Monday, October 25, 2010

Movie Monday - Van Helsing

So I was planning to recap another crappy public domain film, when I remembered that I had some screencaps sitting around from this crappy big-budget film, just waiting for Halloween. So here you go.

"Van Helsing" was one of those movies so bad that people groaned at its trailer. For an action movie, which usually hypes its best stuff in the trailer, it's the kiss of death when someone watches the trailer and says, "Ew."

And that was the reaction that most of my friends gave the "Van Helsing" trailer. But I was actually kind of excited by it, perhaps because when I saw its depiction of super-aggressive CG werewolf and vampire and Frankenstein's monster, I was thinking of this...

And this...

The top picture is a Ron Cobb painting of Frankenstein versus the Wolf Man, used as the cover of Famous Monsters of Filmland issue 42. The lower one is an awesome Frazetta cover for Creepy, issue 7. And see, when I was growing up, I would read about these great classic Universal monsters, and see back issue listings with dynamic, action-packed cover images like these, and then when I would see the actual movie, I would think, "What a disappointment."

And its obvious that Stephen Sommers was thinking the same thing, because "Van Helsing" is nothing so much as an attempt to bring images like these to life. Classic monsters reimagined as brawling comic-book heroes.

Unfortunately, though the monsters themselves are nicely imagined, the human protagonists (and Van Helsing, whatever he is) kill the movie with stupidity.

The story: Dracula has employed Dr. Frankenstein to build a monster from pieces of the dead. Unfortunately, Frankenstein discovers that Dracula actually has a nefarious hidden agenda, so he rebels after the creature is "born." Meanwhile, the townspeople forms a screaming mob that storms the castle and attacks. Both the monster and Frankenstein apparently die in a burning windmill, leaving Dracula and his three wives unable to complete their nefarious scheme.

Enter Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), a monster-hunting secret agent for the Vatican. We see him battle Mister Hyde in the Notre Dame in Paris, after which he is sent to Transylvania with a gadget-obsessed monk (David Wenham) who acts as his own personal Q. Van Helsing has been sent to work with Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), last descendant of a noble line which stands in opposition to Count Dracula.

Van Helsing battles Dracula's evil, yet beautiful wives...

and a rather energetic CG werewolf (who happens to be Anna's brother)...

to keep Dracula from laying hands on Frankenstein's monster (who survived the mill burning).

You see, Dracula's three wives want babies. Their un-biological clocks are ticking. Unfortunately, they can't have babies, since they're undead. Which is to say, they can lay millions of monster eggs, but the eggs can never hatch (a concept which makes no sense so many levels that it actually pushes below zero to become a kind of awesome anti-sense). So Dracula plans to use Frankenstein's monster to process the life-giving lightning energy so that the babies can live. He's like a monstrous Culligan filter or something (yes, it actually makes less sense as it goes along).

It's up to Van Helsing to stop Dracula from unleashing a plague of millions of bat-babies to overrun the world. Which he can do, because it's hinted that he's like the archangel Gabriel or something, except that he's human, but immortal, but can be killed, or something.

You know what, who cares? This is not a movie to be watched and enjoyed in the traditional sense, as a coherent story. This is pure eye-candy, noise and motion with plenty of cleavage...

which is perhaps the purpose of the anti-sense plot: to force you let go of your conscious self and just groove on the images, man. It helps if you drink.

A lot.

Because as you can see from the stills above, the effects and images, while obviously CG, are dynamic and exciting. I don't know that I've ever seen a movie that had so much tension between stupid and cool. That tension can tear you apart if you're not ready for it. Once again, drinking helps.

One weirdly brilliant bit is Kate Beckinsale's costume. She's wearing this white blouse with red embroidery in strategic places, which keep suggesting that you're seeing nipple when she's actually completely covered. It's an ingenious way to subliminally skirt the PG-13 rating.

Which just illustrates my point, that although this film is one of the stupidest big-budget productions ever made, it is also freaking brilliant on other levels.

Especially if you're drunk.*

[Please note that, although drinking may be necessary for a complete appreciation of "Van Helsing" (and "The Cannonball Run" while I'm at it, although it's not a Halloween film, so never mind), this is in no way a blanket endorsement of alcohol consumption. Also please don't operate a motor vehicle immediately after viewing "Van Helsing." Thank you]

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