Van Helsing appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A generally excellent presentation, I found little connected to the movie’s visuals about which I could complain.
Despite a smidgen of edge enhancement at times, sharpness always remained rock solid. The movie consistently presented excellent clarity and definition. The haloes created slight distractions, but they didn’t make the image soft or ill-defined. I noticed no jagged edges or shimmering, and the movie lacked noticeable source flaws. It came without any defects and remained nicely 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 as monochromatic as something like Gothika, 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. The modest issues with shadows and the edge enhancement almost knocked down my grade to a “B+”, but so much of Van Helsing looked stunning that I thought it still merited an “A-“.
No waffling occurred when I determined my ranking for the Dolby Digital 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. Some will bemoan the absence of a DTS track, but given the extremely high quality of the Dolby affair, I didn’t miss DTS at all.
How do the picture and audio of this 2008 “Collector’s Edition” compare to those of the original 2004 DVD? Both were literally identical. It simply reused the old DVD and packaged it with a new second disc of bonus materials.
This means that all of the extras on DVD One duplicate those from the original release, while those on DVD Two are new to the Van Helsing experience. On DVD One, 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 get 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.
An interactive piece, Explore Dracula’s Castle lets you check out that location. It shows us parts of the building along with campy narration. It’s fairly tedious and doesn’t offer much entertainment.
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!
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.
”Movie!” also allows us to enable an interactive viewing mode. With this in action, an icon pops up onscreen periodically through the film. By “periodically” I mean “almost never”. The option became available a mere three times, and the first didn’t occur until the movie was almost half finished. All together, we see the icon three times, and the total of those snippets adds up to a mere 143 seconds! Adding insult to injury, they present shots already seen in the short featurette. Yeah, this format allows us to compare the behind-the-scenes shots with the film itself, but it takes us out of the movie - an ironic situation given this feature’s title - and isn’t worth the effort. The footage is cool but the presentation stinks.
The final featurette, The Legend of Van Helsing goes for 10 minutes and eight seconds. It looks at the background and development of the flick’s lead character. We see clips from the 1931 Dracula plus Van Helsing along with behind the scenes snippets and comments from Sommers, Hensley, Ducsay, English professor Elizabeth Miller, stunt coordinator RA Rondell, and actors Hugh Jackman, David Wenham and Kate Beckinsale. We hear a smidgen about the character’s origins and then get into the film’s take on him. That includes aspects of the character, casting Jackman, and stunts.
This featurette is a serious disappointment. I thought it’d tell us about other depictions of the character, but instead it mostly acts as a love letter to Jackman. It tells us a lot of fluffy positives about the actor and doesn’t toss out much useful information.
For those with the proper equipment, you can play a level of the Van Helsing XBox Game. I’ve got a PS2, so I’m out of luck. The Shrek 2 Preview is nothing more than a short clip to tout the DVD. In the trailers area, two promos for Van Helsing appear. We get its trailer plus a “Super Bowl spot”. The DVD opens with some Previews. These include ads for Shaun of the Dead, Seed of Chucky, and the DVDs for The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, and The Scorpion King.
With that we head to DVD Two and its new materials. From the disc’s main screen, we get a collection of featurettes that use a similar format. These include 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). In each of these, we go behind the scenes on the respective sets. We also 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.
Under “Evolution of a Legacy”, three components appear. Explore Frankenstein’s Lab follows the same formula found in the “Dracula’s Castle” piece on DVD One. This version is no more interesting or fun. In fact, it’s downright tedious.
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.
“Legacy” finishes with The Music of Van Helsing. In this nine-minute and 41-second featurette, 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 CE concludes with a collection of featurettes called Van Helsing: The Story, The Life, The Legend. It breaks into four pieces: “Dracula” (11:36), “Frankenstein’s Monster” (9:25), “The Werewolves” (12:28) and “The Women of Van Helsing: Anna and Dracula’s Brides” (14:28). Across these, we hear from Sommers, Roxburgh, Rondell, Jackman, Snow, Ducsay, Hensley, Grossberg, West, Beckinsale, Kemp, Squires, Alzmann, Mercer, Professor of English Elizabeth Miller, Professor of Literature of the Occult Stephanie Moss, costume designer Gabriella Pescucci, creature concept artists Patrick Tatopoulos and Crash McCreery, creature character art director Carlos Huante, vampire novelist Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, makeup effects artist Greg Cannom, Professor of English David Van Becker, co-model supervisor Andrew Cawrse, visual effects producer Jennifer Bell, and actors Kevin J. O’Connor, Silvia Colloca, Elena Anaya, and Josie Maran.
These programs give us a little about the historical antecedents of the various characters and then digs into how Van Helsing updates them and brings them to life. There’s too much emphasis on the movie’s take on things, as I’d like more history of the monsters. Nonetheless, we get a lot of good details about the decisions made for the film’s supernatural characters, so expect to learn a lot here.
Just to recap, rest assured that this CE of Van Helsing loses no materials found on the original 2004 DVD. As I mentioned earlier, this package’s Disc One literally replicates the prior release; the CE simply adds a second platter to the mix.
Despite a lot of potential, Van Helsing fails to succeed for the most part. The flick pours on the action but little of it sticks in this bland attempt to redefine the monster movie. As for the DVD, it offers excellent picture and sound plus a strong roster of extras. I can whole-heartedly recommend the DVD to fans of Van Helsing, but I can’t advise it to anyone else, as it just doesn’t bring its story to life.
If you want to own Van Helsing and don’t possess the original DVD, the CE is clearly the way to go due to all its extras. If you do already have the old disc, though, it’s tough to recommend an “upgrade”. Sure, the extra platter of supplements is nice, but it’s the only difference between the two, and it’s not worth the additional expense.
To rate this film visit the original review of VAN HELSING