Van Helsing: The London Assignment (2004)

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Released 25-May-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Animation Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Van Helsing: Behind The Screams
Featurette-The Making Of The Van Helsing Game
Trailer-Vivendi Games
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2004
Running Time 31:49
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Sharon Bridgeman
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Alun Armstrong
Robbie Coltrane
Hugh Jackman
David Wenham
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music John Van Tongeren


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes, Jekyll smokes a pipe
Annoying Product Placement Yes, Van Helsing himself.
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Over the years, the marketing machines have come up with many and varied ways of earning extra cash from the release of a flagship film. From little plastic characters at your local McDonald's, to many and varied items of apparel, to spin-off TV shows, soundtrack albums, and the ubiquitous sequel, the options are seemingly endless. It is not a simple business of just making and releasing a film, it is an entire "marketing strategy" that encompasses everything from targeted advertising to tailoring the release date, and timing it with the release of all the other spin-off merchandise. In a bid to find a way to earn even more money from their major releases, Universal have looked at the success of the Animatrix concept, grabbed it with both hands, and run as hard and fast as possible. For both major Universal (US) "summer" films this year, animated prequels will be released. Coming later in the year is The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury, an animated prequel to the live-action release The Chronicles of Riddick (itself a sequel to 2000's cult hit Pitch Black, which has conveniently been retitled The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black to bring it back into line with the new film's title - confused yet?), while for now we have Van Helsing: The London Assignment, an animated prequel to Van Helsing.

    Okay, so it is a total marketing gimmick, but Universal has at least taken it reasonably seriously. All major characters recurring from the live action Van Helsing are voiced by the same actors, which means we have "our" Hugh Jackman and "our" David Wenham back together again as Van Helsing and Friar Carl, and the great Robbie Coltrane channelling Mike Meyers Fat B****** as Mr. Hyde. On top of that, they have used established Korean animation outfit Sunwoo Entertainment to produce the visuals, under the supervision of Kazuchika Kise, the man responsible for overseeing the animation on well respected anime titles Blood: The Last Vampire and Ghost In The Shell 2, with voice direction from Jack Fletcher, the director of anime-inspired TV series The Ninja Scrolls.

    The story for The London Assignment is set in the days leading up to the start of the Van Helsing movie. A mysterious killer is stalking the streets of London, wrecking havoc, and causing mass hysteria. Over at the Vatican, the Knights of the Holy Orders have decided to take matters into their own hands, and dispatch their number one man Van Helsing to put a stop to the evil doings. Once in London, Van Helsing finds a tale of intrigue linking the huge and menacing Mr. Hyde to the mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll, and then all the way up to Queen Victoria herself. As far as stories go, it is a nice working of the Jekyll and Hyde tale in with that of Jack the Ripper, mixed about with a generous dash of magic and evil spirits, to come up with something that is actually quite interesting, at least if one can put aside their knowledge of the original stories on which it is based. Then again, as the live action Van Helsing pretty much threw out the traditional stories behind Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein, this re-telling is no more outlandish than those.

    For the most part, this animated prequel actually works very well, and is an enjoyable way to spend another half-hour with characters already made familiar in the live-action movie. Hugh Jackman and Robbie Coltrane are great as the voices of Van Helsing and Mr. Hyde, while David Wenham yet again steals the entire feature as Van Helsing's trusty side-kick Friar Carl, getting almost all of the funny lines. The story is a rather clever re-imagining of the classic tales it is based on, and the viewing experience is almost as much fun as watching the live-action film itself. The only real problem, and it is really more of a nit-pick than anything else, is that there are some minor continuity errors between this animated prequel and the live action Van Helsing. While these do not damage the story of the animated prequel (they are very minor points, such as Van Helsing using the semi-automatic cross bow in the prequel despite supposedly seeing it for the first time in the live-action movie), and are probably indicative of when the prequel was written in comparison to the movie more than anything else, it would have been nice to do without them.

    I am hardly an expert on animation, as the normal anime storylines are usually far too serious for my liking, but to my untrained eyes, the animation looks very nice here with the 2-D character animation melding very nicely with the 3-D physical models, but lacks a little fluidity. Movements are quite blocky, more like a fast slide-show, and that makes the action sequences a little less engaging than they may otherwise have been. In the end, this is probably worth a rent for fans of anime, as it will not be often that major stars like Hugh Jackman and Robbie Coltrane will lend their voices to this type of animation. For fans of Van Helsing, the live-action movie, this disc is a must-see, and will be well worth the rental dollars (purchases are probably best left to obsessive fans), as the included half-hour making of the live-action movie featurette makes this a great hour's worth of entertainment and information.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer for Van Helsing: The London Assignment is, as should be the case for a brand-new, directly to video animated release, very good, albeit with one caveat - it is not 16x9 enhanced.

    It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and as noted above, this transfer is not 16x9 enhanced. This is an almost unforgivable slip by Universal. Luckily the transfer they have provided is good enough to largely overcome the lack of enhancement, but this is a dangerous precedent to set.

    The transfer is extremely sharp, with enough detail to make out every little nuance of the animation. There is no grain present at all (although according to the credits this was transferred to film before moving to video), and there is no low level noise. Shadow detail (such as it is in animated works) is excellent with the darker portions of the image remaining extremely clear.

    Colours are rich and detailed, making the most of the Victorian setting for some rather Gothic looking combinations, but they are also bright and vibrant when necessary.

    As with most animation, especially animation of this nature, this transfer does not get away completely without any aliasing, although fortunately it is kept to a minimum with only the short segment at 27:10 being particularly distracting.

    The subtitles are word-for-word accurate, well paced, easy to read, and for once very attractively rendered.

    There is only around an hour of content in total on this disc, so not surprisingly it is single layered, and therefore does not contain a layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    This is an excellent audio transfer, and is really quite a pleasant surprise.

    There is a single audio track on this disc - the original English dialogue presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 384kbps).

    Dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times. Audio sync (as far as this is applicable to an animated feature with little effort given to matching lip movements) is spot on throughout the transfer and is never an issue.

    The score, credited to John Van Tongeren, is relatively standard fare. It is workmanlike, keeping up the sound without doing anything outstanding.

    Surround presence is reasonable without being spectacular. It is certainly better than would normally be expected from this type of release, delivering some atmospheric ambiance and even some directional surround during action sequences, but the surrounds do tend to fall silent on a frequent basis.

    The subwoofer does a handy job backing up the score and on-screen action, and has plenty to do.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The extras are a bit of a mixed bag. They have nothing at all to do with the London Assignment, but will be of interest for fans of the Van Helsing franchise (and it is probably quite safe to assume that the vast majority of people watching this will fall into that category).

Menu

    The menu is static with animated intros, themed around the movie, and features Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio. Strangely enough, it is also 16x9 enhanced, despite the disc containing no 16x9 enhanced feature content.

Featurette - Van Helsing: Behind The Screams (28:26)

    This "extra" (which is barely shorter than the main feature) is all about the making of the live action Van Helsing movie, and is essentially an extended version of the standard EPK style featurette. Not that it does not contain anything interesting - on the contrary, it has a large amount of behind-the-scenes footage, plenty of information on effects and stunts, tons of interviews, and even a rundown on the which old Universal monsters appear in the film - it is just that everyone involved wears a cheesy grin while proclaiming it to be their best ever movie-making experience. Not something that will probably bear repeat viewings, it is still a great watch for fans of the film...and will almost certainly appear on its eventual DVD release. Presented at 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

Featurette - The Making Of The Van Helsing Game (6:52)

    Presented at 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio, this short featurette gives a brief glimpse at the game based on the movie. More an extended advertising featurette (it contains Hugh Jackman proclaiming that it will have some of the best gameplay ever seen in a computer game, with the conviction of a used car salesman proclaiming the virtues of their oldest car) than a behind-the-scenes effort, it is still worth a look for the stories of the actual game developers, and for a chance to see some of the actors in action behind the microphone recording dialogue for the game.

Vivendi Games Trailer (0:59)

    For those who don't know, Vivendi is the French-owned company that, until a short while ago, owned Universal studios. This trailer is actually a little incorrectly named, as it is actually just a trailer for the Van Helsing game (available now on any console platform willing to waive the licensing fee). Presumably the DVD authors thought it would look a bit suss to use the term Van Helsing for every menu item. Presented at 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This disc has only recently been released worldwide, so reliable review information is hard to come by. Based on what is available, the following comparison is between Region 4 and Region 1. Our disc is dual-coded for Region 2, and from the available information the Region 2 version would appear to be identical. This will be amended if and when extra information becomes available. The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     Apparently the storyboard comparisons are not very good (the storyboards are supposedly very small, and hard to see), while the Hugh Jackman interview (about his voice acting) is apparently very short. Despite this, it does give a (very slight) edge to the Region 1 version, so that has to be declared the winner.

Summary

    Van Helsing: The London Assignment is an enjoyable sojourn back into the world of Van Helsing, and will easily please fans of the live-action movie. Hugh Jackman and Robbie Coltrane are excellent, and David Wenham simply brilliant in the voice roles, lending this one of the best short-feature animation voice casts you are likely to encounter.

    The video is excellent, being crisp and clear, with well rendered colours and plenty of fine detail. Unfortunately it is not 16x9 enhanced.

    The audio quality is very good. With reasonable surround presence and an engaging audio mix, it does more than just present the sound.

    The extras only relate to other members of the Van Helsing franchise, but as the vast majority of the people who watch this disc will fall into that category, it doesn't really matter. They are not all that extensive, and are a little too marketing heavy to be must-see, but they certainly add value to the DVD release.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Nick Jardine (My bio, it's short - read it anyway)
Friday, May 28, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-555K, using Component output
DisplayLoewe Xelos 5381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS787, THX Select
SpeakersRochester Audio Animato Series (2xSAF-02, SAC-02, 3xSAB-01) + 12" Sub (150WRMS)

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