If this is what is to be expected from the 2004 summer movie season, how many days do we have until autumn again?
Have we come to the point in mass entertainment cinema that filmmakers feel obliged to fill their frame so heavily with effects, noises and explosions in fear that the audience might become bored for a nanosecond? Are there directors around that are so afraid and untrusting of intelligence that if one moment of their film doesn't scream bloody murder, they will lose the audience for the rest of the show? If "Van Helsing" (IMDb listing) is any indication, the answer is yes. This gargantuan nightmare of a blockbuster is such an excruciating, mind-numbing creation that I am positive it spells doom for us all.
Expectedly, "Helsing" comes from the mind of writer/director Stephen Sommers. A shameless hack of a filmmaker, Sommers has spent his career trying to create new and more elaborate ways to numb his audience. Sure, we all laughed when "The Mummy" ran rampant with special effects and disheartening one-liners, but the sequel, "The Mummy Returns," sent a sharp warning that Sommers had no respect for the filmmaking process, and showed that he was downright obsessed with special effects. "Van Helsing" stands as his ultimate achievement; a film of immense lavishness and opportunity that almost pornographically assaults every sensation the audience has along the way. "Helsing" is much more than a traditional summer movie disaster write-off, it's downright offensive in the way it spends every passing second on a mission to be even more obnoxious than the second that preceded it.
But to be repellent is Sommers' specialty, and "Helsing" is a triumph in his desire to paralyze the crowds with nonstop CGI, screeching sound effects at every turn, a pulsing score by Alan Silvestri that doesn't know when to quit, and actors who have proven themselves worthy before, yet under Sommers' eye, are reduced to hamming it up. Having just written off Tony Scott's "Man on Fire" as a sensory monstrosity, "Helsing" is just as gaudy. Sommers stuffs every frame of celluloid with some type of computer image or ear-splitting sound effect. I kid you not. Every. Frame. It could drive one to madness trying to take it all in. Why is that always Sommers' goal?
So what happens when a film is so arrogant with its budget that it sees fit to indulge every last whim the filmmaker has? When a picture is so carefully mounted to appeal to every last demographic, that any insinuation of subtlety is lost to the four winds? Or a director who has zero respect for his audience, and continues to bring down the art form of filmmaking with every single release? I guess this makes "Van Helsing" the quintessential summer movie; it entertains so much that it eventually offends.
There is a story to "Van Helsing," but who really cares? Sommers doesn't appear to, and outside of trying to appeal to the classic horror fanatics with a pointless foray into black and white photography for the opening 10 minutes, he soon falls back on his crutches of style, and his bandages of special effects. Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman, wasted here with nothing to do) fights monsters, including his nemesis, Dracula (Richard Roxburgh, disgracefully overacting in every scene). That sums it up. There's help found in a trusty gypsy sidekick (Kate Beckinsale), a monk (David Wenham, Faramir from "The Lord of the Rings"), and appearances by Frankenstein's Monster (Shuler Hensley), Igor (a profoundly unfunny Kevin J. O'Connor), along with the Wolfman and Mr. Hyde, but they're nothing more than mediocre and overactive computer creations (what a copout). There's a bigger plot to be found, but to explain it would make your head pop. And Sommers has the gall to dispatch every inch of backstory for the Helsing character to the upcoming sequel, which is the film's final insult. Why, a moment or two of genuine drama might interfere with the gangbang of visual-effect money shots? We can't have that, can we?
I wish I could say that I was surprised by the lack of appeal found in "Van Helsing," but I've been burned far too many times by Sommers to expect him to grasp the idea that his audience may not want a hyperactive, abusive movie experience that deadens every last synapse of their brains.
Filmfodder Grade: F