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DVD Review: Van Helsing (2-Disc Collector's Edition)

Hate is a strong word, and it feels appropriate here

Once upon a time, I thought director Stephen Sommers was going to be a pretty nifty director. He made a live action version of The Jungle Book in 1994 that was pretty darn good. Tense, exciting, beautifully shot and breathlessly paced, this was deliciously fun B-movie excitement perfect for the entire family and I don't feel remotely ashamed to admit just how much I enjoyed it. Then came the three-pronged attack of Deep Rising, The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. Each increasingly more juvenile. Each more reliant upon tepid CGI effects not even remotely ready for prime time. Worse, Sommers seemed intent on stripping intelligence completely out of his motion pictures, his characters nothing more than thin cardboard cutouts devoid of virtually any and all interesting qualities that could have remotely made any of them anything close to human.

Of course, Deep Rising has turned into something of an underground cult hit, while the Mummy films were monster box office smashes audiences couldn't help but want more of (which, incidentally, they're getting in just a couple of weeks, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor opening on August 1). But I stand by my opinions on all three of these pictures, each one is a perfect example of everything wrong with the current corporate culture permeating Hollywood and the "product" they tend to deliver (especially during the Summer).

Yet nothing on this planet could have ever prepared me for my original 2004 viewing of Sommers's Van Helsing starring Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale. Sitting in the theater I was completely aghast. This movie wasn't just bad, it was beyond words just how freakishly inept and utterly intolerable it truly was, and for maybe the first time ever I actually found myself feeling sorry for the preview audience sitting there having to endure it right along with me.

Having not had any reason or desire to ever see the darn thing again, having the new two-disc Collector's Edition of the movie slammed into my hand for review wasn't exactly a reason to celebrate. Still, having not seen it since its original release I figured I could rationally give it another shot, time (and countless other horrible motion pictures) maybe softening my initial reactions to the point this gothic opus might not look so bad.

Wrong.

I admit I made it a little over half way through before I threw in the towel and turned the damnable thing off. This isn't a movie, it's a torture device, and anyone who can suffer their way through the entire debacle without self-destructing has infinitely more stamina and composure than me. Without a doubt, Van Helsing could very well be the single worst film I have ever had the displeasure of sitting through, doing it again on DVD is as impossible a task as any I have probably attempted.

As much as I disliked The Mummy and its sequel, at least they offer something of value including a couple of intriguing characters, some nice locations and decently fleshed out performances speckled with an ounce or two of human emotion. Here, it is downright impossible to tell if Jackman is any good as the title character as Sommers never slows the film down enough to give the audience a glimpse as to who Van Helsing is or an opportunity to see what makes him tick. The talented Beckinsale is even worse off. She's stuck playing a woman so woodenly unbelievable the only thing I could remember about her was just how much I wanted to steal a couple of her (admittedly fabulous) costumes.

All of which means I have no business telling anyone what the plusses and minuses of this new release of the picture are. The two discs are packed with extras, so many it almost boggles the mind, but the fact I couldn't even watch the movie itself beginning to end should more than likely give you some insight to just how much I wanted to take the time to delve into any of the special features. This is a bad movie, there just isn't anything else other than that to say, and if I ever feel like torturing myself to the point where I want to poke both my eyes out with a red-hot poker I know exactly to watch to make it happen.

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