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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Sunday, May 09, 2004 - 05:59 am:   

wrote the following rant in 30 minutes of white-hot typing. I mean every
word of it, but will note for the record that it doesn't quite capture the
sheer DEPTH of the film's awfulness. I did my best.

VAN HELSING

At a certain point in VAN HELSING, the Stephen Sommers mess pitting a debased
version of that venerable character against debased versions of Dracula,
the Wolfman, Mr. Hyde and the Frankenstein monster, the titular character,
here an immortal hit man for the Vatican, fights a werewolf on the night
of the full moon. He is bitten during that confrontation. It therefore becomes
a story point that he will also become a werewolf himself, at the point
of the next full moon. Two nights hence.

I repeat. He is bitten by a werewolf on the night of the full moon. The
next full moon is scheduled for two nights hence.

Nobody says, well, here's the main problem with Transylvania. The months
are two nights long. Nobody says, you really can't make much headway against
monsters if full moons occur every other night. Nobody says, you know, this
story point really doesn't work; let's at least make some minimal gesture
toward the basic rules of the real world.

Of course, nobody says that a couple of scenes earlier, when a team of horses
pulling a carriage manages to leap over a chasm, defying gravity as if their
names included Donner and Blitzen.

Nobody says that because VAN HELSING possesses a case of attention-deficit
order astonishing even by the unfortunate standard now possessed by so many
summer movies. The movie is the product of a screenplay where making sense,
on any level, either logical or emotional, was simply not an issue. Forget
about being true to classic characters: these days, you have to be a pathetic
nerd to even care about such things. Forget even about telling a story that
engages on any level. In VAN HELSING, nothing matters except the next shrieking
climax, which is usually less than five seconds away.

Some people, action movie fans, may read that as a good thing.

It is not a good thing, of course. A movie that's all climax emerges as
nothing but loud. And, oh, boy, VAN HELSING is loud. From the music, which
is all too often nothing but a series of thudding drumbeats, to the plentiful
action scenes, which all too often take a single money shot like, let's
say, an airborne assault by a trio of winged vampire women, and cycles it
over and over well past the point where it has any impact. When these vampire
ladies attack a Transylvanian village, early on, they swoop from above.
Gain height. Swoop from above. Gain height. Swoop from above. Gain height.
Throw a cow through a wall. Swoop from above. Gain height. Swoop from above.
Gain height. Shriek at the camera. Shriek at the camera. Shriek at the camera.
Shriek at the camera. Shriek at the oh god swoop from above oh god it's
frikkin' enough already.

The whole movie is played on that level, to the point where the werewolf
simply bores, the vampire ladies merely irritate, Dracula himself is just
an annoying presence, and Van Helsing (in the person of charismatic actor
Hugh Jackman) is just an idiot in a floppy hat. The Frankenstein monster
has some chops -- here, he's a good guy -- but there isn't nearly enough
of him, and there are elements in his design, like a transparent skull with
glowing green brain inside, that are downright stupid.

Things happen here not because they should happen, but because everything's
so arbitrary that they might as well happen. For instance, a gravedigger
tries to kill Van Helsing for no apparent reason. Why? Well, why not? And
how does Van Helsing, and the vampire-hunting chick played by Kate Beckinsale,
find the aforementioned Frankenstein monster? Well, after they escape from
an initial encounter with Dracula, they wind up at the old windmill, step
on some rotted floorboards, and tumble ass-over-teakettle into the motley
gent's immediate subterranean neighborhood. Naturally, they do this just
in time to find out he's critical to the plot. Why does Van Helsing have
amnesia? To hide some stupid backstory, of course, but where does that amnesia
come from? Why does anything happen in this universe? Because, well, you
better not worry about it, because then you'd want a story, and then where
would you be?

The movie appropriates from its source material, of course, and also, with
various bits, from sources as varied as the James Bond movies, MARS ATTACKS,
THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, and even X-MEN (Van Helsing gets to pop claws
in his brief foray as a a werewolf, and even say some highly Wolverinian
things about preferring not to know his origins). There's even a critical
plot point involving what looks like a Mad Magazine fold-out. The theory
for all of these borrowings seems to be that if it worked well elsewhere,
it'll work well here. (The James Bond hommage, with Van Helsing receiving
his weaponry from a Q analogue at the Vatican, is one of the few where this
turns out to be actually true.) But the film's most prevalent influence
seems to be, I kid you not, GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE. In that film, the idiot
jungle man swings on vines, again and again, often crashing head on into
walls. The joke becomes that each swing is more epic than the one before
it, until one final swoop that seems to cover miles of distance. VAN HELSING
goes further. Just about every major action scene involves Van Helsing swinging
from great heights, sometimes over bottomless chasms; it's a potentially
effective bit of stunt business that works in many other films that is here
repeated and repeated well past the point where it becomes tiresome. Van
Helsing swings from above to rescue Beckinsale's character from the harpies.
He does it again. He swings from above to rescue her from Dracula. He does
it again. Frankenstein's monster swings from a height, Kate Beckinsale's
character swings from a height, long long minutes of the film are taken
up by folks swooping and swinging and smashing into things miles above any
visible ground and the only time it has any effect at all is when it's unintentionally
funny, such as when the wolfman plunges a mile into a river and succeeds
only in reminding us of Wile E. Coyote. Just how much swooping and swinging
did Stephen Sommers believe we could tolerate before we started checking
our watches?

None of this is scary, in the sense of a good horror film. None of it is
magical, in the sense of the best Universal monster films. None of it is
exciting, in the sense of a good action film. None of it is funny, in the
sense of a good spoof film. The prior treatments by James Whale, Todd Browning,
Abbott and Costello, and Mel Brooks are simply confirmed as masterpieces
by comparison. They worked. They were exciting. They were entertaining.
They told stories. They didn't inflict tension headaches. They didn't assault
the senses. This one affected my wife to the point where, two-thirds of
the way in, she had to run to the bathroom and throw up. That was not stomach
sickness. That was pounding disorientation at the expense of everything
else.

It does help to be true to classic characters, of course, but, you know,
the original Universal films made large changes in the stories of Frankenstein
and Dracula. Their own creation, the wolfman, existed by rules they provided.
There is room for revisionism, even the ham-handed revisionism with which
they here treated the classic, complex character of Van Helsing. But these
characters worked, when they worked, for a reason. The wolfman and the Frankenstein
monster were tragic figures, with tragic resonance. Dracula had a simultaneously
repellent and attractive personality. Van Helsing was an eccentric, unlikely
avenger. They spoke to us. They lasted as characters because they spoke
to us. VAN HELSING not only reduces them to a level light years below what
we expect of the dumbest comic book, but neglects to provide any replacement
for that which it robs from them.

It is not a light entertainment. It is not a guilty pleasure, to be enjoyed
with the brain turned off. It is a terrible, awful, interminable, stupid,
hateful, idiotic ordeal of a movie. It is the worst movie I've seen in years.
Like Van Helsing's nemesis, it sucks. The only element which could save
it is fire.

Miss it if at all possible.



(ATC)
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Mastadge
Posted on Sunday, May 09, 2004 - 08:03 pm:   

Yah. I gathered most of that from the previews, and will not be seeing the movie. Two minutes of it was enough; no need to subject myself to two hours.

Amusing review, though.
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John Klima
Posted on Monday, May 10, 2004 - 08:57 am:   

As soon as I heard that Sommers really wanted to bring in as much from the original sources as possible...then I noted that the 'original' sources he was referring to were all movies...it struck the final nail home for me.

JK
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E Thomas
Posted on Monday, May 10, 2004 - 05:14 pm:   

Someone else feels exactly as my family did about this movie! It was really the worst movie I have seen in years...or maybe ever. I can't remember ever seeing a movie worse than this one. Even bad movies can be entertaining. This one wasn't even exciting, despite its attempts at stealing from good action movies and its pounding music that was supposed to make us excited.

Adam-Troy Castro: The movie is the product of a screenplay where making sense, on any level, either logical or emotional, was simply not an issue. Forget about being true to classic characters: these days, you have to be a pathetic nerd to even care about such things. Forget even about telling a story that engages on any level. In VAN HELSING, nothing matters except the next shrieking climax, which is usually less than five seconds away.

I agree on all of these points. The climaxes aren't even exciting. I was willing to ignore the fact that this movie had obviously nothing to do with the books (although I must confess to initially having had a sinking feeling when Dracula walked in on Dr. Frankenstein). If they had been good characters in their own right, I could have suspended my disbelief. But they weren't. Directing, writing, special effects, characters, music...this movie was awful.

Oh, and on that "making sense" part...any movie that has as a premise the line, "Of course, vampires are the living dead...so their children must be born dead!" and is totally serious about it...ugh. Especially when these children are legions of gargoyles hanging in gooey sacs from the ceiling.

The descriptions of the movie to pan it make it sound much more entertaining than it could ever dream of being.

Well, I really feel like ranting some more, but Adam-Troy Castro already said it all and better. Terrible movie. Don't go.
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Thomas R
Posted on Monday, May 10, 2004 - 05:50 pm:   

This looked from the preview like a really stupid movie. Kind of a Frankenstein creation itself with everything thrown together. I was thinking it must be going for campy, but it doesn't sound like it was funny either. Roger Ebert liked it, but his tastes are rather odd.

Loved your thing at SFWeekly on Groundhog Day. I watch it every February 2. It seems to be one of those films that really got a following after it was at the theaters. In a weird way it's kind of one of the most moral/philosophical comedies I've seen, yet is also very funny.
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Tuesday, May 11, 2004 - 08:16 pm:   

I'm serious about the short film, 12:01 PM, and would kill for a copy, if anyone knows a source.
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Thomas R
Posted on Tuesday, May 11, 2004 - 08:40 pm:   

I'll research it tomorrow maybe, I got time off this Summer.

Oh and I'll ask my brother, he's got connections. (The less asked there the better)
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caspian223
Posted on Wednesday, May 19, 2004 - 02:54 pm:   

One of the best movies i've ever seen... Awsome, really. I first thought it would be some stupid old vampire-slaying movie, but i was wrong, wasn't i?
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Andre
Posted on Wednesday, May 26, 2004 - 03:32 pm:   

Best movie since "Return Of The King" A must watch.
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Thomas R
Posted on Wednesday, May 26, 2004 - 04:10 pm:   

That 12:01 movie is remarkably hard to find. I looked through all the movie sites I know and asked my brother. I did get the address of Chanticleer films which made it.

_______________________
Telelphon 1-323-462-4705
Fax 323 462 1603
---
Address
5914 Foothill Drive
Los Angeles, California 90068
USA
________________________

They seem to be a division of Showtime. I guess you or I could write or call to find where you can get it.

Sorry I had no better luck than that. I'm probably giving you information you already knew.
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Rajnar Vajra
Posted on Saturday, May 29, 2004 - 09:15 am:   

A-T, can't resist adding a few comments about Van Helsing. Your wife's reaction may have been partly caused by ill-conceived camera work. At least four times in the movie, the scene panned downwards rapidly while spinning at the same time. Once (that I can remember) with the camera "off the bubble" -- tilted. If you want a recipe for movie nausea, that's the one I'd endorse.

BTW, the monster's green "brain" I suspect was supposed to be a kind of Luminglas power supply. I was quite impressed that Victor's experiment managed to retain such a strong charge after a year! But then, I suppose a year with two-day months wouldn't last all that long.

Several questions occur to me: when did Mr. Hyde get supersized? If The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is responsible, I can understand that since League may be the only movie I've seen whose logical clarity matches Helsing. In League, I particularly admired the discolored place in Dorian Gray's main stairwell where a picture potentially lethal to him had been hung before being stolen....

Another question and a spoiler if that term applies: did they kill off the princess because they were hoping for another romance in a, gulp, sequel?

And one final remark among so many cheery posibilities: good thing Dracula didn't realize that you can conduct electricity without using a semi-human body as a conduit.

Raj
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Monday, May 31, 2004 - 04:22 pm:   

Raj,

The monstrous Hyde in LEAGUE comes directly from Alan Moore's (far superior) graphic novel, which at least provides a reason for it: i.e. as Hyde seeks out more and more extreme depths of depravity, and Jekyll is himself corrupted, Hyde becomes bigger while Jekyll grows shorter. The Jekyll in LEAGUE is a man not much over five feet tall, who knows he's growing smaller but has no idea how to reverse the process.

It feels psychologically real. The Hyde in VAN HELSING is just a ripoff.

BTW: The second graphic novel in the LEAGUE series provides Hyde with a heroic redemptive death, fighting the martian death machines of H.G. Wells' THE WAR OF THE WORLDS.
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Raj
Posted on Wednesday, June 02, 2004 - 02:29 pm:   

A-T, thanks for the info. I'm glad the hear that the movie wasn't a clear reflection of Moore's work. I like the height differential idea although clearly Hyde has a kind of dog-year advantage over Jekyll -- Hyde must grow at least seven inches for every inch the doctor loses (assuming Jekyll begins with average height).

Did Moore have the courage of his concept and have Jekyll shrink while fighting the Martian machines?
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Sunday, June 13, 2004 - 06:44 am:   

Raj: sorry took so long to respond, did not see your query til just now.

There's no reference to Hyde's height during his final battle with the martian-death machines, but it is one of the best heroic deaths I've seen in many years. Hyde's fond farewell to Mina Harker reveals a humanizing love for her that is quite touching.

Of course, this is not long after his shockingly violent treatment of the traitorous Invisible Man...

Can't put it any clearer. The people who made the movie took pure gold and spun it into straw.

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Adam-Troy
Posted on Sunday, June 13, 2004 - 06:50 am:   

Another great bit from the first graphic novel, provided just to whet your appetite sufficient to check it out:

Mina, Quatermain, and August Dupin recruit Hyde, who is responsible for the murders in the Rue Morgue...
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Elwood
Posted on Monday, June 21, 2004 - 06:20 pm:   

I have found some 12:01 movies for sale in Germany and in Usa or England. Dvd is harder to find and easier to find video

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