Then I thought that maybe, since I had the the Frankenstein, Dracula, and Wolf Man Legacy sets, I'd watch those in chronological order, then rewatch Van Helsing. I finished House of Dracula last night, but now I'm finding that I want to rewatch the Hammer Horror films first. Maybe I'm just putting off rewatching Van Helsing, but I think it's more that I want to have a good, fresh overview of what has been done with the characters previously, before I watch it.
So I figure I'll just briefly touch on what I think are Van Helsing's main problems, based on my memories of it.
* Van Helsing himself is more than human - You can't empathise with someone super-human, can't identify with them, not unless the writing and the acting are incredibly good. Die Hard worked because John McClane was human, he got hurt, he limped, we could understand why he was in pain. So when he manages to beat the bad guys through all that, we love him all the more because we've travelled the path with him.
* When you do have a human fighting a monster, she's getting thrown against walls like a rag doll, then getting up unharmed. Again, you can't empathise.
* Bond-style gadgets used to fight the nasties, instead of brains and cunning. The thing is, these gadgets are cutting edge by today's standards. Having one or two cool devices would have worked, but not at the level this had them.
* Part of the finale hinges on a bunch of variables that are just that bit too big - swing across enormous chasm, catch a small object thrown to you while swinging past, requiring no issues with wind, a good throw, timed well, and an equally good catch. In a smaller environment it would be believeable, but on this scale it just doesn't work. There's no room for error, so we know they won't make a mistake.
* And two CGI monsters as the centrepiece of the final battle. The last time I saw this done well was the end of Jurassic Park - we'd had the dinosaurs firmly established as real in our minds, the computer effects, and more importantly the animation, helped sell it beautifully. There may be more recent examples, but I can't think of them off the top of my head.
Stephen Sommers has become the king of cool. He does stuff because it's cool, not because it actually works or makes sense. You can get away with this sometimes, but you can't build your whole film around coolness at the expense of the story and characters.
* Deep Rising worked, fun story, good characters, great monster... The cool moments grew naturally out of the story and characters.
*The Mummy worked for all the same reasons.
*Mummy Returns started to sacrifice story and character to cool. Suddenly everyone's reincarnations, if they aren't born protectors of man... and being a living mummy with super powers becomes less special. He's missed the point of what made his first film work, and nothing proves that more than his betrayal of the Imhotep's love story. Plus I fucking hate that jet-propelled dirigible.
In fairness, there are ideas in Van Helsing that I rather like. I like that Dracula needs the essence of the Frankenstein monster to bring life to his offspring - as reasons go to bring them together, it works. I like that there's a secret society taking out monsters, and that Van Helsing himself is seen as a criminal by the establishment. There's a really good film in there, wanting to get out from under the clutter.
Anyway, we'll see how much of this I feel after I eventually get around to watching Van Helsing again. In the meantime I'll go through every Hammer Film I can get my hands on... may even try for chronological order. So, first on the list is Curse of Frankenstein (1957)