What Went Wrong: Van Helsing
By Shalimar Sahota
January 20, 2011
Firstly, this will contain spoilers, so if you haven’t seen Van Helsing, then you might be better off watching The Monster Squad instead.
Writer and director Stephen Sommers made Universal very happy with the success of The Mummy in 1999. On the very weekend that it surprised everyone by opening to $43 million (at the time, the ninth highest opening weekend ever), the president of Universal, Ron Meyer, actually called up Sommers asking for a sequel. He delivered with The Mummy Returns in 2001, opening to an even bigger $68 million.
The opposite happened during the weekend Sommers’ Van Helsing was released on May 7, 2004 (the same date The Mummy opened five years previously). After opening to $51 million, all plans for a sequel and a TV series spin-off were soon dropped. Carrying a high production budget pegged at around $160 million, Universal considered the opening total to be below their expectations.
Reinvigorating Van Helsing and having him go up against classic movie monsters is a fantastic concept. It was after The Mummy Returns that Sommers thought, “What else can I do in this vein? Frankenstein? Dracula? They’d both been done, and I couldn’t spend two years of my life just working on The Wolf Man. But then I realized, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if I could put them all together somehow?’ And that’s how I pitched it. I think everyone assumes the studio came to me.”
Universal had high hopes for the film, and was pretty serious when it came to the marketing. A short animated prequel, Van Helsing: The London Assignment, was released on DVD, offering some additional back-story as to why Helsing is chasing Mr. Hyde in the film. Jakks Pacific Toys created a whole line of action figures. Clothing licensee NTD Apparel produced some gothic Van Helsing fashion. Dark Horse Comics published a Van Helsing comic (there was only ever the one issue). Vivendi Interactive Games released a Van Helsing video game. Jackman himself appeared in American Red Cross adverts telling Americans to be heroes by donating blood! I myself recall promoters in certain cities across the UK taking to the streets handing out garlic clovers and Van Helsing business cards! Lastly, there were even Van Helsing breath mints! This was clearly a franchise in the making.
The simpleton story involves Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) as a demon slayer who works for the Vatican. His next assignment has him sent to Transylvania to locate and kill Dracula (Richard Roxburgh). While there he finds himself having to deal with Frankenstein's monster (Shuler Hensley), a big hairy werewolf (Will Kemp) and then there’s also Dracula's three brides. Obviously too much for one man to deal with, so he has a little help in the way of clever sidekick Carl (David Wenham) and the feisty Anna (Kate Beckinsale). Together, the three of them all get jiggy with it.
To have such iconic characters all together, the film depicts Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster and werewolves with large doses of inaccuracy. Basically, it’s really, REALLY stupid, choosing to make up its own rules. Even before the film was released, teaser posters were released of the characters, and Frankenstein’s Monster was simply called Frankenstein. The teaser trailer also made this mistake, though it is rectified in the film. Dracula seems to be incapable of dying in this film, since all conventional methods such as a stake, a crucifix, and burning have no effect. Neither does "artificial" sunlight (a whole other segment of stupidity that deserves its own paragraph). Instead, the only thing that can kill him here is a werewolf.