A few eons ago I mentioned that we were working on a CHUD book to be released at some later date by a major publisher. That is still happening, but it’s a very slow process. Over the course of the process you find out what works, what you want to do, what people like, and how much better your ideas are the more time you spend on something. For the book, Devin, Dave, and myself had to provide an idea of the approach we were going to take, and the results are collected below and will pop onto the site each day over the weekend. The following test chapter on easy target Van Helsing is not the pinnacle of what we can do, nor is it probably the kind of book we want to spend a lot of time on. As a result, the book that eventually gets published will be a lot looser and more fun, something more akin to what you’d expect. That said, I think there’s a lot of good stuff in this document and I didn’t want it to die a beggar’s death. This is the last draft we did, the third. Most of the jokes were trimmed, edits were done by the publisher, and some of the more vile attacks were sent packing. The result is kind of interesting if only as a "What If". Enjoy! – Nick
Every week, millions of Americans go to the movies. It’s one
of the biggest, most profitable pastimes in our culture and rightly so. Movies
change lives. They make us think. They make us cry and laugh and want to be
better people. Sure, on the surface it’s just a flickering image of attractive
people in fancy locations shooting laser guns, but anyone who can’t see more
than that has obviously never seen a movie. A visit to a theater is like a
religious experience — it’s communal, a ticket to visit a wonderland of
spectacle and excitement.
In the summer of 2004, millions upon millions of people
bought their Raisenettes, sat through fifteen minutes of mind-numbing trailers,
turned off their cell phones (well, some did), and escaped into the latest
expertly crafted Hollywood magic. How much dough did they spend at the
turnstiles? Try a 663 with six more zeroes on its ass. The only thing these
people wanted was to be moved, to walk out and feel as if the whole world could
be different. What they got was Catwoman, The League of Extraordinary
Gentlemen, more Ashton Kutcher… and Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing.
A nation wept and not in the good way, like when Henry Fonda
dies in On Golden Pond (well, he almost died), but in the way they do after hearing The Rock has been
cast as Atticus Finch in a remake of To Kill a Mockingbird.
What happened? The trailers looked great. The actors have
all previously been in good movies. Some of the directors have done fantastic
work before. Why did these, and so many other movies help bring us closer to
the arrival of the cinematic equivalent of the AntiChrist?
There’s a myriad of answers to why films disappoint us, but
there’s a good place to start, the place where movies are born. The script.
It’s time for
to realize, A Screenplay is A Terrible Thing To Waste.
BUT WHAT DO WE KNOW?
We’re not brilliant. We’re CHUD.com, a privately owned film
site full of piss and vinegar, praising worthy films while gleefully spewing
venom at those that truly deserves it. We don’t often spout a series of fancy
film words and drop the names of long-dead foreign directors to prove our case.
We don’t hold advanced degrees in movieology. We don’t even claim we could do
better if some studio executive gave us a $100 million dollar budget and told
us to get started (but we can be contacted at CHUD.com if anyone with significant disposable income is
interested). No, we’re just a bunch of people who love movies. And we’ve seen a
lot of them.
We’ve spent hours in movie theaters and in front of VCRs and
DVD players watching everything from the great classics of the golden age of
Hollywood to the latest subtitled imports from Asia, Europe and South America.
That gives us the ability to understand just why some movies are genuinely
horrible in every respect. It’s time that would have best been used developing
relationships with our family and members of the opposite sex, but someone had
to make the sacrifice and that someone is CHUD. We have forgone any happiness
in our lives so that people would know what they were getting into when they
slap down their hard-earned (or ill-gotten) ten bucks for a movie ticket.
And trust us here at CHUD, this is not an easy life. Some
movies, frankly, just really suck. Not that it’s always a bad thing — some
movies suck in a good way. We’re not afraid to say we’ve watched Dude, Where’s
My Car with the director’s commentary.
We’ll proudly admit to having Lucio Fulci’s Zombie in our DVD collection
(because after all, who doesn’t want to see a zombie fight a shark?). So after
watching more movies than the average optometrist recommends, we have become
experts on the ones that are really bad, and we have spent a lot of time
wondering one thing:
”Man, why is this movie so awful?”
We’re proud to announce that we have some of the answers.
And we’re even prouder to announce that we’re going to reveal them to you in
the pages that follow, breaking down the things that go into making a truly
terrible movie, and maybe giving some insight into what makes a good movie
work. In this book we may or may not be discussing the following things:
The journey from a really good idea in a screenwriter’s
head to a complete piece of crap in the five-dollar DVD bin at Best Buy.
Why sequels are often so very, very terrible.
The exact date
went into creative Chapter 11 and began relying solely on remakes and TV
How movie adaptations of comics, novels and other media
really work, and why you shouldn’t get all that nitpicky about them.
Why the collected works of Herschell Gordon Lewis
completely rock while the collected works of Uwe Boll should be buried in a
pit with nuclear waste that has a half-life of at least one millennium.
Who is the bigger weasel: the studio executive, the
agent, or the jerks who put movie trailers together.
And many, many more reasons why some movies start out as
brilliant, well-crafted screenplays with vision and originality, while others
are heartless crap, thrown together by committee, changed by egomaniacal actors
and directors, and squeezed into categories so that toys, Happy Meals, and
cereal can be sold.
What we’re here to do is peel back some of the mystique and
try to chart the path from great idea to celluloid colostomy. Where does the
good idea get derailed, or is it a good idea in the first place? What is that
shadowy beast ready to sabotage 99.7% of all sequels? What’s the real appeal of
coasting on existing ideas? Where do we draw the line between expectation and
fair criticism? How do we choose who becomes our heroes and who we line up in
the sights of our death ray? Who really deserves the blame?
Well, let’s find out. Let’s warm
up with a really easy target. A lay-up, even.
VAN HELSING 2004, Stephen
Why pick on Van Helsing when there were a dozen Catwomans,
Leagues of Extraordianry Gentlemen, Punishers, and Barbershop 2s that deserve
just as much abuse? Well, you’ve obviously not flipped through this book or
scanned the table of contents, because trust us, those movies are going to be
crucified as well. But we start with Van Helsing, because it’s the epitome of
everything wrong with movie-making. Of course, that is a distinction that will
surely be short-lived, as
continues to lower the bar year after year.
Van Helsing works as a movie only in the sense that a series
of still images flash in front of a bright light at a high rate of speed and
are projected on a large white screen, giving the illusion of movement.
Physically, it is a movie. It has credits and everything. If you were on your
way to see another movie and accidentally stepped into a theater that was
showing Van Helsing, you would be completely fooled.
AND IT STARTED OFF WITH A GREAT
Van Helsing was going to unite the classic Universal
monsters our grandads grew up with. Having the Wolfman, the Frankenstein
Monster and Dracula all in the same film is so fantastic that it even made an
Abbott & Costello film kind of cool. But, the big reason why the goofiness
of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein is better than Van Helsing is that it
actually featured the Universal monsters. While Sommers paid plenty of lip
service to those classic characters in the press, he took a big dump on them
when he made the movie. Rather than respectfully evoke the spirit of the
original Universal monsters (i.e. the original idea), Sommers film treated them
like bastard children. Here’s how Sommers’ tweaking of the classic mythologies
turned out, as we proudly present….
CHUD’S SNOTTY SYNOPSIS: VAN
Set in the late 19th century, the movie begins with Gabriel
Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) in
to find the murderous Mr. Hyde, leading to a battle with the grunting digital
creation whose dodgy quality sets the barometer for the rest of the movie’s FX.
Armed with his leather trenchcoat, pimp hat, Winger hair and unlikely weapons,
Van (as he’ll henceforth be identified) is essentially a glorified janitor,
traveling the world and cleaning up malicious boogeymen for The Knights of the
Holy Order, a secret section of the Vatican proclaiming themselves the “last
defense against evil”. In order to make our stoic hero seem mysterious or at
least slightly more than one-dimensional, the film has also retained Jackman’s
amnesia from his X-Men role (a “penance for past sins”, we’re informed), which
may also explain why he can’t seem to decide on an accent.
Van is given his new assignment: travel to Transylvania and
assist prince Velkan Valerious (played by random beefstick Will Kemp) and his
sister Anna (Kate Beckinsale, beautiful but looking a bit exhausted by the whole
affair) with their family’s blood oath to eliminate the threat of Dracula, the
present failure of which is preventing several generations of the deceased kin
from entering the gates of Heaven. Dispatched along with Van is gadget guru and
irksome narrative device Friar Karl (played by Lord of the Rings’ David Wenham
channeling a more annoying version of Martin Short’s Innerspace character), and
the duo begin their journey by ship and horseback.
Upon his arrival, Van using his gas-powered automatic crossbow that fires
approximately seventy million projectiles to save the Transylvanian citizens
from Dracula’s three brides, who have descended on the dumpy Romanian village
for a quick snack. Shortly after, as Dracula is loudly distraught over losing
one of his betrothed, Van and Anna sneak inside his castle and learn that the
dastardly vampire is trying to use the late Dr. Frankenstein’s “science” to
breathe life into his offspring, who hang in undulating sacks awaiting birth. For whatever reason Drac decides to use his
new minion the Wolfman (who is actually Velkan Valerious) as a vessel for the
energy captured during a massive lightning storm, which seems like a success
judging by the waves of shrieking digital imps that burst from their embryos
and descend upon the hapless nearby village to feed. But during the attack the
creatures suddenly all explode into green goop, which means the experiment
failed (obviously the electrical capacity of the Wolfman was the wrong
After escaping from the castle, Van and Anna find
Frankenstein’s Monster in the basement of the ruined windmill where he’s
apparently been hiding since the prologue.
In order to protect the Monster from being used as the vampire’s power source,
they load him onto a horse-drawn carriage bound for Rome, but the bitch-vamps
and the Wolfman each catch up to Van’s decoy carriage and the one actually
carrying the Monster. One quick fracas
later and everyone is suddenly in Budapest, where the remaining bride offers to
exchange Anna for the Monster at a huge masquerade ball, because Van (in the
process of becoming a werewolf from his scuffle with Velkan) wants the trade to
happen in a public place and it just so happens to be Hallow’s Eve. But since pretty much the entire population
of the city is a vampire, Drac gets away with his prize.
The heroes hurry back to
and discover the magic gateway that leads directly to Drac’s stronghold, a
gargantuan black fortress on a snow-covered mountain. Karl and Anna rush to the
tower about a mile away where Drac keeps his “werewolf cure” while Van
struggles to free the Monster from the lightning rig, but he’s just a moment
too late. The cavern full of baby-pods hooked up to electrical devices (which
the design team likely found in the trash barrel of The Matrix’s concept
artists) springs to life, unleashing a fleet of flapping fiends. At the stroke
of midnight, Van begins intermittently turning into a werewolf and learning an
Obligatory Plot Twist from Dracula, who explains that it was actually Van who
murdered him centuries ago and caused him to become a vampire and set
everything in motion and even stole his ring, the finger and all, because Van
is actually the Left Hand of God. WolfVan finally slays Dracula by leaping over
and simply chomping his neck, making him seem like quite a creampuff after all
his grandiloquent posturing and rambling threats. All the flying vamp-babies
then detonate upon daddy’s death, and Anna shows up with the cure but WolfVan
accidentally kills her by knocking her onto a rather comfortable-looking velvet
upholstered couch. The end.
The doorbell at CHUD HQ rang as the credits rolled and when
we answered it, the ghost of Lon Chaney Jr. slugged us each in the crotch just
for sitting through the entire film. No, lie. This actually happened. It still
hurts to run.
Read part two here.