Adam-Troy Castro - Saturday, January 24 2009 6:55:41 On Breaking the Rules and Bad Movies
...One way of putting it, really, is that while there is, in storytelling, an exception to every rule...there is also a rule to every exception. You *must* have a reason for what you do, and the larger the liberty taken, the more important the rule broken, the more defensible that reason must be. Breaking primary rules is a risk that should only be taken by absolute genius; i.e, it was okay for Picasso to draw both eyes on the same side of the nose, but the same stylistic trick would doom the career of a charcoal portrait artist working out of a kiosk at a suburban mall.
...I'm as amenable to empty roller-coaster popcorn entertainments as the next guy, maybe even more so, but there was really no proper way to enjoy Van Helsing. It was not just a zero on the brain matter ledger, but a negative number there. Its stylistic excesses, numbing action scenes, and ritalin-deprived editing aside, it required not just the shutting down of the brain to accept its plot holes, but the regular expenditure of brain energy just to make them go away. I've already mentioned the infamous two-day month and the fall-through-the-ground-into-the-convenient-cave that discovers the Frankenstein Monster, there's also the heroine belonging to the only family who has ever been able to stand up to the vampires for generations, who exults the second Van Helsing kills one that nobody's ever managed to pull off such a feat before. This is a little like finding out that the most famous, most feared sheriff in the province has never actually succeeded in arresting somebody, which is to say acceptable if the whole point of the story is that he's a fraud, less so if we're supposed to take the story's estimate of him at face value. I could keep going. Add to that the fact that the editing literally, again literally, LITERALLY, made my wife vomit, and you can understand why I deeply regret losing two hours of my life to this thing.
I have occasionally argued with people who waved their hands and said that as long as the movie had Hugh Jackman and swordfights and great CGI they didn't care whether the story was any good or not, and have always responded, "Ahhh, but there's no reason you can't have those things AND a good story, and if you only need the ingredients without the stew then you're saying you don't mind a movie that calls you an idiot to your face."
Or to put it another way: in the context of a good gag, a slapstick injury to the groin can be funny. All hail, among others, Laurel and Hardy. But the movie IDIOCRACY, set in a Kornbluthian future where the national IQ has plummeted fifty points, posits a hit TV show called "Ow! My Balls!" which is nothing but endless footage, sans story, of one unlucky guy falling splay-legged onto picket fences and whatnot. In the context of that movie, thirty seconds of it is pretty damn funny. The prospect of sitting in one's easy chair and watching for an hour or more as that guy gets kicked in the gonads is...not just bereft of entertainment value...but again, a negative number on that ledger. A few seconds is okay. You would be profoundly depressed after seeing the whole thing.
Van Helsing was the "Ow! My Balls!" of action movies. It reminded me of that game we used to play as kids, Round-Robin, where everybody wrote two sentences of a story, folded over the paper, and handed it to the next person, who would continue the story based on the last few words visible. The stories completed in this manner never made any sense, and could be risible because of that. But Van Helsing was written by people who had access to prior reels and should have been able to remember facts already in play. That two-day month is unforgiveable. It's an insult to the audience, who they trusted to not think back five minutes. Similar to that Arnold Shwarzenegger movie where his very much flesh-and-blood character is shot in the palm of the hand by a bullet that goes right through -- he wraps a cloth around out and is perfectly okay and unwounded in scenes that take place only a few hours later -- the offense is such that to NOT stand up and say, as Annie Wilkes did, "Don't you people have memories? This is cock-a-doodie nonsense!", is a genuine abdication of your own responsibilities as an occupant of the third row.
Van Helsing was cinematic finger-painting with bodily fluids, a compressed reel of intestinal gas with pretty pictures. I've seen more impressive films on soap dishes. My wife made a more impressive film when she vomited. There was no so-bad-it's-good about it; it was the theatrical equivalent of biting into a hot dog and finding a vein. Playing it for the prisoners at Guantanamo would be a war crime. It was one of the five worst movies I've **ever** seen, an actual pain to sit through, and I'm very much counting the ouerve of Ed Wood. It was B-A-D that spells Moon BAD. BAD.