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PCR # 216  (Vol. 5, No. 20)  This edition is for the week of May 10--16, 2004.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"Van Helsing"

Movie review by:
Nolan B. Canova

Two and a half stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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Starring: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham and Shuler Hensley
Directed by: Stephen Sommers
Rated: PG 13
Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

Generally speaking, there's a lot to like about this movie. The (CGI) landscapes are beautiful, the (CGI) sets are breathtaking, and the (CGI) acting by all the CGI characters is pretty amazing. It's when the real actors are constantly replaced by CGI doubles so they can do their Spider-Man-like flips and jumps that I have a problem. I did like the CGI vampires quite a bit. The movie is certainly action-packed, featuring many classic monsters from Universal's catalog. Director Stephen Sommers is obvously a genre fanboy--pity he caved to so many CGI temptations.

The castle Frankenstein scenes at the beginning are nicely done and the B&W is obviously emulating a '30s movie look, especially with the retro science gear. We learn that even the life-and-death experiments of Dr. Frankenstein were commissioned by Dracula himself, who is present, for the purpose of reanimating (or something) his born-dead vampire offspring. The secret to their survival lies in Frankenstein's creature.

Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is recruited by a secret order to save the world by hunting down and killing Dracula. Van Helsing's first name in this film is "Gabriel", and not the classic "Abraham". Oh wait.....new universe.....ironic destiny stuff happening all over the map. Calls for a "re-imagining". Besides, it was pointed out that Dracula was at "Satan's right hand"....so I guess it makes sense that his worthy opponent reflect Gabriel the archangel who sat at God's right hand, as legend has it. Kate Beckinsale's character is the last in her bloodline cursed with an ancient...er...curse. She also is out to kill Dracula to save her lineage.

Some early scenes between Van Helsing and Mr. Hyde are awful. Hyde is so CGI he's very nearly a Roger Rabbit-like cartoon. His design is a tip of the hat to "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"'s Mr. Hyde (which itself was an early-but-rejected prototype for The Incredible Hulk).

Dracula himself is obviously patterned after Gary Oldman's Drac from the Coppola movie (and not the more obvious choice of Bela Lugosi). That's pretty well-handled, though, and an interesting idea. Igor (or Ygor), at first an assistant to Frankenstein switches allegiances to Dracula...or maybe he always was Drac's assistant, we just didn't know it. The make-up effects on Igor are pretty lame, what I'd call generic quasi-zombie/lackey/horror creature stuff. The actor underneath it didn't do much to bring out anything especially memorable, like anywhere near the classic Lugosi performance in Son of Frankenstein.

The make-up on the Frankenstein monster (not CGI, thankfully) was pretty innovative, I thought. He speaks in this movie and the actor imparts a pathos consistent with the character.

The Wolfman, like Mr. Hyde, is entirely CGI. It's great for that suddenly-we're-out-of-the-movie-and-playing-a-video-game look.

So we have homages, send-ups, and plenty of CGI. Director Sommers should've nixed some CGI here and there. Maybe there's a video game marketing tie-in I missed and his hand was forced.

Did I tell you there's a lot of CGI in this movie? Guess we just have to deal with that.

It does have a remarkable music soundtrack. I liked it very much. The two lead actors, Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale, have a wonderful chemistry and are responsible for any of this movie that rises above the sum of its CGI parts.

Still, I'd recommend this movie for a good way to entertain yourself for a couple hours. Plenty of eye candy, and the great music soundtrack go a long way. Sommers is respectful of the classic legends of horror, so it won't offend on that level.

Bring plenty of quarters so you can hit the arcade afterwards---you'll feel like playing a video game. Oh wait, guess that's the point isn't it?

On a scale of zero-to-four stars (that's a five-point system, remember), I give Van Helsing a strong two-and-a-half stars.  Two and a half stars

This week's movie review of "Van Helsing" is ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2004, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.