Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 20 News List

`Van Helsing' a tribute film to horror movies

The film starring Hugh Jackman as a 19th century monster hunter is good fun and often quite funny. Be prepared to suspend your disbelief

By Kirk Honeycutt  /  REUTERS , LOS ANGELES

Van Helsing reminds you of the NBA All-Star Game, where basketball superstars take turns scoring with flashy three-pointers or slam-dunks, no one plays defense and coaches rotate players in and out of the game so fans can see the entire rosters.

Van Helsing is, of course, an all-star monster mash featuring Universal's prized horror-film megastars of the 1930s and 1940s -- Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolf Man and -- for good measure, though strictly speaking he was originally a Paramount monster -- Mr. Hyde.

Writer-director Stephen Sommers' idea to bring the studio's triumvirate of classic monsters together into one epic adventure film is, like an All-Star Game, a mixed blessing. The purposes of the original, high-atmospheric movies get distorted in the struggle to involve all the monsters in a credible tale. And the digital age encourages Sommers to leap from one elaborate sequence to the next without so much as a pause for a glass of blood. Nevertheless, this creature feature is exhilarating fun, a richly designed and often quite funny re-exploration of the movie past.

Sommers, who brought the Mummy back to life for Universal with his past two films, has delivered exactly what the studio wants in this reportedly US$148 million production: an event movie capable of attracting a wide audience that could send domestic box office gross north of US$150 million and make viable plans already under way for a sequel, TV show and video game.

Ruggedly handsome Hugh Jackman plays the title character with a steady gait and confident demeanor. Originally an aging Amsterdam professor specializing in exotic diseases in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula, Sommers has turned Van Helsing into a 19th-century monster hunter. He wears a cool broad-brimmed black hat and a sturdy body-length leather coat and carries an implausible rotary-magazine crossbow. (As in The Wild Wild West, Van Helsing's weaponry is both retro and futuristic.) He takes his orders from a secret organization composed of all religions to rid the world of nightmarish creatures but is uncertain and even conflicted over why he does so. For he has no memory of any past life.

Film Notes:

Van Helsing (2004)

Directed and written by: Stephen Sommers

Starring: Hugh Jackman (Van Helsing), Kate Beckinsale (Anna Valerious), Richard Roxburgh (Count Vladislaus Dracula), David Wenham (Carl), Shuler Hensley (Frankenstein's Monster), Will Kemp (Velkan) Samuel West (Dr. Victor Frankenstein), Robbie Coltrane (Mr. Hyde), Stephen Fisher (Dr. Jekyll)

Running time: 145 minutes

Taiwan Release: yesterday

In the film's opening in Transylvania, cinematographer Allen Daviau and designer Allan Cameron pay tribute to James Whales' dazzlingly beautiful 1935 Bride of Frankenstein when a frenzied, torch-lit mob armed with pitchforks and scythes surges toward Dr. Frankenstein's castle against a huge night sky. This sets the tone for the movie's look -- a respectful homage to the Universal classics that contemporary technology trumps with demonic creatures, sets of misshapen weirdness and a fantastical Eastern Europe of such cold darkness that the movie clearly takes place in a world ruled by evil forces.

Val Helsing is sent to Transylvania to confront 400-year-old Count Dracula (a mesmerizing Richard Roxburgh). He aligns himself, after initial and mutual resistance, with Anna Valerious (a luminous Kate Beckinsale), the last of a royal family line nearly eliminated by the vampire. Her brother Velkan (Will Kemp) has already been bitten by a werewolf, so he is fated at the next full moon to turn into the Wolf Man, who will act under Dracula's orders to destroy his own sister.

Dracula and his three vampire brides (Elena Anaya, Silvia Colloca and Josie Maran) desperately need Frankenstein's patched-together Monster (Shuler Hensley) to bring to life thousands of vampire children the three have sired. All, of course, were born dead.

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