ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  stephen sommers

RATED  -  pg-13

GENRE  -  adventure

LENGTH  -  132 minutes

RELEASED  -  7 may 2004

DISTRIBUTOR  -  universal pictures

OFFICIAL SITE  -  van helsing

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $160,000,000
van helsing - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from van helsing at

buy the dvd from van helsing at

during the late 19th century, famed monster hunter dr. gabriel van helsing heads to eastern europe to battle with count dracula.

during filming, hugh jackman accidentally broke an extra's hand.


picture from van helsing

picture from van helsing

picture from van helsing

picture from van helsing


three out of four possible stars

Van Helsing is a special effects hurricane that will chew up the audience and spit it out after two hours of wall-to-wall CGI histrionics. Those who loved director Stephen Sommers hyper Mummy series will squeal with glee at the vivid and usually astonishing special effects in this film. And like The Mummy, this film is likewise blessed with an inordinately beautiful cast. Not only are stars Kate Bekinsale (playing a Transylvanian princess) and Hugh Jackman (playing the title role of Van Helsing) two of the best looking people on the planet, but Richard Roxburgh (as the long-toothed Dracula), plays one of the best villains created on screen in years.

Roxburgh is simply perfect for the role. If not for his status as main villain in this creature fest, his performance might have overshadowed others in the film. He just seems to be a perfect choice in casting. And with such creativity pumped into the costuming of his character and the flawless CGI used to transform him into a rather imposing winged vampire monster, the addition of Roxburgh's appropriately delicious theatrical performance makes for one kick-ass Dracula. He actually gives Gary Oldman a run for his money, Oldman having portrayed the famous vampire in 1992's Bram Stoker's Dracula.

In the title role, Hugh Jackman, now seemingly one of the most comfortable Hollywood actors in action hero roles (despite his hailing from Australia), inserts all the correct quips and jokes between the fantastic fight and chase sequences that director Sommers berates the audience with for the duration of the film. It takes a specific type of actor to handle a role that involves humor, action, and a little bit of romance. Bruce Willis is most notably one of the best actors of this type, while someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger is an actor who excels in action films solely with the action. Denzel Washington can also pull off the humor-action-romance trio very well, while the beefy Sylvester Stallone seems more comfortable handling just the action shoes.

In recent years, Hugh Jackman has emerged as the casting choice for Renaissance man action casting, though his ease with multiple genres is cemented even further by the fact that he also performs on Broadway in musicals. What is seemingly a hallmark of Sommers' films is his inclusion of a bit of heart into the action base of his stories. Though the love story in Val Helsing could have been infused with some additional passion (more lip-locks between Jackman and Bekinsale, please!), the fact that the Van Helsing character has to deal with more than just fighting monsters (the whole emotional element all the characters share) pushes the movie beyond the banal non-stop action sequence it might have been with less thought placed upon the story.

While it's fascinating to watch Jackman battle various evils (the Wolfman is certainly an awesome CGI creation), his fight wouldn't have meant much if he hadn't found a personal reason to keep fighting. One of his personal reasons, the always surprising Kate Beckinsale, has emerged as a steady choice of casting in harrowing action roles (the last being in another vampire movie, Underworld, to which a sequel is currently being planned), and slaps on the Eastern European accent with ease, handling the fight sequences with equal aplomb. She and Jackman have believable chemistry with one another as well, making their casting seem close to inspired.

Certainly one of the largest and most impressive aspects of this film though is its gargantuan special effects. Although at times it seems like the production bit off more than it could chew (not every CGI character is placed into its real-life environment as convincingly as possible), the effects are still probably ninety-percent incredible. While the transformation of one of the characters into Wolfman and Dracula into his bat persona are completely flawless and jaw-dropping, the completely CGI "Dr. Jekyll" is sometimes obviously a CGI character.

But though there are instances when the CGI effects aren't at one-hundred percent, the special effects overload will impress you far more often than not. Simply taking into account the incredible mountain-scapes, all of which had to have been created digitally, makes you wonder just how many people were employed on this film in the special effects department. There are not just a host of CGI enhanced characters to deal with, but also a vast array of locations created including Paris, Rome, and various Transylvanian towns and castles (the castles are striking). The man-hours put into the effects on this film must have been incredible.

Van Helsing also benefits from a talented supporting cast, with Sommers favorite Kevin J. O'Conner standing out in the role as Igor (Dr. Frankenstein's assistant) with his usual allotment of humor and sagacity. The six and a half foot tall Shuler Hensley performs well as Dr. Frankensteinís monster, garnering a suitable amount of empathy from the audience. Interestingly, the already tall actor still had to wear giant lifts in his shoes and bulky clothing to appear over seven feet tall. Tom Fisher is a good choice for his role as the creepy Transylvanian undertaker, and his make-up artist should feel proud of the actor's incredible physical transformation for the character. Bringing up the rear, the cheeky David Wenham is also suitably cast in his role as Van Helsing's monk friend "Carl," filling the shoes of "plucky side-kick" with ease.

If not for the expert casting and the attention to story detail in this film, the special effects in Van Helsing might have truly overrun the movie. But as with his previous feature film creations, Stephen Sommers handles the complicated package with ease and gives action fans a beautiful and exciting film. Fans of the classic movie monsters like Frankenstein's monster and Dracula will doubtlessly be pleased at seeing the entertaining creations appear on screen again and will recognize Sommer's love for the genre through the skillful storytelling. Regarding its fine performances, rip-roaring pace, and incredible special effects, Van Helsing is everything that a summer blockbuster should be. Excitement, a love story, great action sequences, adventure, mayhem, this film has it all.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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