Van Helsing: The London Assignment

Ever since The Matrix made a killing selling animated add-ons to its sequels called “The Animatrix” everyone has been out to cash in by re-treading the same idea, even though The Matrix sequels themselves are now regarded as somewhat of a failure. Van Helsing: London Assignment is just another iteration in a never ending trend of copycatting as a way to squeeze as much money as possible out of potential fans pockets. Only, how many seriously hardcore fans does a movie like Van Helsing actually have? Not enough to justify releasing a half-hour animated feature on DVD. But they’ve gone ahead and done it anyway. Van Helsing: London Assignment is something of a prequel to the theatrical movie that debuted this summer to mediocre reception and initially strong, but fast fading box office numbers. If you saw it, like me you probably enjoyed it. If you didn’t, you probably don’t feel like you missed out on anything… and will no doubt live happy lives without giving it another thought. But interested or no, London Assignment picks up right before the movie begins, with an animated Van Helsing (voiced by Hugh Jackman) in his first encounter with the infamous Mr. Hyde. For this adventure, he’s again accompanied by the mousey friar inventor Carl. Of course if you’ve seen the movie this makes absolutely no sense since Carl’s first encounter with Van Helsing comes in the movie… maybe I should shut up, it’s just a cartoon. Shut up it’s just a cartoon seems to be London Assignment’s general philosophy, with the story shooting all over the map in tone and scattered storytelling being the order of the day. At times it’s pretty gory, no doubt trying to sucker in all those rabid anime fans and their disturbing obsession with blood. If that’s their goal, they’ll probably succeed, because bad animation without coherent plot progression and lots of entrails is generally standard fare for most of the beloved anime hanging around out there. Maybe this thing just wasn’t created for me. Anyway, Mr. Hyde’s dastardly plot is to murder young women, steal their souls, feed those souls to the Queen of England, make the Queen of England young, beautiful and stupid, and then marry her so he can presumably have sex with her in wedlock, thus avoiding pissing off god. Mr. Hyde’s lair is hell… or something that is a close approximation of hell and coincidentally exists in the basement of Buckingham Palace. You’d think the palace guards might notice the smell of sulphur. So Van Helsing tracks down the monster, shoots off all sorts of gadgets, sprays Holy Water, things happen and Mr. Hyde’s evil and confusing plot is defeated. Oh and Hyde turns into Dr. Jekyll once in awhile. I mean really, what’s the point here? The only good thing about London Assignment is the voice acting. So often in these things they get lame impersonators to mimic the voices of the actors who made the characters famous. But both David Wenham and Hugh Jackman show up to voice their characters. Heck, they don’t’ just show up, they do a fantastic job. Both sound like they’re really into it, which tells me that neither of them read the script in advance. Somewhere in the muddle of extra features thrown on this DVD, Hugh Jackman claims that they spent as much time making this thirty minute animated feature as they did on making the Van Helsing movie itself. This tells me that either they hired extremely slow animators or that Stephen Sommers is some sort of pepped up, high speed, super director because I can’t believe they spent more than a week or two creating London Assignment or the extra stuff on this disk. But first let’s talk about presentation. They let you skip the trailers. That’s always a good thing. On a budget release like this, you can’t take that for granted. Oh and the movie is on the disc… um and it’s clear I guess and also in widescreen. It’s just mediocre animation, I mean how much do you really care about things like visual quality or sound? You probably don’t, but it’s there and all done up typically sharp. Moving on, there’s some nice interviews with Hugh Jackman in which he deludes himself into thinking London Assignment is some great, important thing. He talks about how cool it is to be a cartoon character and then seems to be doing some sort of paid advertisement for London Assignment. Does he really believe it’s great? Hugh is such a nice guy, I think he’s just being generous. Still he’s affable and charismatic, so the interviews aren’t painful. He could be selling aspirin and I probably still wouldn’t mind listening. There’s extra info on Van Helsing the movie on here too in “Van Helsing: Behind the Screams”, a special which looks like it was designed to air on the WB and hosted by Josie Maran, one of the models who played as a luscious bride of Dracula in the film. Josie delivers all of her lines like she’s reading from cue cards, but stopped taking reading lessons some time after third grade. She’s pretty though, so whatever. Also included is a making of the Van Helsing video game… which is irrelevant and another feature called “Animatic to Animation”. Storyboards folks. Is there anything more boring than staring at storyboards? Ok, maybe production stills. Look, this isn’t a good cartoon none of you are going to buy the DVD, so what does it matter if it has extras? Actually, lets give them some credit for even bother with extras. I don’t think I would have.