“I want to live,” roars Frankenstein’s monster in Van Helsing, and he’s just one of many seeking self-realization amid the cacophonous chaos of director Stephen Sommers’s mélange of classic Universal Pictures horror icons. Frankenstein, hunted by the local townsfolk, only wants the opportunity to exist, while Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) plots to bring his incubating demon children to life. Meanwhile, Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman)—a tortured, amnesia-stricken assassin employed by the Vatican to stamp out Europe’s fiendish monster population—simply wants to remember who he really is. The irony, of course, is that this unruly gobbledygook pastiche of the Wolf Man, Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde legends is wholly devoid of humanity or soul. Perhaps the loudest summer film of all time, Van Helsing—an exhausting combination of CGI-infatuated action set pieces and self-conscious one-liners—is apt to provide more migraines than nightmares, assaulting one’s ears with glass-shattering vampiress shrieks, extravagant explosions, and a bludgeoning score by Alan Silverstri. Aside from an opening scene shot in elegant black and white, Sommers’s video-game aesthetic principally involves having characters bouncing off walls, hurtling through the thunder and lightening-wracked sky, and falling from rooftops with pogo-stick abandon, creating the impression that we’re experiencing a non-interactive PS2 game with eye-popping graphics and indestructible protagonists. Although Van Helsing’s blank memory is only partially responsible for his action-figure vacuity, Jackman strikes a dashing figure as the titular hero (a Batman/Wolverine/Indiana Jones amalgam outfitted with 007-style gadgets like an automatic crossbow and circular hand saws), and his beautiful Transylvanian sidekick Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), the last living member of a family sworn to destroy Dracula, capably battles the film’s mythic villains while encased in a studded leather corset. However, after enduring Anna’s straight-faced delivery of portentous inanities (“I’ve never been to the sea,” she arbitrarily blurts out while approaching Dr. Frankenstein’s Gothic castle), the urge to see her fetching lips sewn as tight as Frankenstein’s body parts becomes overwhelming. Van Helsing‘s metronomic alternation between scenes of serene conversation and helter-skelter combat has the recurring predictability of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and this tiresome rhythm is mirrored by Roxburgh’s historically awful interpretation of the blood-sucking Count. His Dracula, madly veering from reserved civility to maniacal, vein-popping hysteria, is an insufferable lunatic in desperate need of anti-depressants, and makes one wish Bela Lugosi would rise from his grave to mete out some revenge. You don’t need to stick a stake in this monster mash—it’s already (un)dead.
Possibly the noisiest film in Hollywood history, Van Helsing gets a reference quality Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track on this DVD edition. Insufferable as the film may be, the top-notch soundtrack will make fans feel as if they're tumbling through Transylvannia alongside Van Helsing. The quality of the video, though, is debatable. It's a clean print, but because there isn't a scene in the film that hasn't been computer generated to death, the small screen only calls attention to the minutiae of the special effects process: blacks are solid and shadow delineation is excellent, but shimmering can be a problem.
Two commentary tracks: one by Stephen Sommers and producer/editor Bob Ducsay, both of whom take the film entirely too seriously (nowhere is this more ridiculous when they talk about Van Helsing's internal struggle), and a second considerably more enjoyable if not equally lightweight one by Richard Roxburgh, Will Kemp, and Shuler Hensley. Rounding out the disc is a banal virtual exploration of Dracula's castle, six minute's worth of bloopers, and three featurettes: the punchy (and self-explanatory) "Bringing the Monsters to Life"; a featurette that gives the viewer the illusion that they are on the set of the film, and "The Legend of Van Helsing," which follows the evolution of the character in movies beginning with 1931's Dracula. Also included here is a Shaun of the Dead trailer, a Super Bowl spot, and a Shrek 2 promo.
The video is good but the audio is spectacular. Beware though: You may need a hearing aide when you're through.