Alan Silvestri successfully scored Stephen Sommers frenetic monster mash, The Mummy Returns, and is back for the first would-be blockbuster of the summer 2004 season, Sommers' further reworking of classic horror tropes, Van Helsing. The film is another steroid-fuelled throwback to classic Universal horror, though more Gothic in tone, concerned with vampires, werewolves and Frankenstein's creature, rather than the ancient Egyptian undead. This is old school horror retooled for the PG-13 popcorn market, turbo-charged with a dash of Bond, a smattering of Indiana Jones, and a side serving of Matrix style action. Silvestri's score by necessity has to be loud to be heard at all, and loud it certainly is.
Essentially Silvestri follows the conventions of the modern blockbuster orchestral action score, though the writing is somewhat less intricately Rozsa-eqsue than The Mummy Returns, more propulsively honed. The film runs for 131 minutes with a score running most of that length. The album is a relatively brief 42 minutes, which seems about right, as already at that duration there is a certain amount of repetition – listening to the full score on CD is something only Silvestri fanatics would probably wish to do.
The album version of the score encompasses everything from a central hammering motif to a bold, brass laden main theme to lamenting solo violin to choirs sighing in wordless wonder or chanting Carmina Burana style, all of which is highly effective. Good, solid action adventure writing with which there is absolutely nothing wrong, but which doesn't quiet have that something truly special to put it in the ranks of the greats. 'Burn It Down' is a fine example of the sort of enjoyable writing which simply doesn't linger in the memory, while the blistering action of 'Werewolf Trap' could come from any one of a hundred comparable scores.
Where Van Helsing really comes to life musically is in the set-piece cue 'Journey to Transylvania', a catchy fast-paced riff on what may be a cymbalom, arching compulsively forward over a descending chord pattern with lusty choir and relentless percussion. This material is reworked in 'Transylvanian Horses' and 'Reunited' – while otherwise the score progresses through intertwined heavy action, rousing moments of brass lit triumph and brief passages of moody ambient atmospherics. One other notable cue is 'All Hallows Eve Ball', complete with ghostly wordless soprano – from Deborah Dietrich, who served similar duties on John Williams' Minority Report – and tortured solo violin, the music developing into a short dark waltz before the action once more takes over. 'Who Are They To Judge' offers some more emotionally engaging material – evocatively angular strings dancing behind a percussive pulse before another action maelstrom, while the finale, 'Reunited' finds some real heart in all the fury, developing a genuinely affecting love theme.
Rather like the film for which it is Van Helsing is big, brash, expertly crafted, but ultimately overbearing. It does what it sets out to do perfectly, and had the film been a little less maniacal in its desire to assault the audience might have had space to develop the melodies which could have lent it film music glory. As it is, it is simply a superior summer action score from which an excellent 15 minute suite might be derived, though it doesn't result in an album many will still be spinning come autumn.