It's not often that I give a film score ten points out of ten - remember that I rate them in terms of entertainment value, rather than in terms of how well they fit their film. To date, actually, only two have managed to gain that honor. The first is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, by Hans Zimmer.
The second is Van Helsing, by Alan Silvestri.
I can think of only two reasons why you shouldn't go get this score - either you have cranky neighbors or you're prone to migraines. And all film music collectors know the first is a completely pointless reason.
In the 1990s, Alan Silvestri's action career was sporadic at best - following the early successes of Back to the Future, Predator and The Abyss, Silvestri turned to lighter projects (such as Forrest Gump), with only a few enjoyable exceptions (Judge Dredd, Volcano). In 2001, Stephen Sommers' The Mummy Returns re-kick-started Silvestri's action career with a bang. The composer provided an immensely orchestral, swashbuckling score that touches on Erich Wolfgang Korngold and rivals (and, in my opinion, surpasses (sacrilege!)) John Debney's Cutthroat Island. As a result of this, film music collectors found themselves howling in dismay two years later when Silvestri was fired off the set of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
In Van Helsing, Silvestri takes the bombast of The Mummy Returns and, somehow, manages to elevate it to even more epic levels. In addition to a full and brass-heavy orchestra, not to mention a massive percussion section including some extremely deep, pounding taiko-like drums, Silvestri employs an enormous adult choir to emphasize the film's Gothic nature. This choir is at work almost instantly in the album's powerful first track, "Journey to Transylvania," in which a very prominent theme representing Count Dracula is introduced. It's one hell of a motif, instantly recognizable not only by its brazen, staccato notes performed by brass and choir, but the relentlessly pounding rhythm beneath.
The next two tracks, "Burn it Down" and "Werewolf Trap" continue in a similar, action-driven fashion, introducing a few more themes (notably a bittersweet, heroic one for Frankenstein's Monster in "Burn it Down" that is accompanied by wonderful swooshing string arpeggios).
It's the fourth track that really convinced me at first listen that this would be an exceptional score. "Journey to Transylvania" introduces Van Helsing's primary theme, which, even more so than Dracula's, is instantly recognizable by its rhythm rather than its primary melody. It's in 5/4, an uncommon meter, and is accompanied by frenetic drums, choral chanting (sometimes) and a rambling acoustic guitar (an interesting choice, as there are no Spanish or Latin American influences in the film to speak of, but it works well and adds a level of complexity to the theme that would otherwise be missing).
"Attacking Brides" is an action piece in classic Silvestri style, with chopping strings, pounding drums, brassy themes and choral majesty. The following track, "Dracula's Nursery," offers a few respites from the action to touch on some suspenseful non-music that may remind Silvestri collectors of the spookier tracks in Predator and The Abyss. In between the suspense, a theme is glimpsed that, sadly, is given little airtime on the album (though it is used quite generously in the film). It's a motif that represents Dracula's attempt to bring his children to life, and its waltz-like structure reflects quite well the demonically playful nature of Count Dracula himself. The theme conjures up memories of Danny Elfman and Elliot Goldenthal's similarly Gothic efforts for the Batman franchise.
"Useless Crucifix" and "Transylvanian Horses", the latter especially, offer some of the best action music on the CD. Yet another theme is introduced here (for a summer blockbuster score, this is a thematically surprisingly complex effort), more bright and brassy than the others. It has the same adventurous energy as Rick O'Connell's theme from The Mummy Returns, and would have sounded perfect had it accompanied Jack Sparrow and company (I'm convinced that this theme was originally written for Pirates of the Caribbean).
"All Hallows' Eve Ball" opens with a wonderful touch, a slow waltz whose playful darkness again reminds of Danny Elfman. It's got tantalizing little solos hidden all through it - flute, cello and solo female voice - and after a minute and a half, breaks out into a true waltz, a wonderful outburst of orchestral and choral majesty. Sadly, the waltz runs for less than half a minute before the track ends with a bit of action music that, by now, seems weak in comparison.
"Who Are They to Judge?" offers little new material, excepting a minute or so of more romantic material that reminds of Judge Dredd. Neither, to be honest, does "Final Battle", but that six-minute suite is a very decent summary of Silvestri's action themes for Van Helsing.
Up until now, Van Helsing seemed like it would be a nine out of ten - very strong action material, but a little repetitive and VERY relentless. Then, "Reunited" hit me, and I instantly notched Van Helsing up to ten out of ten, because here we are introduced to a love theme that, in terms of pure emotional power, rivals John Williams' "Across the Stars" for Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. This four-minute suite offers lots of orchestral variations on that theme, each better than the next - horn, strings, flute solo, harp and tutti - before the track, and score, ends with the choral variant on Van Helsing's theme.
Fans of large-scale action, adventure and epic love themes, grab a CD, crank the volume and hold on to your armrest, because Van Helsing is van hel (aren't I funny?) of a thrill ride. No Silvestri collection is complete without it. It's a real shame that the glorious waltzes Silvestri wrote for Dracula, not to mention that wonderful love theme, aren't given more attention, but those complaints aren't enough to diminish my esteem for this effort.
Recommended to anybody.