The Man with the Golden Pun: “Troy” and “Van Helsing” Fail Miserably at Whatever They Were Trying to Do

May 20th, 2004 | By | Category: Columns

This month was going to be a review of the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice, because it is a horrible adaptation of a wonderful story. However, Eileen and Andrew shamed me into writing about movies that had recently come out. Why? Because, according to Andrew, I would never shut up about them otherwise. Also, there’s a theme here. May is Crappy Adaptation Month!

I shall dispense quickly with Van Helsing, because of the crippling number of narrative and cinematic flaws. However, in typing that sentence I have already spent more time thinking about this screenplay than the actual writers, which should give you a feel for the quality of filmmaking you can expect as you shove your hand into your cubic quart of popcorn and wait for the lights to go down.

Van Helsing is about a brave, amnesiac orphan whose sworn duty is to fight as many CG creatures as is humanly possible. In this quest he is given an effeminate friar (the excellent David Wenham) and a Romani princess (a CGI Kate Beckinsale). Oh, also, the Vatican gives him a huge bag full of weapons, because apparently he doesn’t know how to fight vampires. (Obviously the Vatican feels the same way about vampire-hunting the way it feels about sex education.) He is related to the Dracula novel because they used the wood pulp from a ground-up copy to stuff his boot lifts with it. Here, the similarities end.

Dracula, played with scene-chomping glee by Richard Roxburgh, manages to keep the movie afloat as long as he’s onscreen. Lines such as “I. Ahm. HOLLOH” seem destined for a midnight chorus in ten years, and he actually takes the time to 1) enjoy the camp of this film and 2) emote. Unfortunately, he’s not CGI, nor does he have huge boobies, so he’s often relegated to a subplot while Van Helsing fights werewolves and Kate Beckinsale runs towards the shoulder-height camera a lot.

This reminds me of Troy, because a lot of people run at the camera in Troy, and because Troy is the point of this review. There was more to like in Troy, which is why the huge errors infuriated me much more. How bad an adaptation was it? A short transcript of the film follows.


Odysseus: There are no gods in this, so I have to come up with a theme that might work. How about “Our names will live for a thousand years?” That won’t get old.

Achilles: I’m going to go fight. You, eight year old child, are going to die alone and cowardly because you are not going to fight like I am. My name will live for a thousand years!

Odysseus: I was wrong. Sorry. I’m just…going to go away until the last scene.


Paris: Why am I here? Shouldn’t a goddess have given me an apple or something?

Helen: I’m a German model! From Sparta.

Paris: I’m a British Trojan!

Helen: My darling!


Priam: I must pray to the gods.

Hector: Okay, dad. LOSER!

Genevieve: You can’t make this without gods, can you.

Priam: I have a magic sword that should stay in the Trojan bloodline! It’s almost as good as a god.

Genevieve: *drowns herself in her neighbor’s 143 ounce Coke *


Achilles: I’m Brad Pitt.

Apollo: Good thing they built my temple outside the protective city walls. Nothing says “honor your absent gods” like leaving me defenseless.

Hector: They’re defiling the temple!

Achilles’ Sergeant: You’re defiling the temple!

Achilles: Hello? No gods!

Sergeant: Oh. Right. Nice job!

*they plunder *


Paris: I looked in a mirror today, and my hair was as shiny as ever! The gods have blessed me.

Andromache: I’m Hector’s wife. *weeps *

Priam: I really feel like I should be praying to a god here.

Hector: Shut up, Dad.


Agamemnon: I will CHEW THIS SCENERY until I am NOMINATED for an OSCAR, dammit!

Odysseus: Actually, Peter O’Toole’s in this, and he’s up next.

Agamemnon: Fuck! Then bring me Achilles’ girl, so we can get a plot going.

Achilles: You will regret this!

Briseis: This tearful speech will go on my audition reel!

Genevieve: *chokes herself with her neighbor’s Milk Duds box *


Helen: Hector! Thank God we could take a break from the people with whom we have no sexual tension to have this lust-laden moment with one another!

Hector: Riiiiight. I–have to go. My wife is weeping somewhere, and I promised to bring her back some tissues.

Helen: I’m trying to go to the Greek camp, but there’s no goddess here to stop me.

Hector: You and Priam with this gods crap!


Achilles: Man, it’s only been a week! This is great! I thought this siege would drag on for ten years or something!

Briseis: I need to establish that I possess a knife.

Achilles: Cool. I need a love scene for the ladies at home.

Briseis: Sure.

Genevieve: *pauses in her suicide attempt, realizes there’s no tension here either, continues to gouge at her heart with a plastic knife *


Hector: I feel like this siege should be taking longer.

Paris: God, have you SEEN my cheekbones? I should go out and fight!

* he tries to fight *

Paris: And by “fight”I mean “scrabble for safety like a worm on a sidewalk.”

Hector: Someone needs to die!

Helen: Actually, he takes me home at the end of the war.

Hector: Oh. Well, uh, missed the memo.


Patroclus: Achilles, my man, we are TOTALLY gonna thrash some Trojans!

Achilles: No. You’re far too young for war, despite the fact that I brought you over on my boat.

Patroclus: Oh yeah?

* steals Achilles’ armor, gets killed *

Hector: Whoops.

Achilles: I AM ENRAGED!

Genevieve: You made the kid nineteen. I’ve been outraged for two hours.


Hector and Achilles: *fight *

Priam: This would have a lot more resonance if Patroclus had been older. Or maybe if a god had intervened?

Andromache: *weeps *

Helen: God, I hope I get that Gap ad soon.

Achilles: Bitch, did I mention I’m the best warrior ever?

Hector: Any reason for that?

Genevieve: YES! GODS!

Hector: *is killed *

Achilles: *drags *

Genevieve: *tries to crush her own head in the spring mechanism of her seat *


Priam: May I have my son back? My Oscar speech compels you.

Achilles: I’m Brad Pitt. I couldn’t be compelling if you stuffed me with magnets.

Priam: Right. Shall I take your girl as a plot device?

Achilles: Right on, my man.

Genevieve: *finally finds the sweet sweet peace of death by smothering herself with a cubic quart of popcorn *

I would finish the review, but I literally cannot stand to type out how the movie ends, because it is so egregiously wrong that I expected Bruce Willis to make a cameo as Aeneas. (That honor actually went to Jonathan Taylor Thomas of AI fame.)

The moral of the story is this: the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice is a terrible adaptation, in the wrong era, with the wrong tone, and about eighteen key plot points removed.

It’s also a chance for you at home to look up the meaning of “relative masterpiece,” because this is one if ever I saw it.


Genevieve is a prolific writer of speculative fiction living in New York, but you’ll never find her there because millions of people live there and Genevieve likes her privacy. Examples of her fiction can be found in Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, Federations, and numerous other magazines and anthologies. Her first novel is forthcoming in 2011. Also? She has terrible taste in movies.

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