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pre- Van Helsing Rewatch [Jun. 23rd, 2008|12:37 pm]
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[mood |thoughtfulthoughtful]

Now, I've seen Van Helsing, ages ago when it first came out. I wasn't impressed. But recently I've had an urge to watch it again, mainly to pick apart what I think is wrong with it. This was spurred by seeing the Incredible Hulk, which I enjoyed, but felt that the ending had the same problem as Van Helsing - two CGI monsters fighting just doesn't usually engage me.

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)

[User Picture]From: angriest
2008-06-23 03:57 am (UTC)
I'm halfway through a Bad Film Diaries article on Van Helsing. The overwhelming cockiness with which Sommers and particularly Universal Pictures approached the project is unbelievable. They actually paid several million bucks to keep all the sets standing for months because they were so certain the film would be a hit that they'd need to start shooting the sequel and the TV spinoff immediately.
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[User Picture]From: cheshirenoir
2008-06-23 04:19 am (UTC)
You know, I'm starting to think that something hollywood really needs are a bunch of "Sanity" cops.

Someone to stand next to Bruce Willis with a ruler, while he's making "hudson Hawk" and to WHACK him on the knuckles every time he tries to rewrite the script.

Someone to shout "No, this is PANTS!" at the rough cut of Van Helsing.

I mean, really, how do some of these monstrosities get so far along before the wheels fall off?
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-06-23 06:15 am (UTC)
At least part of the problem is, once it reaches a certain point, they're committed enough that they'll throw good money after bad.

Another is that a director puts out a couple of blockbusters that make money, and the studios think he's a genius and will let him do whatever he wants on a film because of that. Which is still better than studio interference, but yes, Samity Cops are a good thing.

Actually, friends and colleges who are able to speak freely is all that's needed. Someone to say "No George, Annikin isn't likeable, make changes, get a different actor." or "No Watchowski Brothers, these two films need a serious edit." or "No Paul Anderson, you're fucking removing everything that made Death Race 2000 a brilliant film," before you run the fucker over.
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[User Picture]From: cheshirenoir
2008-06-23 07:12 am (UTC)
Someone to say "No George, Annikin isn't likeable, make changes, get a different actor."
I have heard it said that Lucas actually had someone who was saying this for Ep IV and V, who he got rid of for VI.

Someone reasonably high ranked in the setup from memory too.
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[User Picture]From: dazzler42
2008-06-23 09:23 am (UTC)

George Lucas' leash

I think you'll find the only person who ever said "No!" to George Lucas - and got away with it - was his first wife - who he divorced after "The Empire Strikes Back", if memory serves.

Anyone who makes movies or television, from Spielburg to Sommers to Roddenberry and Berman, Russell T Davies to the guys who make "Heroes", could use someone like that, an objective, unbiased opinion that won't get fired for it.
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[User Picture]From: cheshirenoir
2008-06-23 10:47 am (UTC)

Re: George Lucas' leash

They can if they are your Producer.

Did some digging. It was Gary Kurtz, who quit after ESB.

From Wiki (And pretty much matches my remembrances of articles years gone)
Kurtz has claimed that he and George Lucas clashed over how to progress the Star Wars series. Kurtz recalled after Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, Lucas became convinced that audiences no longer cared about the story; they were simply there for thrills and entertainment, and he began to deviate from the original nine-episode bible starting with Return of the Jedi, at which point Kurtz quit the series.
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[User Picture]From: thinarthur
2008-06-23 12:29 pm (UTC)

Re: George Lucas' leash

Don't be too hard on old George, this sort of thing happens in any workplace, no boss likes to be shown up as a dill and you get the same conflicts even on the lowest filmaking levels. Mr K hasn't spoken to me for 3 years over disputes arising from our kinematic collaberation and I can think of a few similar cases.
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[User Picture]From: stephen_dedman
2008-06-24 03:59 am (UTC)

Re: George Lucas' leash

While I like the idea of 'sanity cops', don't forget that we have the benefit of hindsight. Having worked on film sets, I have some idea of the problems involved in tinkering with anything once shooting has started, and some grasp of how something that seemed fine on paper might not survive contact with actors, effects, etc.

I also know a few 'sanity cop' horror stories. Sanity cops are mostly assigned to prevent films going over budget, which often means stopping shooting before anyone can go into overtime rather than telling George Lucas how many tons of Jar-Jar Binks merchandising are going to end up as landfill.

Michael Cimino was assigned a 'sanity cop' once Heaven's Gate went over budget, but she drank the magic kool-aid once she arrived on location and started sleeping with the director.

'Sanity cops' tried tightening the screws Titanic when it went hideously over budget, but Cameron spent his own money and managed to finish the film. IIRC, he was left with little money for publicity for the film, so he used the publicity money for the soundtrack album instead. Granted, I wouldn't have minded at all if the film had sunk without trace, but it was ridiculously successful at the box office and the Oscars, which I'm sure impresses the studio more than any review I could offer.

Similarly, while any good sanity cop would have told Lucas in pre-production that his ideas for Episode 1 were an atrocity inside an abomination wrapped in a catastrophe, the film made a shipload of money because we went to see it, some of us more than once, and never asked for a refund! Some of us even bought the DVD and other merchandising! (I'm proud to say that I'm not one of them - paying for it once was more than enough).

There's an interesting piece by Harlan Ellison in An Edge in my Voice on how the auteur theory has given incompetent directors too much power and enabled them to ruin good scripts, and I agree this is unfortunate... but even Harlan admitted that there were some true auteurs, directors who had earned that sort of clout... and sadly, I suspect this can only be decided by hindsight, or the box office. So it goes.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-06-23 06:06 am (UTC)
Yay! I love Bad Film Diaries! And I love the potential that Van Helsing had! It's a great idea and should have been awesome. Monster Squad is a far better modern ensemble monster movie that VH. Come to think of it, I even liked House of Dracula more, and that's the one everyone think is utter crap.

But then, I'm going on memory with VH. It's been a while since I've seen it, and it's possible that on a second viewing I'll enjoy it a lot more, it's happened before.
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From: gutter_monkey
2008-06-23 10:56 am (UTC)
I don't think I'd be physically capable of sitting through Van Helsing a second time.

I just read the full plot synopsis over at imdb.com to check if it was as bad as I remembered and it was. It really was.

By the way, if you're looking for links between Van Helsing and the old Universal horror films there's a few in the 'trivia' section on the imdb page.
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[User Picture]From: thinarthur
2008-06-23 12:17 pm (UTC)
Blimey, did they remake Death Race 2000? How dare they !! I'd like to watch the Hammer movies myself (and Amicus) but they have yet to release them in budget versions, why oh why do we have to pay through the nose for UK horror, SF & fantasy?

Have actually been watching a lot of Universal Horror movies in the last few months, partly for their own sake but also because I was raiding the soundtracks for sound effects for my Batman animated film, "Terror of the Monk", based on the 1939 comic book story.

I discovered the damndest thing while working on "The Wolfman", I happened to play one of the wolf howls backwards and heard a faint "lets get out of here" subliminal message. On the regular soundtrack it's just a soft murmer, it's the first howl you hear before Bela Lugosi attacks a victim, then Lon Chaney Jr does him in.

I haven't heard of this sort of thing being done till the 50's nor came across in it any reference work, it's just plain weird.
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