Thursday, May 13, 2004

Yesterday, not so much after work as much as when i was done working, another guy from my office and I went to see Van Helsing. THis was not even done so much in spite of Jim D's review of the movie, but because of it. All Steans men share a common gene regarding movies. We like bad movies. It's true. And when we hear someone pronounce a movie as awful, it isn't enough to take their word for it: We have to see that stinking pile of poo for ourselves. And it didn't hurt that I had nothing better to do at work yesterday and there's a theater literally less than a block from my office I'd never been to before.

Was Van Helsing as bad as people say? Sure, I guess. Like most big budget, bloated, ridiculous summer movies, the very premise of the story made not a lick of sense. None. Not a bit. If I were in college mode and drunk and watching this movie I would have assumed the booze went to my brain and had erased crucial bits which the byzantine plot most likely tossed at me, but MGD had washed away. Not so here.


Just to get it out of the way: Why the hell hadn't Dracula dedicated his endless undead life to killing all werewolves if that was the only thing can defeat him? We know he can turn them into people again, so why is he bothering with making vampire babies until he knows he's utterly undefeatable? And another thing... If the only way to go to Castle Dracula was through that stupid map, why wasn't the place a ghost-town? THey say something about wings or something... but was the castle a physical place? Where was the castle? How were the oompa-loompas flying around to get to this castle? How did the heroes get back at the end when the story made it clear the door locked up tight behind them? Why wasn't that chick's body totally rotting by the time they found the ocean? Why did the end look like a greeting card?


The sets, the costuming, etc... were all very lavishly and expensively done. In fact, the completely useless "ball room scene" was enough to make the set-designers for Cirque de Soleil green with envy.

The CG was mostly well done, and I would guess we'll never know how much stuff in the movie we'll take for granted that was actually a hard-won victory for some 3D modeller out there... but in a lot of places where it counts, the CG just wasn't very good.

And I've read a lot of bitching about the guy who played Dracula... look... I've seen Dracula with Lugosi. He's about as subtle as a Sherman tank. I think i know where this guy was coming from in his portrayal, and while it wasn't super-duper... please show me a guy who DIDN'T play a hokey version of Dracula.

One of my biggest complaints (and I'd been forewarned) was, why so much swinging? I swear there was more swinging in this than in Spider-Man. People were continually hurling around on ropes and cables to a tremendous effect which usually accomplished next to nothing.

The script was awful, and Van Helsing looked somewhat ridiculous in that hat. And the three Dracula brides were... awful. Yes, awful is the word I was looking for. But I TOTALLY dug Dracula's oompa-loompas. I'm going to make all my student workers dress like those dudes in the future.

But this was a super hero movie, hands down. Sure, it used the monsters from a few decent Universal monster movies, but it was pretty much a movie about a superhero going up against a mad scientist with a nefarious plot. And if you had any doubt, the gymnastics and wire-tricks should be enough to convince you of the true purpose.

Coppola tried to revive the Monster/ Horror movie genre (dead since the 50's, really) in the 90's. Dracula was, I hear, somewhat close to the book. Frankenstein was an odd mix of the book, movie and whatever the hell Branagh was up to. Both were fairly emotionless studies of getting through the paces of the stories and to get A list actors into monster movies. I think the end results of both movies are questionable. I've seen stage plays of both subjects that rocked the pants off of these movies.

I'm not sure the 1930's Universal monster movies of Dracula or Frankenstein were ever REALLY scary. I've read Ray Bradbury's account of seeing Frankenstein as a kid, and how he hid behind his seat. Maybe it's possible. But there's a purity of unsullied story-telling that goes along with those movies. They take a world with things that Van helsing is sorely lacking in (like, say, gravity), and add a feature into it our world that is utterly unnerving. The monsters worked (if they ever worked) because they remind us how frail and fragile we really are.

Van Helsing takes the world, removes all rules (including those of gravity and how much damage the human frame can really take), and then adds bizarre feature after bizarre feature until the canvas, as a whole, has lost any sense of meaning. How can you be afraid of the werewolf when your hero might, say, hop over the top of the werewolf while eating a hoagie at any given moment?

On an infinte number of levels, Van Helsing is a faiulre. It's not enough that it pays homage to the original source material. That's a nice effort, but... The creators seem to have utterly failed to grasp why the source material worked the first time while whoring it out to earn some sort of Monster Movie street cred (yes, Mr. Sommers... we all saw the burning windmill. Good for you.).

I'll probably watch this movie again at some point, because I'll always watch Batman and Robin over and over, even though I don't like it. It's a bit like watching an incredibly slow car crash, or maybe a train derailment over 2 hours or so.

In the meantime, I await the arrival of my movie monster box set.

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