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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

October Review Review Van Helsing

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Van Helsing is one of those movies I fondly look back on as being just about everything I thought it was going to be. While it got panned by many critics, at least this one enjoyed the movie and had a great time at the theater. It is one of those movies I purchased on the first day of release even though I had already seen the movie in the theaters.

Looking back over the years, I enjoyed the movie and the slow motion options I have. Little things I wanted to verify like nail marks on the wrists of Frankenstein as he offers himself up for the salvation of those he loves. I don't recall any film critics noticing this during the initial run of the movie, but sure enough, those nail prints where there.

Since the movie Hugh Jackman has become an even bigger star. While some hated the movie, it seems as if the fans have stayed with it, still talking about how much they appreciated the story and the action. I don't think you will get bored from watching this one, even some years later. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and find the review useful. While there are often times spiritual overtones that are a stretch, that wasn't the case in Van Helsing. So, get the DVD, get a bag of microwave popcorn, open up a bottle of Coke and enjoy the movie. Of course you may want to leave the lights on if you are afraid of things that go bump in the night.

The last two months have been heavenly for fans of old monster movies. First is the release of several of the old original movies Dracula, The Werewolf, and Frankenstein movies. Next up, Stephen Sommers, writer and director of The Scorpion King, The Mummy, The Mummy Returns and other films does tribute to the old style monsters but with a new and refreshing twist. Sommers pays tribute to the old films by using black and white footage at times and at others almost directly taking line for line from some of the old classics. Also a pleasant surprise is that while the film is violent at times, there is an obvious intent to not have a lot of blood, and or nudity. This is an apparent obvious attempt to pay tribute to the old original classics.

Included in the tale is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, The Werewolf, and of course every blood suckers favorite, Dracula himself along with his three brides who happen to lead the monster ensemble. What Somers does though is have as his primary focus the hero himself, Van Helsing. Van Helsing is a hero who's faith is important and not since Wes Craven's Dracula 2000 has a movie with monsters had so many spiritual references and twists. As a result, Van Helsing could very well be the Roller Coaster Ride of the summer for movie patrons looking for a good, exciting thrill ride.

For many, the old monsters from movies and literature seem to go one of several routes. For many on the religious bandwagon, they are evil and should be shunned at all costs, after all, the representation of evil is paramount in the telling of the stories. At least that is the perspective of some. For others who don't have a belief in God they are nothing more than a fun tale with a few laughs thrown in. While that may be the view, of some, those seem to loose sight of what the original authors intended in the telling of their works.

Yet for others, the monster stories are a classic telling of good versus evil with a few social commentaries thrown in. For example, The Werewolf is a character who portrays the possibility of all people turning from good to evil. In many ways, the character represents the potential of evil in every person, even those often favored by God. The Frankenstein character on the other hand shows that despite an outward appearance that there is beauty in every person. He does not pretend that evil does not exist, quite the contrary, often times we see in the Frankenstein stories that the real evil that exists, exists within the hearts of humans who look on the outward appearance as opposed to the inner beauty. Then there is Dracula! Dracula represents the classic battle between good and evil. There is a presumption that there is a God with power and that power comes from the cross. We are also aware that there is evil and that evil has as its focus the importance of taking life-giving blood from the innocent and sending them to an eternity of hell and doom. Dracula is often viewed as a son of Satan and that is the perspective taken in Van Helsing. I am sure there are other illustrations from a social perspective that others can take. It is the later that I choose to watch monster movies and after viewing Van Helsing I can't help but think that is the theme intended by the movies writer and director, Stephen Sommers.

Van Helsing stars Hugh Jackman in the title role of Van Helsing. He is a creature, not quite human that has lived for as long as he can remember, even beyond what he can remember with the intent purpose of destroying evil. He is an agent of the church and we learn through out the movie that at one time he sat on and was with God and served on God's left hand. While many within the cultures see him as evil, he can tell the difference between evil and good and refuses to kill that which is not evil. We also learn through the story line from Sommers that his first name is Gabriel. This is a little twist that can be looked over by many in the audience but should be noted that one of God's top angels in the Bible is an angel called Gabriel.

After disposing of a monster in Paris, Van Helsing is called upon by the church to travel to Transylvania to take care of Dracula who has been terrorizing the city along with one of his new slaves, The Werewolf. Dracula has the intent of destroying the last of the Valerious family Anna, played wonderfully by beautiful Kate Beckinsale. While taking out on his journey Van Helsing decides to take along a young Friar, named Carl played by David Wenham who is a part of the group within the church making James Bond style weapons. One of the fun characteristics of this character is that while he is a holy man, he recognizes that he is still a man. It is within his own humanity that he is able to use his gifts for good and ultimately search his own heart as to what constitutes good or evil.

This movie is virtually impossible to review without giving spoilers, but I will try to make several comments. All through the script, while at times shallow, and not detailed enough, Sommers uses spiritual symbolism. All throughout the film is included the usage of crosses, holy water, prayer, the power of light over darkness and more. Then again, those are concepts that have been a part of the Dracula character for years. As of recent, the character has changed some in that while the cross and the things of God are still important the message has been given, starting first with Silver Bullet by Stephen King, that the cross is only powerful in the hands of one who believes in the power of the cross. That concept is also alluded to in this movie. There are also important nuances that are brought out in this movie. There is the importance of the Holy Bible in the hands of one of the Hero's of the movie. I especially liked the concept that a character not normally associated as being a hero is. Remember the earlier comments about the symbolism of characters. At one point, we see that in the life of this hero that one of the most important things in their life is the Holy Bible. This character often quotes scripture and uses it as a source of inspiration when times get tough. I won't tell you who the character is but it will be obvious when you see the movie.

I could tell much more about the film, from a technical perspective the special effects are pretty good. I would classify them as somewhere between the effects in Spiderman and The Hulk. . If you have seen some of Sommers previous work you know that he has a knack for action, although at times can be short on plot. He actually does a good job here and of the afore mentioned films of his I would state that this is his best, that is right even better than the Mummy. The two hours and twenty minutes go by pretty quickly. Just when the movie seems to start to drag there are action sequences that get you back into the story. Usually in this genera I find myself getting bored by the conclusion of the movie. In Van Helsing I actually found the last hour or so of the movie to be among the best parts of the movie. Story lines came together, and there was still an emphasis on action. I will say this, before seeing the movie make sure you use the bathroom. I know some will find this comment a little tacky but I'll tell you that there are numerous scenes that will literally scare the pee out of you if you are not careful. Remember the Roller Coaster ride comment earlier.

All in all I really enjoyed this movie. It was a fun ride and one that I will take again. While being far from perfect it was what makes going to the movies fun sometimes. You will have the opportunity to escape reality for a few hours and have a lot of thrills, laughs and reflective moments in the process. In the tradition of The Mummy and last years hit Pirates of the Caribbean this is a flick that many will enjoy. It is one that has given me a new respect for Sommers, he includes a lot of old memories in a new tale without doing an injustice to the formula made so successful so many years ago.

On a scale of 1-10; while not quite the best monster movie of all time, a fitting tribute to an old classic style. A thrilling and enjoyable 8.

Van Helsing Trailer

Van Helsing Fan Video

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Additional Film Clips from the Movie Studio:

Teaser:Windows Media Player, Hi-ResWindows Media Player, Med-ResWindows Media Player, Lo-Res Trailer:QuickTime, Full ScreenQuickTime, Hi-ResQuickTime, Med-ResQuickTime, Lo-ResTV Spot:Windows Media PlayerFeaturette 1 - 'A Look Inside':QuickTime, Hi-ResQuickTime, Med-ResQuickTime, Lo-ResWindows Media Player, Hi-ResWindows Media Player, Med-ResWindows Media Player, Lo-Res
Featurette 2 - 'Paying Tribute to the Past':QuickTime, Hi-ResQuickTime, Med-ResQuickTime, Lo-ResWindows Media Player, Hi-ResWindows Media Player, Med-ResWindows Media Player, Lo-Res 9 Clips:Windows Media Player/Real Player, Various


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