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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin -- Van Helsing: The London Assignment

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly look upon one of the many DVDs I own and I try to answer the question, "Why did I buy this again?"  This week, we get to a forgotten straight-to-DVD tie-in called Van Helsing: The London Assignment.  This entry is originally dated October 12, 2012.  

Let's have a visit with the Ghost of Movie Tie-Ins Past!

Warner Brothers declared 2003 to be the "Year of the Matrix."  We had The Matrix Reloaded that summer, The Matrix Revolutions that Christmas, and in between we got the direct-to-DVD animated prequel The Animatrix.  Lots of folks thought that maybe this whole "animated straight-to-DVD spin-off" might be the future of movie merchandise, so a few of the summer blockbusters of 2004 -- one year later -- also decided to try their hand at it.

One of those summer blockbusters, Van Helsing.  You may remember this 2004 gritty reboot of the Universal Movie Monsters.  Hugh Jackman played the legendary monster hunter and Dracula's arch-enemy Van Helsing.  In this reboot, Van Helsing is a professional monster hunter working for a secret order financed by the world's religions.  And in the film, he's dispatched to Transylvania to do away with Dracula, and along the way he runs into Frankenstein's monster and werewolves.  I finally got around to renting it a few years later...I thought it was OK, as a big, dumb action film.

But as I said, it was one of the films of 2004 that decided to try it's hand at the whole "direct-to-DVD animated prequel" thing.  And that prequel was Van Helsing: The London Assignment.  The other day, I was browsing in Liquidation World.  For those who've never experienced Liquidation World, imagine a dollar store expanded to the size of your typical department store.  I was in Liquidation World, when I spotted Van  Helsing: The London Assignment in a bin of DVDs for just $3.  Whenever I see a DVD for just $3, I usually think, "Holy moly!  I could buy this with my pocket change!"

(That's how I wound up with the super-special edition of Basic Instinct, which I really should get to sooner rather than later.)

Anyway, when a DVD gets down to the "but it with my pocket change" territory, I get a little loopy.  So I decided to buy it.  And I got to the counter, to find that it had been marked down to an even lower $1.75!  Damn, dude!

So I just finished watching Van Helsing: The London Assignment.  Actually, I watched it twice, because it's a very short half-hour long.

There's strange murders going down in London.  The victims are all vibrant young women, but their corpses are found drained of their life essence, leaving them all shriveled up and horrific-looking.  The secret order suspects some manner of monster is behind it, and Van Helsing is dispatched to London to track down the monster...but not kill it.  He's backed by the world's religions, of course, and they're in the business of saving souls, not ending lives.

Van Helsing arrives in London and he patrols the rooftops, swinging from a grappling hook gun like a Victorian-era Batman.  He eventually comes across another murder scene, and the monstrous killer gives his name as Mr. Hyde.  Van Helsing and Hyde throw down, but Hyde gets away.  Hyde reverts back to the form we all know as Dr. Jekyll, and we see he has quite a unique day job:  Dr. Jekyll is the personal physician of Queen Victoria.  During his exam of the Queen, we see him give her a potion that he's been working on, and we see his sinister plot.  It turns out Dr. Jekyll is unnaturally obsessed with the Queen...or rather, the young woman she once was.  He's been draining the youth out of the young lasses, and giving it to Queen Victoria.  This winds up turning Queen Victoria from the 70-year old wise woman we know from history, into a vivacious and buxom 20-year old.  Now that she's a young woman again, and the potion playing tricks on her memory, Dr. Jekyll plans to marry Victoria and then they can rule the UK from an underground lair beneath Buckingham Palace.

The next night, Van Helsing is laying a trap for Mr. Hyde.  Van Helsing enlists his weaponer Carl to disguise himself as a woman as bait for Mr. Hyde.  It works, Hyde appears, and Van Helsing and Hyde battle throughout the streets of London.  Van Helsing and Carl track Hyde back to the underground lair, rescue Victoria, and by perusing Hyde's notes, figure out that Hyde is really Dr. Jekyll and piece together his evil plot.  Dr. Jekyll comes in, and drags Victoria away, uttering the famous last words of all creepy stalkers, "If I can't have you...THEN NO ONE CAN!"  Van Helsing gives chase, Dr. Jekyll takes his potion and hulks out into Mr. Hyde, and they have their final battle in Victoria's Golden Jubilee Balloon in the skies of London.

When the battle is done, Hyde's body has disappeared into the waters of the Thames, Van Helsing rescues Victoria, and returns her to Buckingham Palace.  He explains that the reason for the whole "underground lair" thing was because the effects of the potion will wear off in daylight.  But before he goes, Victoria wishes to reward Van Helsing.  As I said, she's currently a vivacious and buxom 20-year old, so her reward is a very passionate kiss.  And, in a cute joke, the sun rises in the middle of the embrace, so when Van Helsing pulls away, he sees that Queen Victoria has turned back into the old woman we all remember from history class.  And remember, one of the effects of the potion is memory problems, so now Queen Victoria has no idea who the hell Van Helsing is.  She slaps him across the face, utters her catchphrase ("We are not amused"), and calls for the guards.  Van Helsing and his sidekick Carl get the hell out of there.

And at the end, Van Helsing tells Carl to go back to their superiors with a message:  "This isn't over."  And it ends with Dr. Jekyll riding off into the countryside by train, while Van Helsing pursues on horseback.

And that's how it ties into the movie, because the movie opens with Van Helsing and Hyde having their final confrontation in Paris.

So that was Van Helsing: The London Assignment.  It was good.  As it's only a half-hour long, it kind of strikes me as being an episode of the Saturday morning cartoon version that never came to be.  I am starting to have a little bit of trouble with these newer interpretations of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Rather than Mr. Hyde being just an evil guy, they try to make it more like a steampunk Incredible Hulk, with Mr. Hyde being large and superhumanly strong.  Which is good every once in a while, but it's becoming so common.

I already mentioned how he stalks the rooftops, with his long flowing cape/coat like a Victorian-era Batman.  Makes me kind of hope that DC does Gotham by Gaslight as one of their direct-to-DVD animated films.  I do remember that when the first pictures of Hugh Jackman in his Van Helsing costume leaked online, many said that it was a ripoff of the classic anime character Vampire Hunter D.  And in animation, the similarities are even more striking.

I am, however, impressed with the talent they got to work on this.  Yeah, Hugh Jackman is in as Van Helsing, but Queen Victoria is voice by the legendary voice actress Tress MacNeil!  And the young Victoria is voices by my #1 voice actress crush Tara Strong!  The script was written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, who have written tons of TV shows, comics, and cartoons, all with a sci-fi bent.  They spent money on this.

But in the end, as much fun as it is, it's ultimately forgettable.  Which is why I was able to snatch it up for just $1.75. 

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