Director: Len Wiseman
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, Bill Nighy
(out of 4)
She's a vamp!
A bit better upon a second viewing (and probably because of its attractive cinematography), Underworld is a dream project for Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: the Apocalypse RPG players, fulfilling the “what if vampires fought werewolves?” scenario, but at the end of the day it isn’t anything more than a pretty picture – style without substance. The film is beautiful looking but emotionless at its core, not unlike its vampire heroine Selene (Kate Beckinsale), who spends the bulk of the picture in one unchanging ice-queen pose.
This might not have been a problem if the movie didn’t ask us to believe in a love story between her and a human named Michael (Scott Speedman), who is mysteriously being hunted by the thousand-year adversary of the Vampire nation – the Lycans (werewolves). The backstory that emerges involving the true origin of both werewolves and vampires is interesting, and what happens to Michael at the end engages, but there is no point in the story that we are shown exactly why Selene is attracted to him. In fact, many characters make strange decisions in this film, which I suspect is only done to push the plot along and not because of any logical or emotional causes.
The standout performances here are by Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen, each elders of their particular clans (Vampire and Lycan, respectively). It’s too bad that they are balanced out by a horrible performance by Shane Brolly (playing a “bad” vampire to Beckinsale’s “good” vampire). He wants Selene to be his bride; she’s just interested in avenging the death of her family. A curious decision is made, however, in that her plight really isn’t given any emphasis among the scenes of vampires-in-human-form exchanging bullets with werewolves-in-human-form. The thing is, it really doesn’t matter who wins the war since we are not able to care about any character in particular. The film would rather devote itself to its Gothic visuals and John Woo-style action sequences (which are curiously uninvolving – it made me yearn for the Blade Movies).
Uncle Frank Cotton Returns
Underworld is the equivalent of the pretty-boy rock star who would rather spend the evening in front of his full length mirror instead of attending the party. There is some worthwhile eye-candy – werewolf transformation effects are quite good, and some early shots of Nighy’s character Viktor still decomposed remind one of Frank’s lack of skin in Hellraiser, but sadly the movie cannot match the Gothic tone of The Crow, or the giddiness of Blade or The Matrix. I suspect, however, that the film would make a great background visual on a big screen at your local Goth/industrial club.
– Bill Gordon
Fight Club 2
The extended cut of Underworld has the typical jibber-jabber commentary with director Len Wiseman, Beckinsale, and Speedman. Amusing in the sense that vacuous Beskinsale says things like “Oh, that’s a bit of nasty business, isn’t it?” in that cute British accent, it also features a passage with Wiseman explaining how he implored the CGI guys to make the werewolf transformations more “animatronic.” Well, Len, why didn’t you just go with animatronic in the first place Featurettes include a very hilarious piece called Fang or Fiction which serves as a half-hour advertisement for the film dressed up as a “documentary.” It’s worth watching for its Ed Wood inspired awfulness. Some cool trailers round out the 2-disc package, including a clever teaser for Resident Evil: Apocalypse.