Day 17 – Favorite story or collection of stories (short stories, novellas, novelettes, etc.)
New Space Opera 1, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Gardner Dozois, 2007
Discovering that there was a name for my favourite sort of sf was a major revelation. It turns out I adore good space opera. You get social drama and galaxy-spanning adventures and, usually, some awesome explosions. Winner! NSO brings together a whole bunch of very awesome writers with quite different takes on the genre, and it creates a rather heady mix of galactic civilisations, marvelous characters, and twisty crunchy plots.
Daughters of Earth, edited by Justine Larbalestier.
A collection of women’s science fiction from the twentieth century, basically one a decade from the 1920s, accompanied by a critical essay examining it in the context of its times and its impact on the field as a whole. It’s marvellous and introduced me to amazing stories, more writers I need to read, and incredibly interesting ways of thinking about science fiction as a field.
I don’t, as a general rule, do werewolves. And I don’t do vampires. Unless they are being hunted by Hugh Jackman or Wesley Snipes, or played by Kate Beckinsale or Richard Roxburgh.
I probably don’t have all the necessary background knowledge to fully appreciate the movie Van Helsing as much as I might like, because I’ve never actually read Frankenstein or Dracula, or any of the canonical werewolf stories. I think I know them fairly well, at least enough to get a majority of the references – like the Creature sailing off at the end of the movie – but there are probably some in-jokes that I miss. Still, I love Van Helsing. I’ve watched it countless times: it’s one of my fall-backs, for when I want a good action romp but don’t necessarily want to give it my full attention.
We watched most of it last night, and finished it off this morning, cos toooo tired. And I got a bit reflective.
Van Helsing himself: I like Hugh Jackman. I really do. I think he has a good acting range, and – having watched the blooper reel for the first time – he seems like a nice guy ‘in real life’. But I grow increasingly unconvinced by that hair, in this role. Aside from that… I think the mythology they’re suggesting for Van Helsing in this movie is totally awesome, and a little part of me wishes there could be a sequel, or prequel, to flesh that out some more. One of the my favourite parts of the whole movie is Dracula crooning “Gabriel… oh Gabriel…” because it’s so spooky. The movie, I presume, is suggesting that Van Helsing is the archangel Gabriel, sent to do God’s dirty work in the world, including killing he-who-became-Dracula – who was presumably a Very Naughty Boy even before he made his deal with the devil. The idea that at some point Gabriel had his memory wiped is intriguing, and I really want to know why: did he disobey God? Was it actually God being compassionate, seeking to give him a better life? And if so, did he become the Vatican’s hitman because it is all he knows? So many questions, and yet such fervent hope that they will never be answered, because no film could do it justice.
Dracula: Richard Roxburgh is so awesome. I could make an obvious joke here comparing Dracula with Bob Hawke, but I won’t… unlike with Jackman’s hair, I think the costume department struck the perfect note for Dracula, from head to toe. Not sleazy, as with many vampires, but delightfully understated in a “I am so rich that I don’t need to wear a shirt emblazoned with Armani” kind of way. I think Roxburgh delivers his lines perfectly – he has such great timing – and his angst over his children is held in wonderful tension with the fact that he doesn’t actually feel anything (he says). I really, really like the fact that we never see him as Dracula until the very end, fighting Jackman-as-werewolf.
The brides: is it just me, or do we never actually find out the brunette’s name is? Anyway, I love the brides. They are very trampy, of course, in their dress, but they’re also vicious killing machines. And they show sisterly solidarity; I’ve seen Big Love, I know how important that is in a polygamous situation. And, the line “hhhello, Anna” is also an awesome one.
Carl: who doesn’t love David Wenham? This is such a hilarious role for him – and, of course, he’s the third Aussie in this cast, which I think is quite remarkable for a Hollywood movie. I love his turn as a medieval Q, and I think he does it delightfully. No Diver Dan and no Faramir; a slightly bumbling monk – sorry, friar – trying to keep his big hulking friend out of trouble. So, much like any other sidekick then. Still, he’s fun.
Anna: ah, Anna. Such ridiculous costuming. Seriously, that corset? And those leggings? Crazy. And who the hell thinks you can run in those boots? Oh right, a male director who wants to appeal to testosterone-crazy boys…. Anyway, I don’t mind Anna. I like that she is mostly self-reliant, that she doesn’t fall for Van Helsing immediately, and that’s she totally impatient with thinking about the situation and just wants to run headlong into it. The one thing that bugs me about her, really – and about the plot as a whole – is that she seems a bit flighty. Seriously, would she really abandon her whole family to Purgatory in an attempt to save her brother, when she doesn’t yet know that Dracula has a cure? Pft.
Igor: I was way more excited than is, perhaps, appropriate when I discovered that Igor was played by the same man as played Benny in The Mummy (“Hey O’Connell, looks like I’ve got all the horses!”). He makes a magnificent henchman, and I really like his delivery, too.
The Creature: eh. I don’t have particularly strong feelings for him either way. He’s obviously meant to come across as noble and self-sacrificing, as opposed to everyone who wants to kill him and thinks that he’s a monster. But sometimes he just comes across as a willing martyr; perhaps that’s when I’m in a particularly cynical mood. I do like the costume, though, with the random green lights.
The plot: oh yeh, I guess there is one. I like the battle with Mr Hyde, even if it is fairly extraneous, except for setting Van Helsing up as a misunderstood soul. First big problem: why did the Vatican wait until only the two Valerius children were left before sending Van Helsing? Particularly when the Cardinal know that there is a link between Van Helsing and the situation there, what the insignia on the scroll and his ring being the same? It makes the Vatican seem unnecessarily selfish. Moving on… I like that the brother became a werewolf, but I think that it could have been done better.
Watching it this time, there are gaping plot holes all over the place, which nearly put a dampener on my enjoyment of the movie. Particularly, that’s an awfully long time between the first and twelfth peels of the bell, when Van Helsing becomes a werewolf. But… I choose to ignore those holes. The characters are interesting enough, and the effects are good enough, that I am happy to put my critical faculties largely on hold and just enjoy it. Because if I can’t do that, then I will never be able to watch a good exploding action movie again, and then my life would be over.
Also, I was reminded on this rewatch how much I like the music in this film. During the carriage race it really adds to the drama, and there are a few bits where Van Helsing’s theme adds delightful atmosphere.