Van Helsing: 2 Disc Collector's Edition (2004)

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Released 8-Sep-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Menu Animation & Audio
Audio Commentary-Stephen Sommers (Director) & Bob Ducsay (Editor/Producer)
Audio Commentary-Cast (Richard Roxburgh, Shuler Hensley, Will Kemp)
Featurette-Explore Dracula's Castle (3:42)
Outtakes-(5:40)
Featurette-Bringing The Monsters To Life (10:03)
Featurette-You Are In The Movie! (4:30)
Seamless Branching-You Are In The Movie footage via Seamless Branching
Featurette-The Legend Of Van Helsing (10:09)
Trailer-6 Trailers including Van Helsing & Shrek 2 (10:05)
Featurette-The Burning Windmill (6:38)
Featurette-Dracula's Castle (7:51)
Featurette-Frankenstein's Lab (6:32)
Featurette-The Village (8:10)
Featurette-The Vatican Armory (5:29)
Featurette-Explore Frankenstein's Lab (13:55)
Featurette-Dracula's Lair Is Transformed (2:42)
Featurette-The Music Of Van Helsing (9:43)
Featurette-Van Helsing - The Story, The Life, The Legend (48:04)
DVD-ROM Extras-Track The Adventure: Van Helsing Map
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2004
Running Time 126:10
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (77:03)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Stephen Sommers
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Hugh Jackman
Kate Beckinsale
Richard Roxburgh
David Wenham
Shuler Hensley
Elena Anaya
Will Kemp
Kevin J. O'Connor
Alun Armstrong
Silvia Colloca
Josie Maran
Tom Fisher
Samuel West
Case Amaray-Transparent-Dual
RPI $39.95 Music Alan Silvestri


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Danish
Dutch
Norwegian
Hebrew
English Audio Commentary
Danish Audio Commentary
Dutch Audio Commentary
Norwegian Audio Commentary
Hebrew Audio Commentary
English Audio Commentary
Danish Audio Commentary
Dutch Audio Commentary
Norwegian Audio Commentary
Hebrew Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

     From writer/director Stephen Sommers, the man who bought us The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, two of the greatest action/adventure movies of the last decade, comes Van Helsing - a tale of a monster slayer who is sent on a quest to Transylvania to rid the world forever of Count Vladislaus Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and to save the life of Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), the last member of Transylvania's royal family. To make things more difficult, Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) discovers upon his arrival in Transylvania that he is up against more than just the humble vampire. Accompanying Van Helsing on his mission is Carl (David Wenham), a 19th century version of James Bond's Q who, among other things, exhales some truly great one-liners throughout the course of the film, a highlight of which is "Why does it smell like wet dog in here?". I remember this moment induced a huge roar of laughter at the cinema but without seeing the scene that preceded it it's a little hard to appreciate here.

     No doubt many will be wondering if this is actually an American film, and I guess if this fact was determined solely on the nationalities of the four main actors it wouldn't be. But alas it is an American film which happens to star no less than three Australians and a Brit. Hugh Jackman puts in a very admirable performance indicating once again why he is one of Australia's greatest exports. David Wenham's performance in what is essentially the role of comedic side-kick is extremely funny and entertaining. It is certainly a diversion from his previous roles and a very interesting addition to his repertoire. While playing the role of Count Dracula, Richard Roxburgh with his accent and wig is barely recognisable. He brings to this much-played character a very entertaining fresh twist - indeed it is the uniqueness of Roxburgh's performance that is particularly notable. Having been played so many times before it is becoming inherently difficult to bring something new to the character which Roxburgh has succeeded in doing. Kate Beckinsale very near revives her role from her previous film Underworld, once again trying to vanquish, among other things, werewolves.

     As you might well have guessed this is a film that relies heavily on the use of special effects and while at times they are spectacular (the horses jumping the ravine is certainly a highlight), this once again proves that effects don't make a film - writing does. While Sommer's intentions were good, if not a little ambitious, the film is a tad clunky at times and doesn't quite deliver in the writing department. That's not to say it a terrible film - nothing could be further from the truth, as it is certainly a worthy addition to the action/adventure genre. However, given my fondness for the two Mummy films it is inevitable that comparisons be made and without being too over-critical Van Helsing simply doesn't compete with either of them. Despite its short-falls Van Helsing is still a fun couple of hours and is well worth a watch if just for the Australian talent.

     On a side I note I should point out there is nearly a minute of unskippable, unfastfowardable and unstoppable logos, warnings and disclaimers before you get to the menu - this is most annoying. However, if you keep pressing STOP immediately after loading the disc before the player reaches the first title (make sure you press it twice to disable the resume feature) and then press PLAY it will go straight to Title 1 - the movie.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

     Other than a few minor annoyances this is a very good transfer but like the film itself doesn't quite live up the standards set by Sommer's two previous films on DVD.

     The transfer is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

     Sharpness is of an extremely high level throughout the transfer - in fact it's almost too sharp at times. The result is that some of the exterior shots look quite harsh at times. One such shot is at 20:09, although there doesn't appear to be any obvious signs of edge enhancement. It's not often I say this about a DVD transfer but a little diffusion would have been beneficial to the image in this instance. The level of sharpness of course means there are many fine lines to be found throughout the transfer which naturally on interlaced TVs cause aliasing. Thankfully most of the aliasing is minor but it is frequent, often giving many edges a very slight shimmer. This is certainly a transfer that cries out for progressive scan. Shadow detail is excellent throughout the transfer, which is just as well as a significant portion of the film takes place in darkness - it is set in Transylvania after all. There is also some fine film grain present at times which seems to only accentuate the harsh look to the image.

     Colour's reproduction here is exemplary but there are few opportunities to notice this fact given the film's inherent darkness. There is, however, a handful of exterior matte painting shots like the one at 13:09 of Vatican City which clearly display the vibrancy of the colours. Indeed, that shot looks so good it makes me wonder if the special effects were ever transferred back to film before the transfer to DVD. The skin tones, too, are very accurate.

     MPEG artefacts are absent throughout the transfer, but only just. The bit-rate seems to walk a very fine line throughout the transfer, consistently bouncing from as little as 2.5Mbs to 10Mbs within a single shot. This is radically different from the two Mummy films which both have bit-rates that seldom drop below 7Mbs. I suspect the borderline bit-rate may have also contributed to the harsh look of the transfer. There is no telecine wobble to be found, in fact the image is d*** near rock solid. Film artefacts are nowhere to be seen.

     There are 16 sets of subtitles - English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Danish, Dutch, Norwegian and Hebrew plus English, Danish, Dutch, Norwegian and Hebrew commentary subtitles for both commentaries. I sampled the English track and found it to be quite accurate.

     Disc 1 is RSDL with the layer change occurring at 77:03. It takes place mid-scene although there is no movement in the image at the time, so it's really only given away by a brief pause in the sound. Disc 2 is dual-layered - it's reasonable to assume the layer change was placed between titles as I didn't spot one. The file size of the main feature is 5958Mb.

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

Audio

     The audio is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 at the paltry bit-rate of 384Kbs. Many of you will no doubt lament the lack of a DTS soundtrack (I do), particularly given that Universal has once again denied us a higher bit-rate 448Kbs Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The good news is we're not alone - Region 1 doesn't get DTS either. The bad news is we're not alone - Region 1 doesn't get DTS either. Those who have read my biography will no doubt be familiar with my gripe with 384Kbs encoding - among other things the audio rolls off at 18Khz not 20Khz. Many would argue that few people can hear these frequencies anyway, except perhaps those with virgin ears, so who cares. My argument is just on principle - if audio on VHS can reach 20Khz then so should DVD! Incidentally if the extras from Disc 1 had been placed on Disc 2 there would be enough room for DTS. A 754Kbs DTS track for this film would take up 712Mb.

     Dialogue is crystal clear with no sync issues at all.

     The music is by Alan Silvestri and is so full on at times it is very difficult to appreciate. Indeed this is one of my major complaints with the soundtrack as whole - there's such an unrelenting battering of loud sounds that it becomes difficult to differentiate the music from the sound effects.

     Surround use throughout the film is adequate but not spectacular. Apart from some occasional whiz-bang use of the rears like at 82:53 this is rather disappointingly a front focused affair. That is not to say the rears are silent during the intervening periods, on the contrary. There is a lot of light ambience and support for the score present in the rears, but typically the levels at which they have been recorded pale in comparison to the levels of the front speakers meaning they disappear into obscurity quite easily. Occasionally there are also some in-phase ambient effects meaning those with EX decoding will hear their centre back speaker come to life.

     The subwoofer is used extensively throughout the feature to support the effects and the score. However this is where the 384Kbs encoding really shows - while there is plenty of rumbling, the sound from the subwoofer is not very clearly defined and just doesn't quite deliver the punch that it should - it's a tad flat in other words. 448Kbs encoding or DTS would have made a difference here without a doubt.

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

Extras

     As we've come to expect with blockbuster movies like this there is a wealth of extras to be found, I only wish that a play-all feature had been adopted here like that used in the Lord Of The Rings Extended Editions or a single long documentary was made (although these don't pad out the back cover quite as well the distributors are saying to themselves) .

Menu

     The menus and sub-menus are all animated with audio. The menus on Disc 1 are fairly straightforward and easy to navigate. The menus on Disc 2 are a little less straightforward and do get a little confusing at times.

Audio Commentaries

     1. Director/Writer Stephen Sommers & Editor/Producer Bob Ducsay. Recorded only a week after competition of the film this is a very enthusiastic and informative commentary from the pair who incidentally don't mind a little bit of a friendly quibble. Plenty of ground is covered, and in great detail - the writing, casting, locations, and special effects shooting including some rather extravagant camera rigs to capture the flying sequences. Of particular interest was the casting of Hugh Jackman - at the time of casting Sommers hadn't actually seen X-Men and had chosen Jackman for the role based purely on a stage play he did in London. Sommer's sheer energy levels means there is seldom a moment of silence - this is a great commentary and well worth the time to listen to.

     2. Actors Richard Roxburgh, Shuler Hersley & Will Kemp. This is a very entertaining commentary from the three actors particularly given the recording of the commentary was also the premiere viewing for them. On occasion they do get caught up in watching the film - as you would expect - but still, moments of silence are few and far between which is to be commended. They regale us with many anecdotes from the film's production including a few practical jokes perpetrated by none other than David 'Daisy' Wenham. 'Daisy' in case you're wondering is Wenham's nick-name as he is often referred to in the commentary - though the origins of this nick-name were not quite uncovered here. While it had the potential to turn into an "oh that's a great shot" commentary the actors manage to keep the ball rolling for the duration of the film. This is a fine actors commentary - and there aren't too many.

Explore Dracula's Castle (3:42) (1.78:1, non-16x9 with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround)

     This is an interactive feature that allows you to explore Dracula's castle with your remote control.

Bloopers (5:40) (1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0)

     A mildly funny collection of some of the film's out-takes. It really would have been much better cut to music like the excellent goof reel found on the Vanilla Sky DVD.

Bringing The Monsters To Life (10:03) (1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround)

     This featurette looks specifically at the special effects work throughout the film including the motion-capture and pre-visualization processes. Despite its short length, the sequence of events involved in bringing these mostly digital characters to life is explained rather well. It's here you see the many stages of the animation process - one can only imagine the amount of computer processing power that was required to achieve some of these effects.

You Are In The Movie (4:30) (1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0)

     During filming, miniature hidden cameras were placed around the set to capture the production behind the scenes. As the voice-over proudly announces this was done with the producer's permission but unbeknownst to the actors - after all you wouldn't want to alarm them by telling them there were actually cameras on the film set would you? :-). Very gimmicky and ultimately pointless, you don't see anything here that you wouldn't otherwise see in a behind-the-scenes doco.

Seamless Branching

     This a 'follow-the-white-rabbit' feature where the footage from the above featurette is viewable while watching the movie by hitting enter when you see the icon appear on screen.

The Legend Of Van Helsing (10:09) (1.78:1, non-16x9 with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround)

     This is a broad look at the character of Van Helsing as well the casting of our Hugh Jackman in the leading role. It includes interviews with much of the cast including Jackman and Kate Beckinsale as well as David Wenham where a friendly rivalry between Wenham and Jackman surfaces.

Trailers (10:05)

The Burning Windmill (6:38) (1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround)

     A behind-the-scenes look at the sequence from the start of the film of the windmill burning down. With a combination of a miniature (well, a large miniature) and practical effects, this spectacular sequence was realised.

Dracula's Castle (7:51) (1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround)

     A look at the huge set and miniature of Dracula's castle. In order to accommodate the sheer size of this set it had to be built outside. The crew often refer to this as 'Sommer-sizing', something which is also alluded to in the commentaries.

Frankenstein's Lab (6:32) (1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround)

     Explores the rather elaborate set that was Frankenstein's lab where much effort was put into sourcing props from all over the world to give the set an 'authentic' look.

The Village (8:10) (1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround)

     In the tradition of 'Sommer-sizing', when the script called for shooting in a Transylvanian village the film-makers just built one from scratch . The result is a highly detailed, hyper-realistic set which even gives Scorsese's Gangs Of New York Five Points set a run for its money. This featurette also looks at the state-of-the-art cable-cam system which was used to capture the flying sequences through the village.

The Vatican Armoury (5:29) (1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround)

     This featurette looks at the Vatican armoury set and again highlights just how much effort went into what is only a short sequence in the final film. It includes a few interview grabs from Hugh Jackman and David Wenham.

Explore Frankenstein's Lab (13:55) (1.78:1, non-16x9 with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround)

     Just like the Explore Dracula Castle feature this is an interactive tour of Frankenstein's lab in which you can use your remote control to explore the set.

Dracula's Lair Is Transformed (2:42) (1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround)

     A time-lapse look at the transformation of the set in California from one set in the film to another.

Music Of Van Helsing (9:43) (1.78:1, non-16x9 with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround)

     Looks at the recording of Alan Silvestri's score and the different music themes that were used throughout the film.

Van Helsing - The Story, The Life, The Legend (48:04)

     1. Dracula - 11:38 (1.78:1, non-16x9 with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround)

     This is a brief yet interesting look at the history of the Dracula character including this, Richard Roxburgh's latest adaptation. As Stephen Sommers admits during one of the interviews "It's been done so many times, and done brilliantly several times and how do you top that?" - a very poignant question. With this in mind most would agree that Roxburgh's performance here as Dracula does stand out from the crowd. This featurette includes interviews with Richard Roxburgh and Hugh Jackman as well as clips from previous Dracula movies.

     2. Frankenstein's Monster - 9:26 (1.78:1, non-16x9 with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround)

     This featurette looks at the character of Frankenstein's monster including his history with clips from previous films. It also looks at the design of Frankenstein's monster in this film which, as Crash McCreery the creature concept artist points out, was designed to retain the original mythology yet still show the audience something different and exciting.

     3. The Werewolves - 12:30 (1.78:1, non-16x9 with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround)

     This featurette explores the werewolf and how the film-makers strived to give this, another well known creature from mythology, their own unique twist. Furthermore this featurette also details the processes the special effects team went through in creating the werewolf for the film.

     4. The Women Of Van Helsing - Anna & Dracula's Brides - 14:30 (1.78:1, non-16x9 with Dolby Digital 2.0)

     This is a look at Kate Beckinsale's character of Anna as well as Dracula's three gorgeous wives including behind-the-scenes footage of the extensive wire-work from the flying sequences.

DVD-ROM

     Finally there is also some DVD-ROM content but for the life of me I couldn't access it on my PC.

R4 vs R1

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

     The Region 1 version is not being released until the 19th of October. There appears to be three versions - a Widescreen 1-Disc edition, a Full-Screen 1-Disc edition and a 3-Disc 'Ultimate Collector's Edition'. Feature-wise the 1-Disc editions appear to be identical to our Disc 1, right down to the lack of DTS. The 3-Disc edition has all the same extras as Region 4 plus three other classic movies (presumably on Disc 3). They are Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931) and The Wolf Man (1941). Because all the extras that relate directly to Van Helsing appear identical on both the Region 4 and Region 1 3-Disc versions I see no reason to favour one over the other. However if you really want these three other movies you may favour the Region 1 3-Disc edition, but with a list price is US$54.95 you have to ask yourself how badly you want the third disc.

Summary

     Van Helsing, while visually spectacular and entertaining, doesn't quite reach the benchmark that Steven Sommers set with the two Mummy movies.

     The video transfer is very good but falls short of excellent.

     The audio transfer, like the video transfer, is a little disappointing suffering at the hands of 384Kb/s encoding.

     The extras are abundant and informative but the constant navigating gets a little tiresome - less separate titles and longer featurettes should be the motto here.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ben Hooft (My biography. Go on have a read...)
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-655A, SACD & DVD-A, using S-Video output
DisplayLoewe CT-1170 (66cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderPioneer VSX-D1011, THX Select, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete, DTS 96/24 & DD 5.1 EX. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D1011, THX Select, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete, DTS 96/24 & DD 5.1 EX
SpeakersFront & Centre: Monitor Audio Bronze 2, Surrounds: Sony SS-SRX7S, Surround Back: Paramount Pictures Bookshelf Speakers

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Comments (Add)
Is there really room for a DTS track? - AdrianW REPLY POSTED
Where is the Dolby Digital 5.1 448kbs - AXE REPLY POSTED
Extras - Anonymous
what a load of... - Anonymous