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Van Helsing vs. Hellboy!
By Kurt Kuersteiner (© 2004 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine

 

There's been a couple of hot monster movies this spring, and not surprisingly, they've transformed into cool monster sets. The two we're dissecting today are Van Helsing and Hellboy.

Van Helsing has been a bit of a lightning rod for critics. After all, it desecrated the memories of not one, not two, but three different Universal Monsters. Stephen Sommers (the same director of the recent Mummy movies) rewrites the history and the origins of the original monsters. In fact, about the only thing that remained the same in his earlier movie were the remains of the Mummy itself. Everything else was changed. I suspect the real reason for the massive rewrites was that the director wanted to add as many special effects as possible. In the case of The Mummy, it was several dramatic plagues and the gradual regeneration of the monster, organ by organ. In the case of Van Helsing, nearly everything but the character names were changed.

Which leads us to the obvious question: If everything is so radically modified, why not come up with different names and make an entirely new and original story? The answer is money. Or to be more specific, marketing. People hear that Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman are in a movie, then they remember how much fun the originals movies with these characters were and they line up to see the new version. If Hollywood had an ounce of decently in them, they would start over from scratch. But of course, Hollywood is famous for indecency, so they recycle successful old ideas rather than create new ones. If you can overlook this exploitative shortcoming, it's easy to enjoy the movie. There is so much action, spectacular sets and computer generated special effects, you'll have a hard time finding five minutes to sneak off to the bathroom.

Sommers does a pretty decent job coming up with a weak plot to justify all the special effects. He has Dracula convincing Frankenstein to create a man-made monster so he can use the power from the freak to hatch thousands of vampire babies. And he needs the Wolfman to protect him during the day. It sounds stupid and it is, but it seems kinda plausible in the film.

Other famous characters are included in the story, like Igor, and Van Helsing himself. In the original Dracula, Van Helsing was an older doctor. In this movie, however, he's an action hero who uses a wide variety of The Wild Wild West type gimmicks to defeat the evil doers. You could say the flick is a mix between James Bond and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In fact, the movie begins with a cameo of Mr. Hyde, who looks and acts just as he did in T.L.O.E.G movie.

If you have a tough time accepting all four monsters in one flick, you'll love the politically correct second scene, where all the world's religions work together in the basement of Vatican to fight the forces of darkness. Never mind that the Inquisition was still occurring on the surface, as far as the movie is concerned, the Jewish Rabbis, Arab clerics, and Buddhists monks all work hand and hand with the Pope to destroy all monsters. (At least they know the monsters won't get sanctuary in any holy places.)

Hugh Jackman plays Van Helsing. He has an outfit similar to old time radio's The Shadow. Jackman was great opposite Meg Ryan in the romantic comedy, Kate & Leopold, and was perfect as Wolverine in X-men. He's good in the Van Helsing role as well. A subplot involves his lost memories about his past, but I don't think anyone gave a squat about his history. They just wanted more bullets, arrows, and spinning blades to cut down more monsters. Their wish was granted and then some. The obligatory explosion at the end rounded out the movie. Good triumphed and evil lost-- unless you notice how much money Hollywood made in the process. Then it's a draw.

As far as the Van Helsing card box goes, it looks rather drab. The images are dark and almost disappear against the black background and cluttered text. But I'm glad to say Comic Images made the cards themselves very attractive. They are clear (not grainy like many frame grabs often are) and do a good job telling the story. Moreover, they include a generous number of computer generated monster images. Many special effects movie cards don't, so this is a welcome change. There are 72 cards in the base set, 6 different foil cards, various autograph and memorabilia cards, and a binder.

The autograph cards are actually redemption cards, which is kinda a bummer for folks who want to save some unopened boxes. After all, what good is an autograph redemption card once the company closes or the redemption date expires? But it's becoming the norm as big shot stars wait till the last minute to get around to signing. Here's a helpful list of who signed and how many:

Hugh Jackman (Van Helsing) signed just 50 cards. Stephen Sommers signed about 300 or 350. The remaining four signed 500 cards each: Richard Roxburgh (Dracula), Shuler Hensely (Frankenstein's monster), Will Kemp (Wolfman), and Kevin J. O'connor (Igor).

Then there's Hellboy by Inkworks. The movie is based on the Darkhorse comic of the same name. It stars Ron Perlman, who played The Beast in the TV series of Beauty & The Beast. The main character is a demon who was summoned along with an army from hell to destroy our world for the Nazis and the evil Rasputin. (Yes, that Rasputin. Once again, history is rewritten to make it more exciting.) Hellboy is a baby demon that makes it through before the portal is prematurely closed. He is befriended by Professor Broom and grows up to help the good guys fight the monsters. Hey, the secret monster fighter plot is beginning to sound alot likeVan Helsing!

Fear not, the similarities end there, except for all the action, spectacular sets and computer generated special effects. (Small bladder babes and men with enlarged prostates beware.) There is also a healthy dose of humor which makes the blood bathing much more manageable.

This flick didn't rake in as much cash as Van Helsing did at the box office, but it certainly wins the originality contest between the two. Of course, the real credit for the idea goes to the comic book creator, Mike Mignola. Movies are becoming so expensive, Hollywood seems unwilling to invest big bucks on untried commodities. The same thing is happening to cards. When was the last time a company produced an original series from scratch?

But I digress. Movie cards are popular and Hellboy should be no exception. The images are attractive and clear, but the small photos on the reverse are too tiny to enjoy. Most are less than an inch wide and half an inch high! These may look fine on a computer monitor, but once they are shrunk down to actual card size, they're pointless. At least the fronts are good, and that's what matters most. The reverse text is entertaining as well.

There are 72 cards in the base set, 9 foil puzzle cards (which form a poster), 6 foil embossed "B.P.R.D." cards, 12 different costume cards and 7 autograph redemption cards. The folks who signed are Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien), Karel Roden (Grigori Rasputin), John William Johnson (Agent Clay), Rupert Evans (Agent Myers), Mike Mignola (Hellboy Creator), and Guillermo Del Toro (Director). There's also three box loader cards and one case loader foil card, plus a binder.

So this summer if off to a good start. Both monster movie and monster card buffs have no reason to complain. If you don't like Van Helsing, you can always go to Hellboy!

 

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