracula. In the movie, he maintains his "Christian" literary heritage-a secret order within the Vatican sends him out to kill or capture (usually the former) not just vampires but monsters and freaks of all sorts. Van Helsing makes the sign of the cross after slaying his victims, but, in a humorous modern concession to ecumenicalism, we learn that Van Helsing was trained by Catholic, Muslim, and Buddhist holy men, all of whom labor in harmony in a secret lair somewhere in Rome.

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After dispatching Mr. Hyde (yes, that Mr. Hyde, here appearing as a ludicrous computer-generated character reminiscent of a peach-colored Shrek), Van Helsing is sent to Transylvania to aid Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) in her family's mission to kill Count Dracula. None of her ancestors will enter heaven, we learn, until the count and his progeny are destroyed. Unfortunately, Van Helsing and Anna must contend with not only Dracula and his three brides but also the Wolf Man and Frankestein's Monster as well. Is it fun to see all of these infamous creatures in one film? Occasionally, yes. Do the filmmakers respect viewers enough to think that they may also care slightly about continuity or internal logic? If so, they've done a poor job of demonstrating it.

Watching the film, I kept imagining scenes as different levels in the video game, and-even though I don't play video games-I could see that it might be fun. So credit the movie this much: As a two-hour advertisement for another product, Van Helsing is quite effective


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