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Van Helsing (2004) Print E-mail
Monday, 21 September 2009
ImageLet me clarify something upfront.  “Van Helsing” is not an accurate depiction of the Dracula, Frankenstein and Van Helsing lore.  So those that are expecting a documentary of these legends should just skip this film.  However, those that are out for entertainment will rather enjoy this film.  I am a big fan of the vampire and werewolf movement that has been occurring over the past several years in books, television and movies.  The Twilight series and True Blood series are entertaining vampire/werewolf features.  That being said, the acting in them is terrible.

With “Van Helsing,” the story is way off the beaten track, but the acting is commendable and the visual effects are appealing.  And that, my friends, is what makes this film enjoyable to watch.  Sure there are slow moments, but overall this is a fun fantasy/adventure film.

In the late 1800s, Van Helsing is hired by the Vatican to capture monsters that are not made in the image of God.  Unfortunately, Van Helsing is in a habit of killing them instead bringing them back alive.  Helsing is doing this as the Vatican promises to help him regain his memory.  When work sends him to Transylvania, he will learn more about his past than he might be able to handle.

The Valerious family has been fighting to kill Dracula for centuries.  Each family member has been killed by the hand of Dracula, and in doing so each family member is doomed to sit outside the gates of heaven for all eternity.  Anna (Kate Beckinsale) and her brother, Velkan are the last two members of the Gypsy family that swore to vanquish Dracula.  Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is sent to protect the remaining brother and sister.  Before he arrives, Velkan is killed by a werewolf and Anna narrowly escapes.

When Helsing arrives in town, they are viewed as a threat.  Before the town can act, they are attacked by Dracula’s three brides.  After a long battle, Helsing is finally able to use some high-tech weapons to kill one of the brides.  Instead of being treated as a hero, the town turns against him in fear of revenge by Dracula.

Curious about the stranger, Anna accepts him into her life.  Both Anna and Van Helsing are equally stubborn.  For the time being, Van Helsing comes out on top.  Anna is left behind at the castle to encounter her brother, now a werewolf.  This is a side plot that really only serves to lengthen the drama of the film.

While Anna and Van Helsing are searching for Dracula, Dracula is busy trying to create life.  With his brides, Dracula has fathered thousands upon thousands of eggs that lack a little juice to become baby vampires.  This is where Frankenstein comes in.  Dracula hired the professor to create life.  When he finally succeeds in creating Frankenstein, he is killed and Frankenstein escapes the clutches of Dracula.  Since that day, Dracula has been trying to get the professor’s machine to work.  But Frankenstein is the key to getting the machine to spread life to the vampire eggs.
By accident, Anna and Van Helsing land in Frankenstein’s lair and try to take him back to Rome to be protected by the Vatican.  Unfortunately, they are thwarted on their journey by a werewolf and the remaining brides.  In the battle, Van Helsing is bitten by the werewolf.  Now destined to become a werewolf himself azt the rising of the first full moon, Van Helsing struggles to tame the inner beast.

The Valerious family has struggled for centuries trying to kill Dracula.  Nothing has worked on him.  He is immune to fire, staking and holy water.  Apparently, he made some deal with the devil to live forever.  Through a series of clues, they are able to discover the Dracula’s one weakness is a werewolf.  Luckily, Van Helsing who wants to kill Dracula, just so happens to be a newly formed werewolf.

The final battle sequences are fairly impressive.  Director Stephen Sommers, director of “The Mummy” brings the same visual effects to “Van Helsing.”  While the visual style of “The Mummy” is much brighter than “Van Helsing,” the two films share a common viewing experience.  It is clearly evident that this is a Stephen Sommers presentation from the moments Van Helsing chases Dr. Jekyll in Paris.

While the film is only entertaining, the video quality is outstanding.  The film is 99 percent dark, but the black levels are excellent.  Shadow delineation is fairly revealing.  However, it wavers every now and then throughout the film, which does become a bit distracting.  Colors are rich and vibrant, particularly during Dracula’s ball.  Each set in the film has its own particular color scheme, and is expertly portrayed on the Blu-ray format.  Details are quite revealing and strong.  Kate Beckinsale’s costume is very ornate, and this Blu-ray transfer shows off every detail of it.  While the CGI effects are a bit distinguishable due to the high quality transfer, the details present in the werewolf sequences are terrific.  The transfer is very fluid.  Film grain is very fine and smooth throughout the film.  There does not appear to have been any digital alteration to this film transfer.  The whites are slightly overblown, however, this serves to provide a wide degradation from white to black.  This is one of the best transfers that I have seen in a long while.

The previous HD DVD release of the film contained a suitable Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio track.  That has been upgraded to a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track for the Blu-ray release.  This is a phenomenal track that only really suffers from one downfall for most listeners.  The bass is extremely heavy in this film.  It is quite welcomed after such a long string of films that have had virtually no LFE channel presence.  Enveloping is terrific.  The audio track is consistently and constantly engaging the listener.  The rear channels are full of life.  Having had the fortunate chance to work on the original mix of the film, I remember the little nuisances that we worked hard on to really make known.  These little details were utterly lost in the DVD and HD DVD presentations.  However, the Blu-ray has brought those little sound effect details back.  Rock movements and electricity snapping are clear once again.  However, the bass does swallow up some of these details at times.  Directionality and panning are all equally good as the original.  The one downfall of this track is the balance.  There is a lot of dynamic range in the action of the film.  This means that when the tamer dialogue takes place, the enveloping of the audio track takes over and the dialogue is sometimes missed.  This will be especially true for those listeners that are playing the audio track back on the typical home theater system.  You may have to play a little volume commando.  However, if you are playing the audio track back at a calibrated level, then the dialogue will be clear throughout the film, despite how overwhelming the track becomes.  Alan Silvestri delivers a tremendous score to the film.  The score could very well be the best part of the film.  The instrument combinations used by Silvestri are ingenious and serve to create tension and drama throughout the film.  The clarity of the guitar picking is terrific.  I am slightly biased about the audio track, as I know the original track very well.  However, take my word for it when I tell you that is is about as close as you are going to come to hearing the original sound effects design and mix without being in a acoustically treated editing/mixing room.

For the most part, Universal has ported over all the bonus features from the HD DVD release of the film.  The featurettes have been left in standard definition.  The Blu-ray release does add a U-Control section with a Picture-in-picture feature and BD-Live enabled the disc.  The PiP track does not contain much other than random interviews and segments throughout the film.  Most of the information can be found in the featurettes on the disc.  “Van Helsing: The Story, The Life, The Legend” is a an hour long documentary on the different elements of the film, including Dracula and Frankenstein.  “Track the Adventure” examines the set design of the film.  “Bringing the Monsters to Life” goes behind the scenes of the CGI done at ILM.  “Dracula’s Lair is Transformed” uses motion photography to show the building and destruction of the Dracula set.  “The Music of ‘Van Helsing’” is my favorite of the featurettes, but again I am a sucker for the music score of this film.  “The Art of ‘Van Helsing’” is a slideshow.  There are two audio commentaries.  The first is with director Stephen Sommers and his editor Bob Ducsay is very praise heavy and not very informative.  The second track is with three actors.  Richard Roxburgh, Shuler Hensley and Will Kemp all laugh about their time on set of “Van Helsing.”  This track is lively, but again not very informative.  “You Are in the Movie” gives a glimpse of the crew members’ view on the set through handheld cameras and mounted cameras around the set.  “The Masquerade Ball Scene Unmasked” talks about the creation of the ball sequence.  Lastly, there are some bloopers and “Monster Eggs,” which is really more bloopers.

“Van Helsing” is sure to disappoint a lot of people.  But if the take the film for what it is, then it can be enjoyable.  I recommend giving it a chance.  For Blu-ray lovers, this is a must own.  The picture quality and audio quality is just terrific.  Overall, I would have to recommend this disc.

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