What The Film?! is a weekly column exclusive to Under The Gun Review that brings to light the plot holes Hollywood hoped you’d never notice. Written by comedy writer Dane Sager, this column shows no mercy to films that try and pull the proverbial wool over our eyes.
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This Week’s Movie: 2004′s Van Helsing
I want you to think about this as a movie idea: Van Helsing, the archenemy of Dracula, as a steampunk secret agent hunting down various monsters from all of Universal’s classic creature movies. That sounds incredible, right? There’s no way that could be bad. That’s like combining peanut butter and chocolate or Mario and Kart Racing, that combination sounds like it can’t be made poorly! Well, as my Die Another Day column shows, sometimes combining things that may sound interesting can lead to very bad things.
2004′s Van Helsing follows its titular character, a “Knight of the Holy Order”, as he tries to track and hunt down Dracula. Along his journey, he receives help from Anna, a character who’s family is trapped in purgatory till Dracula is killed (undead doesn’t count, God can be so anal sometimes) and Carl, a Q-esque character who supplies him with an assortment of steampunk gadgets that clearly couldn’t have existed back then.
The movie opens with Dracula helping Dr. Victor Frankenstein create Frankenstein’s Monster. Once The Monster is alive, Dracula explains through painful exposition that he funded all of his work to further his own bloodline. Dr. Frankenstein is appalled at the fact that Dracula was helping him for his own agenda and legitimately thought that one of the most famously evil characters in story telling history wasn’t helping him because he believed scientific process. Dracula kills him and The Monster escapes.
When we’re introduced to Van Helsing, he’s hunting down a poorly CGI’d Mr. Hyde, the crazy alter-ego of normally peaceful Dr. Jekyll. Despite having to CGI in Mr. Hyde after filming the scenes, Van Helsing never actually looks him in the eye. They could have easily CGI’d him in where he was looking, but they decided to make him large and imposing, so Van Helsing looks him in the chin when they speak, which does little besides emphasizing how Mr. Hyde isn’t real. At one point in the fight sequence, Van Helsing has a rope attached to Mr. Hyde and attempts to pull him off a ledge to his death. After a few attempts, Mr. Hyde laughs, says “My turn!” before pulling the rope himself to pull Van Helsing off the roof despite the fact that he could have done that at any time.
The dialogue in this movie is atrocious. It’s composed entirely of 50% lines that sound forced but were written to sound cool in the trailers and 50% poorly done exposition. This becomes abundantly clear in the next scene where after killing Mr. Hyde, Van Helsing goes to church where he bickers with a priest, making himself look whiny and unlikeable. It’s revealed he was left on the church’s front steps as a baby, so the church decided to train him to hunt down monsters, because that’s what any logical church going person does with orphans apparently.
At the church, Van Helsing is given the assignment of hunting down Dracula because the church feels bad for Anna’s family being in purgatory and insist on fixing it. Before being sent out, he is equipped with garlic, crucifixes, silver daggers, explosives, a crossbow/machine gun hybrid, and a flash bang that replicates the light of the sun (Carl tells him without any irony that he doesn’t know when it would come in handy despite the fact that he’s equipping him to fight vampires) . None of the gadgets he uses in the fight with Mr. Hyde get brought along despite the fact that they would have been more useful than anything he ends up taking with him.
We then cut to Transylvania, where we’re introduced to Anna, who is fighting werewolves as poorly as possible. Her group of friends made an elaborate Rube Goldlberg machine to trap a werewolf, built it incorrectly, and gave only one person (her brother) in the entire group a gun with silver bullets. This gun is immediately lost because they gave it to the guy who was bait for the werewolf. At what point did this group decide this was their best plan? “The guy in the most danger needs to be the most important because he’s going to have the only weapon who can hurt the werewolf. Then we will all attack the werewolf with our normal riffles because my brother will drop his gun, despite all of us knowing that our weapons don’t do a damn thing”. There wasn’t even a line thrown in about this being their 3rd or 4th attempt and that they’re getting desperate, the movie gives us this situation as their Plan A. The brother is assumed dead and the rest of these people are never seen again despite their help being needed later on.
Once Carl and Van Helsing get to Transylvania, Carl starts asking questions “Why are we killing Dracula?” “What do you remember about your life before this?” “Why didn’t I ask any of these questions during our entire journey from Rome to Transylvania that would have taken weeks, if not months?”. Seriously, the movie is over two hours long and has to explain what’s going on in every line. Avatar had less exposition than this movie.
The small Transylvanian village decides that Van Helsing, a stranger who has shown up with many many weapons is not to be trusted. “But I’m here to help you!” he pleads to them. “We don’t need help!” Anna replies immediately as Dracula’s wives start to attack the village with an emphasis on trying to take Anna. Van Helsing saves her and the village because this movie needed a scene to give Anna a reason to trust Van Helsing. There wasn’t even a part where she saved Van Helsing to show that they were equals. They wrote a strong woman character, and then immediately undermine her, showing that damn it, she needs this man in her life. I’m not saying this movie is sexist, but the first major thing Van Helsing does when he gets to Transylvania is crucify a woman and that the only non evil woman in this entire movie is Anna and she chooses to wear a corset to fight in.
The rest of this movie consists of sequence after sequence of Anna getting into danger and Van Helsing saving her. When Van Helsing comes across a werewolf, Anna stops him from killing it, knowing it to be her brother (she watched him transform) and Van Helsing knew this despite having absolutely no reason to know it was her brother.
In one sequence, Anna is at a big party thrown by Dracula and vampires. We get a glimpse of the party through a mirror and the room is empty except for Anna. “Dane, it’s a party of vampires, of course the reflections aren’t there” True, except for all of the furniture is gone as well. The room is literally empty because furniture vampires exist in this world.
The climax of the movie comprises of Dracula and Van Helsing beating up each other, except for this time Van Helsing is a werewolf. This sequence takes place during a full moon (of course) so he can do this transformation, but the moon frequently keeps going behind clouds, causing Van Helsing to take his human form during these periods. It works as a dramatic tool to make the fight interesting, that the moon behind the clouds can’t turn him into a werewolf. The big issue here is that this fight is indoors. Whether or not the moon is behind the clouds or not is irrelevant when the moonlight couldn’t get to him in the first place.
The very first scene with Mr. Hyde was done to set the tone of the rest of the movie which it does successfully. The whole sequence is supposed to be a bad-ass introduction to a potentially awesome character, and while the concept is cool, it’s execution is awful. This was one of the first movies to truly disappoint me when I saw it at age 16. The idea of a steampunk monster hunter is still really cool and it could have been a long running franchise like Batman or James Bond, each movie he hunts down a different famous monster, this could go on forever if done well. The fact that Universal is currently remaking Van Helsing over the next few years shows that they know that it still has potential. Universal has stated that it’s going to be a darker and more intense tone, which could be bad. The tone in Van Helsing wasn’t what made it bad, it was the stupid script and the bad direction. You can have a Van Helsing that’s dark but still kind of light hearted because when you take a ridiculous premise like this and make it dead serious, you end up with stuff like 2012′s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.