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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Van Helsing [Blu-ray]

 

(Stephen Sommers , 2004)

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Production:

Theatrical: Carpathian Pictures/Stillking Films/The Sommers Company

Video: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: FREE (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:11:37.931

Disc Size: 44,216,150,472 bytes

Feature Size: 36,286,445,568 bytes

Average Bitrate: 26.99 Mbps

Chapters: 28

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: September 15th, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Bitrate:

 

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 4565 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4565 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
DTS Audio French 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio Spanish 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surround
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surround
DTS Express English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / 24-bit

 

Subtitles:

English, French, Spanish, none

 

Extras

• Audio Commentary with Director Stephen Sommers & Editor/Producer Bob Ducsay
• Audio Commentary with Actors Richard Roxburgh, Shuler Hensley & Will Kemp
• Van Helsing: The Story, The Life, The Legend (58:09)
• Track the Adventure (34:36)
• Bringing the Monsters to Life (10:02)
• Dracula's Lair is Transformed (2:91)
• The Music of Van Helsing (9:41)
• The Art of Van Helsing (5:10)
• The Masquerade Ball is Unmasked (25:29)
• You Are in the Movie (4:29)
• Bloopers (5:39)
• Monster Eggs (1:53)
• D-Box Motion Enabled

Exclusive to Blu-ray:
• U-Control
• BD-Live 2.0

 

 

Comment:

The Movie: 5
Van Helsing is one holy terror of a movie.

Before there was James Bond, there was Van Helsing. If you haven't seen this movie, you might not have been aware of that. And instead of working as a licensed killer for Her Majesty's Secret Service, Van Helsing was in the employ of His Holyness' Secret Service. You probably didn't know that either. What the Hell – I don't really mind that Van Helsing isn't the Victorian-principled scientist that we know by way of Bram Stoker or countless Dracula movies. I don't even mind that, as writer/director Stephen Sommers envisions him, Van Helsing is a virile, if ageless man, adept with all manner of weapons and modes of transport. After all, if he's going to be working for the Vatican, he needs his own version of Q-Branch. And contrary to all but one 007 movie, if memory serves, the present Q – a timid soul here named "Carl" (David Wenham) comes along to help explain what Van Helsing may not understand.

So who are our new hero's assignments, as if we didn't know? We come into the story after some years of apprehending – alive if possible so as to save what may be left of their souls – all manner of monstrous creatures, most recently one Mr. Hyde, who is maybe three times the mass of his alter ego, and a good deal more agile. These guys usually resist capture, making for considerable work for our special effects team.

Before Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) sets off on his next, most challenging and most dangerous assignment: Dracula himself (Richard Roxburgh), we learn something about this man that will drive the plot further on into the movie – that Van Helsing is the victim of massive amnesia, from which he is only slowly and sporadically recovering. He doesn't even know how old he is or who he was before he became Van Helsing. I shall reveal nothing further about this, as it becomes one of the few interesting turns in the movie.

What would a monster movie be without a girl, in this case, not one in distress - at least she doesn't see it that way – but a heroine in her own right? This would be Anna Valerious, played by the delicious Kate Beckinsale, who so proved in Underworld how hot she could be in spandex that it was an obvious, if ill judged idea to put her in something very like, except for a silly embroidered blouse, just to ensure we understand her rural roots, I imagine. It is the Valerious family (shouldn't that be "Valerius" I kept asking myself?) that Van Helsing is sent to protect, as Anna and her brother, Velkan (Will Kemp) are the last in a long line of Dracula hunters, the only ones in the vicinity that have ever presented a threat to this most tasty villain. But no one knows where he sleeps, let alone what evil lurks therein.

 

 


Enter, now, Frankenstein's monster (Shuler Hensley), hiding out from humankind who would have him dead if for no other reason than his very monstrousness. Van Helsing and Anna come across the monster quite accidentally and learn that he knows an important secret about Dracula, one that would aid in Van Helsing's pursuit of the 450 year-old blood-sucker.

I think this movie would have had a chance if it only didn't take itself so seriously even when it cracks wise - as when Marishka, one of Dracula's brides, gives out with a Bela Lugosi imitation. It is almost as if Sommers himself doesn't get the gag. Or maybe there were just one or two too many familiar monsters. (Where are Abbott & Costello when we need them!) And did I mention that there are not just one, but several Wolfmen? Then again, perhaps the movie is simply too loud, too often, heartless, with too few hints of the eroticism that should be front and center of Dracula's interest.

As for the cast, Hugh Jackman is smartly cast, but he is too much in his own shadow to do anything interesting with the part. Richard Roxburgh – I still can't get over that this is the same actor who plays The Duke in Moulin Rouge – does well enough with what he is given as Dracula, but is all to often undermined by the director. What does it mean, for instance that Dracula starts walking the walls just as he begins to gain whatever sympathy he might have with the audience when he exclaims "Why can't they leave us alone? We kill only our fill, and less than our share." The line is played for laughs when it shouldn't be. And when one of his brides chastises Dracula for his apparent cavalier attitude to the loss of one her sisters, he replies "No! I have no heart. I feel no love. nor fear, nor joy, nor sorrow. I am hollow... and I will live forever." It's an important and telling revelation about the man, and wasted on a moment of relatively insignificant import. Van Helsing could have been a fun movie in the vein of – dare I say it – The Fifth Element - or a serious one, such as V for Vendetta, but the script is misdriected with good lines in the wrong places or read with the wrong tone. The fault, dear reader, is not the actors.

 

Image: 7/8  NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale.  The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

 

Considering that Van Helsing rises and falls with its special effects I would have expected to see the results more clearly. The dimness comes out of the near perennial night that pervades, but some, I believe, derives from how the CG are melded into the live action. In any case, while textures are pretty well described when there is sufficient light to make them out, the dark of night threatens to devour many a scene whole. On the other hand, considering that much of the action takes place at night, at least we do not have to suffer with noise. I was not alerted to artifacts, enhancements or blemishes, but compared to the likes of X2: X-Men United, Underworld, or any but the first of the Harry Potters, the image here can get downright smoky.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music : 7/8

While a little on the thick side, Alan Silvestri's galloping score drives the action with awesome, punchy mid-bass power and treble percussion. The Blu-ray has the advantage of a lossless DTS 5.1 mix that permits us to hear whatever subtleties and dynamics the soundscape has to offer, and while there is plenty of wow, the sound remains strangely front-directed – again, as compared to similar movies. In the attack on the village by the flying vampire brides, the masquerade ball and in Dracula's lair with its surrounding electro noises, there are isolated location cues fragments, but it is generally the immersive music score that grabs our attention and draws us into the action. In other scenes, like the villagers' attack on Frankenstein's castle and the swirling of hundreds of vampire bats, the surrounds are busy as expected. The Momitsu has identified it as being a region FREE disc playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide.

 

Operations : 7

The menu is laid out like other Universal Blu-rays. Arrows tell you which way to direct your remote, and the bonus feature instructions are detailed and intuitive. The chapter menu includes buttons for U-Control in case you want to approach those functions from that point.

 

 

 

Extras : 7

Universal has imported the extra features previously found on the 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD: starting with the same two commentaries by the director & editor (lively, informative and entertaining observations about production details) and the actors that play Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster and Velkan (funny and irreverent). "Van Helsing: The Story, The Life, The Legend" at nearly an hour (with a Play All option) reveals the actors discussing their characters in legend and as they appear in movies over the decades, including this one. "Track the Adventure" is a half-hour segment that covers the locations used and some of the set design that created their versions of them. " Bringing the Monsters to Life" is just what you'd expect: a look at the CG, mattes and miniatures that created the monsters in their context.

"Dracula's Lair Transformed" is a clever piece that employs time-lapse photography to show how the main set morphs into the various sets required for the movie. "You Are in the Movie" is another clever piece wherein a videocam is mounted on the main frame of the shooting camera so that we can get a view of things from the point of view of the camera. It's a trick that quickly outlives its point, since the perspective is always ultra wide-angle.

"The Masquerade Ball is Unmasked" is one of the more interesting pieces here in that it soberly follows the creation of the ballroom scene from inspiration ("I'm thinking of something like Cirque du Soleil") through the choreography and rehearsal to set design. Composer Alan Silvestri discusses his music in "The Music of Van Helsing." "The Art of Van Helsing" is a varyingly presented series of drawings and paintings of the monsters and heroes for the movie. There's also a little piece titled "Monster Eggs" consisting of a few gags and candids.

U-Control permits PIP access infrequent, clear, but brief cast & crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.

The weakness of these Extra Features (save the U-Control PIP) is that, though they cover the territory, they are generally murky in their 480i/p presentations. There are no HD features.

 

 

Recommendation : 6

If you can approach this movie with a humourful attitude, seemingly unintended, and low expectations I think you have your best shot at enjoying the two hours or so of mayhem. I'm still aghast at Ms. Beckinsale's absurd costume that she wears through a good deal of the movie – what are those: bloodstains on her blouse? No new Extra Features here and none in HD, the sound is dynamic and the image satisfactory.

Leonard Norwitz
September 10th, 2009

 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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