May 08, 2004

Think Too Hard, and It'll Suck the Life Out of You

Oh No!
It's Time for Another Installment of ...
BAD CINEMA WITH BEN

TODAY'S FEATURE: "Van Helsing"

GEE, KATE BECKINSALE IS REALLY HOT. It is a shame one cannot say the same for "Van Helsing," the movie in which Ms Beckinsale runs around fighting evil denizens of the underworld, and continually looks hot while doing so. For the film has several noteworthy flaws -- it runs too long and its plot is weak and its dialogue is often grim and the acting is similarly so. Still, we will say this for it: it is a great movie if you just sit back and enjoy all the mayhem -- and as we did just that, we must say we actually kind of enjoyed "Van Helsing." Even if, as we could not help but notice, it was not enjoyable enough to prompt all those in the theatre to sit through the ending credits.

Now, we note that many professional movie critics have poked fun at "Van Helsing's" producer, Universal Pictures, for asking them to not reveal the "surprises" which happen during the last 30 minutes of the film. We personally do not understand why Universal decided to do this. It's not just that such a move only further annoys those professional movie critics who look upon Hollywood with bemusement and contempt; it's that the ending isn't very surprising. In fact, the only surprise was that it wasn't more surprising, because weren't we supposed to expect rather a lot from a film which cost $200 million to bring to market?


THE DASHING, DARING VAN HELSING faces an awkward moment after the lady whom he has been sent to help asks him how he jerry-rigged vacuum-cleaner parts into a spiffy repeater-crossbow. (PHOTO CREDIT: Universal Studios).

Anyway, here's the plot. Abraham Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) -- who in the film has his first name changed to Gabriel for some reason -- spends his days running around Europe fighting supernatural evil in its various forms and being persecuted by the French. After teaming up with dweebish sidekick Carl (David Wenham) in Vatican City -- yes, he is only referred to as Carl -- the two head off to Transylvania to help Anna Valerious (the hot Ms Beckinsale) defeat evil Count Vladislaus Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), who has been terrorizing the good people of Transylvania and not paying his utility bills and generally making a mess of the place. There's more, of course -- but as we'll have to spoil the film to tell you about it, we'll put all this in the "extended entry" box. If you've already seen the movie or have no plans on watching it, though, do feel free to continue reading...

OK, SO WE KNEW there was trouble in terms of the plot from the very beginning. Consider: things start out with a nice scene of angry Transylvanian villagers with torches and farm implements breaking into the castle of depraved Dr Frankenstein. Yet as the villagers are making their way up to Frankenstein's workshop, Frankenstein and his monster escape through a back door which none of the approximately two thousand villagers thought to guard.

Then, as the villagers catch up with the two, and manage to set the windmill in which they are trapped ablaze, a few vampires start flying overhead. Weirdly, this causes complete and utter panic among the multitudes. After all, they're in Transylvania -- you'd think they'd be used to having vampires about. But hey. Oh, also, Frankenstein's monster doesn't die. This sets the stage for the rest of the film's many regrettable events.

Actually, the entire character of Count Dracula in this film is regrettable. Far from being even a refined gentleman, the Count looks and sounds like a heroin dealer who has managed through wit and guile to rise somewhat far up the food chain. This may seem a bit extreme, but only the Count's presumed access to a rather large supply of opiates would explain the carrying-on of his three wives, whom the Count sends to do his dirty work and treats extremely shabbily. We should add that all three of the women playing the Count's brides are quite hot themselves, which lets the filmmakers show them in very revealing clothing. Of this we approved, except that the one whom we liked the most was dispatched shortly after Van Helsing shows up. Dammit.

Speaking of Van Helsing showing up, there was one scene in the movie at which we raised our eyebrows and which will outrage some readers should they think long enough about it. After Van Helsing kills off the foxiest of the three vampire women, the villagers angrily condemn him; after all, they point out, the vampires only killed one or two people a month. But now that they've fought back, the villagers cry, it will really piss off the terror which walks among them. Van Helsing basically responds, "Yeah, but I can beat the scum."

We don't know if anyone else in the theatre -- there were only about 20 people there -- caught this, but what an attack on Old World attitudes relating to some particular real-world events. True, we could be reading far too much into it; but we do note that Van Helsing discovers that Dracula is creating thousands of vampire spawn so as to attack the good people of Transylvania and the world. And since many of these do actually go out and attack the villagers at one point ... well, it sure seemed pro-war to us.

Anyway, we would also note that mild-mannered sidekick Carl is the only guy to score during the entire film, which happens after he saves the village from the little vampire bastards running amok. We approved mightily of this, as the smart guys in supporting roles hardly ever get any action, despite the fact that at first we did not like Carl.

We primarily did not like Carl because the moviemakers portray him as an 1880s-version of Q, down to the secret laboratory; and we think filmmakers, who are wont to steal from the James Bond franchise, ought not do such things. Still, as he had all the good lines and was a very likable character, we were inclined to give him a pass for this.

Naturally, it is Carl who figures out the Big Secret of where Dracula's lair is located, although why this is a big secret in the first place remains a mystery. After all, as soon as Van Helsing and Co. arrive in the tiny Transylvanian village, chaos erupts; and it seems pretty clear that the vampire hordes are emanating from castle up on yonder hill. Yet supposedly no one figured this out for a good four centuries beforehand; and Carl only figures it out after poring through manuscripts for much of the film, instead of looking out the window at the castle in the distance, and drawing the inference. Of course, these are the same people who traveled to Transylvania in part by ship, despite the fact that a land journey by train would probably be quicker.

It was at this point, late in the film, where things really began to go downhill. We would note that the Count's evil scheme required about 1.21 gigawatts of electricity for it to work, but this does not prevent most of the characters from leaping about on live electrical wires in bad weather. (Kids, please don't try this at home). We would also note that these penultimate scenes are where the worst of the crimes against dialogue take place, and we would further point out that well, gee, Kate Beckinsale is really hot.

There is no need, of course, to go on at length about that. But we would suggest that any movie-goers who decide to go watch "Van Helsing" focus on such things, as it will allow them to not think about the plot and the acting and all the other flaws inherent in the film. Instead, just sit back, watch, and enjoy the story as it presents itself on screen. It will be better for you if you do so, of that we can assure you.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at May 8, 2004 06:21 PM | TrackBack