I have a habit you see. If I really hate a film. I mean really, really hate a film, I give it a few years and rewatch it. This isn't because I'm a masochist or anything like that, it's based on the knowledge that my mood can affect my enjoyment of a film. It's rare that I really detest a film, and so on those rare occasions, I go back and rewatch them a few years down the track.
It started with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I loathed it the first time I ever saw it. Thought it did a crap job of adapting the stageplay and I hated just about everyone in it, except for Frankenfurter. Five years later I happened to see it again, and came away loving it. It dragged me in right from the start and kept me watching happily all the way through. After that experience, I decided that I needed to rewatch the occasional stinker in case I was wrong. This meant that I saw Independence Day again. I detested it the first time, found it okay but unremarkable the second.
So I rewatched Van Helsing... and my opinion hasn't changed. I'm feeling that the wonderfully fun director who gave us Deep Rising and The Mummy may be lost forever. He has gotten further and further away from films about interesting characters caught in bizarre situations and headed more towards characters being caught in huge special effects extravaganzas.
It's really the continuation of the character errors he made in The Mummy Returns. All of a sudden, it turns out that Frasier's character O'Connell is a protector of mankind. Why did this need to happen? And the finale, when Imhotep and O'Connell are in danger, O'Connell's wife comes to his rescue while Anck Su Namun runs off and leaves her lover to die. The whole heart of the first film was the undying love Imhotep and Anck Su Namun shared, in fact, she died for their love at the beginning. It was why everything happened. There was no reason she couldn't have died trying to save Imhotep, thus giving his voluntary decent into hell the emotional kick it deserved.
Sommers made Van Helsing himself into a super hero, a 400 year old warrior with Bond-like gadgets to help him save the day. How much more interesting to have an ordinary human being fighting these incredible creatures? A mortal man who uses his wits (and occasional brutality) to beat a superior enemy... like oh, I don't know, all the other film Van Helsings? Van Helsing wasn't the only super-hero though. Anna gets some amazing beatings, but recovers instantly. Vampire Bride throws her at a wall, and Anna gets straight back up. There's no tension if the heroes can't be beaten.
The only aspect of the film that I felt worked was Frankenstein's Monster. A sad character who only wishes to live, but is afraid that his life will be used to create a greater evil and destroy the world. He's well played and there's a real depth and sympathy for the character, so naturally, he only really appears towards the end of the flick - lost amongst the set-pieces.
Jackman does a good job. He says the lines and plays it as well as he can. But he's lost amongst the special effects. The relationship with Anna goes nowhere, so we don't care about his grief at her death. I suspect the film would have worked much better if it had been Jackman alone or more of a buddy thing written for him to share with David Wenham's Carl. Carl is the comedy science boffin, but apart from some obvious gags, the character has little to do. Make Jackman's character human, pair him with Carl, remove the aborted love interest angle and you've got some interesting and entertaining characters fighting Dracula's evil hordes.
Compare this flick to 1987's Monster Squad, which brings together Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolfman, and also manages the Mummy and the Creature from the Black Lagoon into the bargain. Made for a young audience, with a smaller budget, it's far more entertaining. And while there's tongue-in-cheek fun to be had, the played-straight monsters are being fought by all-too-human kids. So the boys are scared, they try to be tough and when one first kills a baddie, he's visibly shaken up. Monster Squad works in all the ways Van Helsing doesn't.
You can't watch unstoppable characters fighting monsters, for the same reasons it's never any fun watching someone else play a video game, you can't connect. What makes Die Hard such a great film is the fact that the hero gets hurt but continues anyway, while retaining the damage that's been inflicted. He limps, bleeds, suffers, and yet he still keeps going! We can see the damage, imagine his pain and how hard it would be for us to keep going in the same situation. His wounds are great, but never so excessive that we couldn't imagine ourselves perhaps managing the same feats, so we feel for him, and that makes his victory all the greater and more satisfying. He's just like us, but he's a hero.
Sommers is now working on Flash Gordon and When Worlds Collide and I, for one, am really not interested. I'll wait for my friends to see them and then decide if I wait for DVD. As for Van Helsing, I'm glad I saw it once more, because I need never, ever watch it again.
Now, when are they releasing Monster Squad to DVD?