For a cinephile, there is nothing more disappointing than to be snuggled into your viewing chair, all ready to watch a movie and then to realize your DVD is unplayable. Sadly, this is what happened to me the other night as I was ready to watch Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. This movie has been out-of-print for a while and the going price for copies is a bit high. Therefore, I had gone to iOffer last year and purchased what is now an obvious bootleg copy. You get what you pay for and, in this case, I apparently got burned. I have since purchased a legit VHS copy on eBay so maybe I’ll cover it sometime in the future. For now, I had to go with another choice.
A few years back, it seemed to be a trend to release an animated direct-to-DVD sequel or prequel to a major motion picture as part of a marketing campaign. They did it with Hellboy and The Chronicles of Riddick. No surprise that we were given Van Helsing: The London Assignment in 2004 to coincide with the Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale release that same year. Most people hate Van Helsing but I actually enjoyed it. Yes, the story is a bit convoluted and the CGI is not that good at times. But seriously, turn your brain off and enjoy it because its leaps and bounds better than the endless dreck SyFy cranks out every week and you have actors who can at least perform. In some ways, I think the animated film works even better.
The events in Van Helsing: The London Assignment take place prior to Van Helsing. Hugh Jackman is on hand to provide the voice of Gabriel Van Helsing as he did in the theatrical release. David Wenham is also back as the voice of Carl, the monk who serves as the proverbial sidekick. From the very first frames we know that there is some old school love going on as we see the classic Universal logo in black and white. Dr. Jekyll (voice of Dwight Schultz, best known as Lt. Barclay from Star Trek: The Next Generation) has already developed the formula to turn himself into Mr. Hyde (voice of Robbie Coltrane, Hagrid from the Harry Potter series). Jekyll is older than he is usually visualized and is much more evil as he and Hyde work in tandem. Jekyll is quite mad and in love with Queen Victoria. Using Hyde to hunt down women and capture their souls, Jekyll is transforming the queen into a young woman with an ultimate goal of making her immortal.
Van Helsing works for the Vatican and is ordered to London to hunt down Jekyll and Hyde. Now, if you’ve seen the 2004 flick, you know Van Helsing is really more of a Batman-like character, using devices like grappling guns to hunt down the monsters. We’re treated to such background devices as the Golden Jubilee balloon and the not-yet-finished London Bridge. Van Helsing saves the queen but Hyde escapes at the end, leaving Van Helsing to chase him to Paris, which is where the theatrical film begins. As that movie begins, Hyde is terrorizing Paris with Van Helsing on his trail. More great visuals as we see Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower (under construction). A brief battle ensues with Van Helsing killing Hyde, who transforms back into Jekyll moments before his death. There is reference to Hyde being shot and their encounter in London, which provides continuity. However, there is a moment where Van Helsing seems to be surprised by Hyde’s size despite having already met him. The CGI doesn’t quite hold up and, to be honest, was a little sketchy even at the time of the release.
We don’t get a traditional Jekyll and Hyde story here. Rather, we get an interpretation of the characters turned on its’ side. Think of it as an alternate universe version. As mentioned, Jekyll is older than he is usually seen and certainly far more the mad scientist fanatical type. Hyde is much bigger and far more beastlike. He somewhat resembles the 1931 Fredric March version, just on some serious steroids. I like what we’re given here as it was fresh and worked within the world of this Van Helsing. I also really enjoyed the animation and felt the short running time of 33 minutes worked to its’ advantage of telling a story in concise manner. Jackman does a great job of getting into the role. Not all actors can pull off voice work in animated productions but his performance worked here. I though the animated Hyde worked much better than the CGI version and, therefore, makes this Hyde overall more entertaining than the live-action one. Judith and Garfield Reeves Stevens did a great job of writing a short story that told not only offered a self-contained adventure but led us seamlessly into the main movie. They are best known amongst genre fans for working with William Shatner on a series of Star Trek novels.
Van Helsing: The London Assignment seems to be out-of-print but used copies can be found online for as little as $3. It is well-worth tracking down even if you didn’t like the live-action movie. It’s also on YouTube but I’d check it out sooner than later as Universal seems to have blocked previous uploadings.
March Hyde Madness ends this weekend with a final look at what the legendary Boris Karloff does with the role opposite Abbott and Costello. We’ll also have some final odds and ends as the number of Jekyll and Hyde movies seems to be endless.