Van Helsing appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. A generally excellent presentation, I found little connected to the movie’s visuals about which I could complain.
Overall sharpness was very good. At times, a few wide shots looked a wee bit soft, but the majority of the flick offered strong delineation. I noticed no jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes were absent. I also thought the movie lacked noticeable source flaws. Outside of some stylized, intentional grain, it came without any defects and remained clean.
Van Helsing began with a black and white sequence, and based on the movie’s palette, it might as well have stayed that way. While not thoroughly monochromatic, the flick usually lacked any strong evidence of colors. Nonetheless, the subdued tones we did see looked very rich and full.
Blacks became more important than usual, and the transfer delivered excellent depth and fullness to its dark elements. Low-light shots occasionally looked slightly opaque, but those occasions occurred infrequently, as those sequences mostly were clear and smooth. This ended up as a “B+” Blu-ray.
No complaints greeted the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Van Helsing, as it easily earned an “A”. I expected an assault on my ears and that’s what I got. The soundfield consistently used all five channels to good advantage. The mix featured a wide and involving soundstage.
Music demonstrated excellent stereo delineation, and the effects popped up all over the spectrum. Those elements showed nice localization and melded together smoothly. The surrounds played a very active role and added quite a lot to the mix. Given the almost constant nature of the film’s action, the soundtrack sure gave us many opportunities for involvement, and it never disappointed me. This was a vivid and engrossing mix.
Happily, the audio quality lived up expectations as well. Speech consistently came across as warm and natural, and I noticed no signs of edginess or issues with intelligibility. Music could have become lost amidst all the effects, but the score managed to maintain its own personality. The music stayed loud and dynamic, as the track replicated the score with nice clarity and definition.
Unsurprisingly, the effects packed a wallop. They were vibrant and accurate, with clear highs and booming bass. Low-end was always tight and firm; the track exhibited genuinely terrific bass response. This became a very high quality track.
How do the picture and audio of this Blu-ray compare to those of the 2008 Special Edition DVD? Both demonstrated growth. The audio showed the smaller improvements, as the two releases seemed pretty similar. Nonetheless, the Blu-ray’s lossless mix was a bit smoother and more dynamic.
As expected, visuals offered the biggest step up in quality. Even with a smidgen of softness, the Blu-ray was noticeably tighter and more precise. It offered a substantially superior depiction of the film.
Most of the extras from the 2008 set repeat here. We find two separate audio commentaries. The first one features director/writer Stephen Sommers and producer/editor Bob Ducsay, both of whom sit together for a running, screen-specific chat. Expect a lot of emphasis on the technical side of things.
At one point, Sommers gives us a quick synopsis about how he came up with the idea for the flick and developed the script, but mostly we hear about nuts and bolts elements of the production. We get some notes about the cast and how some of them came onto the project as well as a lot of information about visual elements. We hear many comments about computer-generated bits along with information about sets, locations, and stunts.
The pace lags at times but the pair usually keep things moving well. It’s a perky commentary that suffers from more happy talk than I’d like, but it’s lively and informative enough to maintain interest.
Next we hear from actors Richard Roxburgh, Shuler Hensley, and Will Kemp, all of whom sit together for this running, screen-specific track, though Hensley splits before it ends. As one might expect, they provide a look at the film’s creation from the actor’s perspective.
Given the technical bent of the movie, they mainly tell us of all the challenges that came with the makeup, visual effects and locations. They offer a fairly anecdotal discussion that concentrates on the elements they confronted throughout the film and also the fun moments as well.
The participants demonstrate a nice sense of humor, as they joke around a lot and make actor David “Daisy” Wenham a particular butt of their blows. I don’t know how much you’ll learn from this piece, especially since the first commentary goes over so much of the technical material they address here, but it’s still a mostly entertaining and enjoyable track.
Exclusive to the Blu-ray, we get an interactive feature called U-Control. While this usually includes a few different elements, Van Helsing just goes with picture-in-picture tidbits. Normally these give us storyboards and soundbites from participants, but this time U-Control goes entirely with footage from the set.
That makes it both more and less interesting than usual. On one hand, I like all the raw footage, as we find some good glimpses of the production. On the other hand, I’d like to hear some insights into the shoot and learn more about the flick. Since the U-Controls for the first two Mummy flicks included mostly banal remarks, though, I suppose I should be happy Van Helsing dispenses with the blather. It’s not a great PiP feature, but it’s got some intriguing material.
Under Track the Adventure, we find five featurettes. These take you to the following locations: “The Vatican Armory” (5:28), “The Village” (8:08), “Frankenstein’s Lab” (6:31), “Dracula’s Castle” (7:50), and “The Burning Windmill” (6:36). We find remarks from Sommers, Jackman, Wenham, Ducsay, Suwannath, Grossberg, Squires, Hensley, Roxburgh, Snow, production designer Allan Cameron, prop master Steve Melton, set decorator Anna Pinnock, visual effects editor Jim May, director of photography Allen Daviau, matte painting supervisor Syd Dutton, CG artist Kevin McIlwain, set decorator Cindy Carr, visual effects art director Christian Alzmann, model makers Grant Imahara and Salvatore Belleci, model shop supervisor Michael Lynch, ILM director of photography Martin Rosenberg, and actor Samuel West.
The programs take us through the various sets and discuss various aspects of the production. In addition to set design, we get notes about props and weapons, planning and previz, stunts and effects, camerawork, and other nuts and bolts aspects of the production. These pieces cover the material in a satisfying way. We get lots of good footage from the sets, and many nice details emerge. I’d prefer them packaged into one longer documentary, but I like the information a lot.
In Bringing the Monsters to Life, we find a 10-minute and one-second featurette. It depicts the creation of the creatures via behind the scenes elements and interviews with Sommers, Ducsay, visual effects supervisors Scott Squires and Ben Snow, executive producer Sam Mercer, previsualization supervisor Rpin Suwannath, animation director Daniel Jeannette, associate visual effects producer Joseph Grossberg, motion capture engineer Douglas Griffin, and technical director Raul Essig. They detail how they executed Mr. Hyde, the vampire brides, and other critters among various general challenges. We see a lot of pieces that demonstrate the work. Along with salient comments from the participants, those bits help make this a very interesting and informative show.
You Are In the Movie! presents a four-minute and 29-second piece with an unusual perspective on behind the scenes footage. The production mounted little cameras on various bits of equipment or set, and we get to see the shoot through those eyes. These snippets offer a cool look at the making of the flick.
During the nine-minute, 41-second The Music of Van Helsing, we hear from Sommers, Ducsay, and composer Alan Silvestri. We get some info about the movie’s score and themes. It covers the material in a somewhat breathless manner but it manages to provide reasonably useful notes about Silverstri’s work.
The standard reel of Bloopers goes for five minutes, 39 seconds. Though longer than usual, it presents the expected goofs and silliness. If you dig that, have a party!
Dracula’s Lair Is Transformed throws out a two-minute and 41-second piece. In addition to a few comments from Allan Cameron, this one shows time lapse photography of the creation and disassembling of some sets. That sounds interesting but actually isn’t. We don’t get a smooth view of the sets and the featurette doesn’t really go anywhere.
Called The Masquerade Ball “Unmasked”, we take a 25-minute, 29-second look at that sequence. We hear from Sommers, Jackman, Silvestri, Beckinsale, Mercer, Wenham, Daviau, Roxburgh, Ducsay, Cameron, Squires, Grossberg, choreographer Debra Brown, costume designer Gabriella Pescucci, lead Sabre artist Grady Cofer, computer graphics supervisor Doug Smythe, and art directors Giles Masters and Tony Reading. We learn about the dance choreography, music, locations and sets, cinematography, costumes and production design, and various effects. “Ball” digs into its subject well and provides an involving investigation of the shooting of this particular scene.