There is an ongoing war between the vampires and the werewolves in Underworld

In Underworld, it is one that is mired in
violence and multigenerational hatred

Horror films are full of creepy creatures and things that go bump in the night. Movies such as the classic Universal horror flicks of the thirties have created a whole mythological world inhabited by creatures such as vampires and werewolves. Underworld represents a clash between these two forms of monsters here portrayed as a feud between cultures. While this film is an interesting concept for the die hard horror fan the implementation here leaves a bit to be desired.

There is an ongoing war between the vampires and the werewolves, one that is mired in violence and multigenerational hatred. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is the Death-Dealer, a vampire who specializes in the assassination of Lycans, the vampire name for the werewolves. She is planning on assuming the leadership of the vampire nation but this move is under internal attack by Kraven (Shane Brolly) whose challenge is based on the growing threat of vampire - werewolf hybrids. These hybrids threaten the security of vampires by having the best attributes of both creatures, the speed and strength of the vampires combined with the ability to move in the light. Selene awakens the ancient vampire Viktor (Bill Nighy) from his centuries of sleep to help sort out the mess. To add to the mix she is also becoming romantically, well at least physically, involved with an intern Michael (Scott Speedman). Their relationship takes a really bad turn when Michael is bitten by a werewolf.

Perhaps it’s not politically correct to note but these inter-species affairs never turn out well. As noted previously this has the potential for an interesting screen play. Since the Underworld story involves a significant departure from the standard mythos more exposition was desperately needed. I felt that that audience was thrown into the mix without enough character development to ground the audience and induce the much needed emotional investment in their predicament. In an apparent effort to compensate for a lacking dialogue certain scenes are lifted from other popular films. Some of the action appears to have been done in the vein (pun intended) of the Blade and Matrix flicks. When Selene visits the vampire armory (never knew they needed one), we see the vampire equivalent of James Bond’s beloved ‘Q’. There is even a touch of the classics with the love story between two feuding houses, sort of a Romeo and Juliet with fangs. There is little here for the audience to sink their teeth into (okay, the puns will stop, I couldn’t help it). Between the light dialogue, internal inconsistencies and general disregard for the nature of physics, a film with potential is relegated to something best seen on late night cable.

Unfortunately the cast falls a bit short in Underworld. Beckinsale is a beautiful actress. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I think she looks incredible in the Matrix issued, skin tight black rubber outfits. Here she continues a trend of films that include Brokedown Palace, Last Days of Disco and Pearl Harbor where she regrettably fails short of giving enough emotions to pull of the character. Speedman seems to drift through the film unable to maintain the emotional level of commitment to make even the love story work. Brolly does a passable job as the somewhat over the top villain. I would have loved to have seen a top notch villain like Gary Oldman in this role. Now there is an actor that could have brought some life to this tale. Nighy role demand an increasing amount of decaying makeup. While the best of actors would find such appliances difficult to act through he does his best as the venerable former vampire leader. In all there is a lack of connection between the members of the cast.

Director Len Wiseman started his professional career in the art department mostly involved with the prop area. His credits in this field include Stargate and Independence Day. He brings a great deal of interesting visual aspects to the film but there is really little substance behind it. This is not only his first time as director he also wrote the screen play here. While this is an interesting start there is much work ahead of him. For one thing the pacing is uneven. What expository information there is finds itself punctuated by the almost random violence. As a screen writer he concentrates too much on the plethora of sub plots instead of giving a bit more background. In a film like Underworld the audience needs a well established set of rules. It really doesn’t matter if the rules are realistic as long as they are followed within the context of the story. The inconsistencies mount up until the viewers cannot help but to be distracted. On the up side the sets are perfect Goth, they are atmospheric, dark and well done. The lighting conveys a sense of danger that the story unfortunately cannot maintain. A little less use to strobe lights would have been nice. he framing mostly centers on the main field of vision without the usual widescreen additional details. In many films it is those little things happening almost off camera that add to the realism.

At least the Underworld DVD mastering was done with some attention to detail. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is typical well done with fairly good use of the surround speakers. The ambience provides an echoing almost haunting feeling. There is one caveat, the audio is mix is extremely loud. I had to pull the gain down to listen at a comfortable level.For the most part the anamorphic 2.35:1 video was crisp and clear. Even in the darkest scenes there was little in the way of defects although I did not a little breakup at the edges. The disc was light on extras. The included featurettes show some of the details in production but I had the feeling that I’ve seen it all before. There is an animated comic book that held my interest but I can’t see myself returning to it anytime in the near future. Underworld is mostly eye candy, intriguing to look at but not exactly something that you have to pay attention to in order to understand what is going on. Hard core horror fans may get into Underworld a bit more but for most investing in the graphic novels of similar theme would be best.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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