Universal Studios had never shown the proper respect for the unforgettable monsters who they helped make famous in the cinemas, to back this fact, we just have to watch the awful encounter between Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, Bud Abbot and Lou Costello, which happened in 1948, in a long-forgotten film (thankfully). Though, even Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein could be considered a classic if compared to this terrible Van Helsing.
It's amazing though, that the initial sequence of Van Helsing is so promising: in black and white, it pays an homage to the very same films that moments later it will embarass. It brings Dr. Frankenstein yelling: "it's alive!", just like Colin Clive in the 1931 classic with Boris Karloff as the monster; the scene is agile and quite interesting, taking the spectator to believe he's actually going to watch a quality film. Unfortunetely, right after that, the film gets colored and shows us the hero (Hugh Jackman) who's in Paris, to face something that barely resambles Mr. Hyde (voiced by Robbie Coltrane); the special effects are poorely done by the way. From then on, we follow the adventures of Van Helsing, who's appointed by a secret society to destroy Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), who's trying to find some way to give life to his thousands of vampire-babies, with the help of some freaky looking Oompa-Loompas. To go on with his task, the main character has the help of Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) and Friar Carl (David Wenham) as the "comic relief".
Trying to get the nice mood that made The Mummy and The Return of the Mummy in relatively fun films to watch, director Stephen Sommers tries self-referential jokes and other attempts of humor that never work the way they are supposed to here. And, always that the film attempts some drama, it ends up causing laughter (like when Dracula says something like 'I'm empty and live forever!' or at the instant that Anna stops an important mission to complain: 'I've never seen the ocean. It must be beautiful.'). Furthermore, Sommers isn't even faithful to his own rules: at one certain moment, for example, a determined objective must be reached 'between the first and the last strokes of midnight', something that the plot simply forgets, since, once the first strike is heard, the last one never seems to come. Going the same way, one of the female vampires has a calm conversation at bright sunlight, though the script tells us at one point that it would be fatal to such creature. And after all that, I don't even want to begin discussing the ANNOYING relationship between Van Helsing and Anna, that follows all imaginable clichés: they fight all the time but ultimately, notice that in fact, they were "made for each other".
As if all that wasn't enough, Sommers' obssession for special effects once again compromises his efforts, since Van Helsing gives and authentic overdose of images created by a computer. I don't know if anybody else think like me, but I think it's simply impossible to cheer or even believe in a character who's magically turned into a digital doll always when action begins (the 'virtual heroes' seen here are even worst than those seen in Dare Devil or Torque. And the same goes for the sets. The sequence we see a chariot going towards the pitt (obviously done through computers) makes as much tension as seeing the Coyote falling o the cliff after once again trying to get the Road Runner. And to make things even worse, the director seems to compensate the lack of inteligence of the film through the sound volume. VERY FEW FILMS CAN BE AS NOISY AS VAN HELSING IS!
In his first main character after being great as Wolverine in X-Men and X-Men 2, Hugh Jackman is an unpleasant surprise here, since he's miles away from his charisma shown in the previous (and subsequent) X-Men films. Kate Beckinsale proves, once again, to be nothing more than a fiest for the male eyes, her accent is more than simply weird, it is bizarre (though it doesn't bother much). And if David Wenham can be the least sympathetic with his characterization of clumsy Friar Carl, the same can't be said about Kevin J. O'Connor, whose Igor isn't nearly as funny as Beni that he played in The Mummy.
But the biggest shame of the film, is in the terrible performance of Richard Roxburgh, he makes one of the worst versions of Dracula ever. Apparentely, he thought he was still on the sets of Moulin Rouge, in which he lived the cartoonish 'Duke' (very well then), the actor adopts exagerated gestures and has a ridicule diction, making his Dracula in a vampire version of Sylvester, the Cat (it's the second time I mention a Looney Tunes character here. Though I love them, I can't help thinking it's not exactly a complement for this film). Though, Roxbugh isn't alone: the three actresses who live Dracula's brides are equally irritating with their abominable gigles and their pathetic facial expressions.
Showing an amazing capability of embarrassig everyone involved in it, the film has also a regretable soundtrack by Alan Silvestri, who even gets to the point of copying the great John Williams (specially in the more 'dramatic' moments).
In spite of all I've said so far, Van Helsing managed to scare me once: when I realized that Stephen Sommers had the intention of repeating what he did in The Mummy and make a series of films starring Hugh Jackman's character. Thankfully the film sunk like a Paris Hilton film in the box-offices and this idea was quickly dropped.