Writer/Director/Co-Producer Stephen Sommers had been working on a smaller project until the idea to revisit the classic monsters combo took over his creative energies (and like his successful "Mummy" franchise, Sommers once again returns to the Indiana Jones template of two headstrong leads - one an obvious rebel - who bond while battling bug-eyed monsters and charismatic villains).
A sub-genre that began as a flippant remark by writer Curt Siodmak to "Wolfman" director George Waggner back in 1943, the verbal gag inadvertently spawned the studio's first ghoulish combo, "Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman," and enjoyed a good run over the next decade through various recombinations, adding Abbot & Costello when dopey humour was the only element that could milk a little more money before the genre's official retirement at the studio.
Some genre purists would certainly take issue with such an obvious effort to create new material by fusing the icons of literary classics, but Sommers' adrenalized upgrading for modern audiences isn't that different from Siodmak's first venture; the former's just over-cranked and way louder (aided by Alan Silvestri's outrageously bombastic score) in a 5.1 mix guaranteed to work out your home's subwoofer. "The Legend of Van Helsing" has Sommers explaining in concise terms his own reworking of Abraham Van Helsing, and the clip makes generous use of Universal monster flicks (capped by a cross-promotion shot after the credits), plus some behind-the-scenes production shots and blooper materials. (A larger chunk of bloopers appear in a separate featurette.)
"Sommersizing," is the process all visual effects undergo in order meet the standards set by the director, and the huge amount of digital work in "Van Helsing" dominates the discussion between Sommers and co-producer/co-editor Bob Ducsay, making for a very narrow discussion. Recorded soon after the film's final editing, it's understandable that effects are still swirling within the filmmakers' minds, but much of the conversation merely cites the cold Czech locations (gorgeous, nevertheless) and superb sets designed by Czech technicians, with film buff Sommers staying pretty much mum on other subjects.
A secondary commentary with actors Aussie Richard Roxburgh (Dracula), Shuler Hensley (Frankenstein's monster), and Britisher Will Kemp (Wolfman), however, plays like an acerbic, martini-dry Mystery Science Theatre episode, and though it's the first time the trio have seen the completed film, their collective jesting regularly bristles with sexual double-entendres, and is far more enjoyable than the Sommers/Ducsay pairing.
"Bringing Monsters To Life" offers good comparative shots between the blue screen and various levels of digital composition, including Robbie Coltrane (with reference dots on his exaggerated face) as he records Mr. Hyde's 'barroom brawler' voice. "You Are In The Movie" is a cute short, compiled from "secretly" planted cameras that recorded on-set filming, stunts, and a few bloopers. It's a one-gag program that's inspired, but never manages to hide the mundane pacing of filming, though seeing Hugh Jackman acting out his lycanthropic transformation sans makeup is pretty funny.
The last extras include some trailers, an interactive game called "Explore Dracula's Castle" (really just tracking shots coupled with narration), and an X-Box game demo. Universal has also released a 3-disc edition of the film, which contains the same cut (Sommers himself says all his theatrical versions are director cuts), and the same extras with a few additional featurettes. The other bonuses are the original versions of "Dracula," "Frankenstein," and "The Wolfman," which themselves appear in their own Legacy-branded collections.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan