Home > Reviews > VAN HELSING: THE LONDON ASSIGNMENT – John van Tongeren


vanhelsingthelondonassignmentOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the recent phenomenons in the world of motion pictures are straight-to-video animated spin-offs based on major feature films. Virtually every Disney animated classic has its own straight-to-video sequel, the recent Chronicles of Riddick has been given Dark Fury as a bridge-gap between it and the original Pitch Black, and the 2004 summer blockbuster Van Helsing has Van Helsing: The London Assignment. Essentially a prequel telling of Gabriel Van Helsing’s first encounter with the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character who appears at the beginning of the cinematic film, it is directed by Sharon Bridgeman and features the voices of many of the same actors who played in the live-action movie, including Hugh Jackman, Robbie Coltrane and David Wenham.

One thing than these animated spin-offs do is give relatively unknown composers a chance to emulate their more illustrious contemporaries by scoring movies based on the same source material. Alan Silvestri famously wrote one of the best scores of his career for the original Van Helsing, and while John Van Tongeren is hardly an unknown, his work on the TV series The Outer Limits, and his work assisting other composers in the Media Ventures stable has not really brought him into the big leagues. I’ve been of the opinion that Van Tongeren has been one of the most under-valued composers in Hollywood for a long time, and that he needed a break. It’s so unfortunate that, now that he has been given his break on this film, he has largely failed to deliver.

What’s so disappointing about Van Helsing: The London Assignment is its lack of scope and ambition. Silvestri’s score was an over-the-top celebration of Gothic horror, full of full-throated choral work and an enormous orchestra pounding out an array of exciting action cues. Van Tongeren’s score makes use of the massed ranks of the Hollywood Studio Symphony, but somehow seems far too muted, far too restrained, as though he lacked the confidence in himself and his compositional abilities to really go for broke. Worse yet, at times the score is boring, with long chunks of music seeming under-developed and under-written. Despite the album only lasting 30 minutes, it seems to drag on for much longer.

Some of the tracks are interesting enough. “The Appearance of Mr. Hyde” promises much with its mock-baroque solo violin work, fat brasses and exciting action tempo, and “Love Potion Mr. Hyde” features an interesting waltz-like combination of solo violin and harpsichord, but much of the rest of the score fails to live up to the same levels. The rest of the time, Van Tongeren delivers pedestrian action cues which could have been written by anybody, very little in the way of innovation, and virtually no defining thematic content – even the conclusive “Van Helsing Main Title” is unmemorable in every way. There’s a bit of nondescript sneaking around music in “Dumbwaiter Shaft” and others, and two fairly impressive set pieces in “Tower Bridge Fight” and “Attack of the Beefeaters”, although quite how a group of 70-year old tour guides could take on an immortal vampire hunter with this kind of energy is amazing!

It’s as though Van Tongeren totally ignored Silvestri’s lead and decided instead to write an anonymous action score with no consideration for the style set out by its musical sibling. Worse yet, parts of the score revert to synth-orchestra at times for no apparent reason, although to give Van Tongeren the benefit of the doubt this may have been due to time and budgetary constraints rather than anything else. Overall, this a very disappointing release by a composer who I had hoped would impress given an opportunity such as this. It’s quite surprising that Decca invested so heavily in releasing this score because, quite frankly, it pales into complete insignificance compared to Silvestri’s excellent original.

Rating: **

Track Listing:

  • The Appearance of Mr. Hyde (2:26)
  • Testing Van Helsing (1:28)
  • Assignment London (1:12)
  • Mr. Hyde Says Hello (2:36)
  • Love Potion Mr. Hyde (2:59)
  • Carl The Demon Bait (0:53)
  • Underground Chase (4:21)
  • Disappearance (1:29)
  • Attack of the Beefeaters (2:08)
  • You Please Me (0:31)
  • Dumbwaiter Shaft (1:22)
  • Lies, All Lies (1:22)
  • What You Fear Most (2:19)
  • Tower Bridge Fight (3:02)
  • This Isn’t Over (2:18)
  • Van Helsing Main Title (1:15)

Running Time: 31 minutes 08 seconds

Decca B0002757-02 (2004)

Music composed by John Van Tongeren. Conducted by Dave Metzger. Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by John Van Tongeren. Recorded and mixed by Michael Stearn. Edited by John Finklea. Album produced by John Van Tongeren.

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