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</script></div>{/googleAds}The biggest challenge for makers of "monster" movies lies not in the ability to make the monsters look real, but in finding a way to make the story connect with the audience. A quick look at many of the classic horror films of the '30s through the '60s reveals a single common denominator. The thing that made these films classics in the first place was the attachment the audience felt to the monsters themselves. Viewers are willing to forgive a lack of visual realism if we get an emotional connection to the story or the characters. After all, Frankenstein's monster just wanted to be loved and the Mummy just hoped to be left alone.

Unfortunately for classic horror fans, Van Helsing writer/director Stephen Sommers resurrects many of Universal's most famous monsters, yet fails to give the story or characters a chance to take on lives of their own. In the Harry Potter movies, Chris Columbus allows Rowling's eloquent storytelling to become the star of the show. In The Lord of the Rings trilogy a wonderful blend of story and visuals is achieved. But with Van Helsing, the story and characters are squashed by the big-budget special effects, which left me feeling as if I had just attended a 2-hour industry expo highlighting the latest Hollywood CGI tricks and gimmicks.

Hugh Jackman is Dr. Gabriel Van Helsing, a 19th century monster hunter dispatched to all parts of the world by the Vatican's "black-ops" mercenary division to battle the forces of evil. His weapons of choice are some kind of Gatling-gun-crossbow-arrow-shooting device (this weapon kind of reminded me of the crossbow used by the sleestacks of Land of the Lost fame and was as equally ineffective) and a spinning, razor-sharp, throwing-star apparatus. His current assignment takes him to Transylvania where the stiletto-heeled, leather-corseted Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) is embroiled in a centuries-old family curse. Also wreaking havoc on Transylvania is Count Vladislaus Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) who, along with his three naked, flying-monkey-devil-brides, is plotting to unleash a newly hatched flock of vampire progeny. Vaguely relating to the scheme is Dr. Frankenstein's monster who is the only creature that Sommers succeeds in developing to the point that any of us care. Faithful to his roots, Frankenstein's monster is just a poor, kind, misguided soul that only desires to be human. Rounding out the gaggle of bogeymen are the Werewolf and Mr. Hyde who are thinly woven into the plot but exist as nothing more than canvases for the art of Hollywood CGI.

Without question, Sommers knows how to make an action-packed, stimulating piece of horror movie eye-candy. But in the case of Van Helsing, he forgets how to make us care. Some individual scenes are truly spectacular, but many are repeated to the point of seeming to exist solely for the sake of filling run-time (how many times did we see someone swinging from a cable). He utilizes none of the underlying themes of good storytelling, only the obvious tools of whiz-bang technical gadgetry. In the end, we walk out of our local Cineplex feeling over-stimulated and under-informed.


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen 1.85:1.

Subtitles: English, Spanish, French; Closed Captioned

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo; Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo; French: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; director's commentary; deleted scenes; making-of featurette; photo gallery.

* Commentaries:
o Comentary 1: with director Stephen Sommers and Producer Bob Ducsay as they discuss what they liked about the film.
o Commentary 2: with actors Richard Roxburgh, Will Kemp and Shuler Hensley as they discuss many aspects of filming including the difficulties of working with the special effects.
* Interactive:
o Explore Dracula's Castle - Discover hidden secrets as you move through a series of hidden rooms.
* Featurettes:
+ Bringing the Monsters to Life - A ten-minute featurette that briefly shows the CGI artists working on the film's special effects.
+ You Are in the Movie - Allows you to control the camera angles in several different scenes pulled from the movie.
+ Van Helsing - The Story, The Life...The Legend - a 10-minute short on the history of the Van Helsing character.
* Blooper Reel: 6-minute piece featuring outtakes from the film..
* Game Demo: short demo of the game as it is to appear in X-Box format.
* Trailers: Van Helsing original theatrical trailer as well as trailers for Shaun of the Dead, Seed of Chucky, The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King.