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Underworld

01/11/2003. Contributed by Mark R Leeper

Buy Underworld in the USA - or Buy Underworld in the UK

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If a vampire loves a werewolf, where can they set up housekeeping together? Nowhere. At least not in a world where werewolves and vampires have fought for a thousand years. Mark discovers a film of non-stop action and non-start intelligence, with lots of gunplay and the look of The Matrix.

Underworld is a mass of contradictions. That is not necessarily a bad thing in a film. Some very good films are paradoxical. Underworld actually could be paradoxical if it was better done, but it is just poorly thought out. This film seems like one long violence episode and the violence is not even very well done.

It seems that the vampires and the werewolves have been at each other's throats for nearly a thousand years. Unbeknownst to us in the real world there is a population of vampires and a population of werewolves and they are at war with each other. It does not really matter a whole lot to the plot that they are vampires and werewolves.

Underworld Movie Review

With a little rewriting they could easily be two rival street gangs, or Stalinists and Trotskyites. But then there would not be so much use for the gore makeup and the CGI effects. The beasties do very little chewing of each other preferring to use automatic weapons on each other. There are a lot of automatic weapons in this movie. There is the frequent staccato of gunfights so totally lacking in 1930s vampire films.

Kate Beckinsale plays Selene, a beautiful vampire who wears these skin-tight leather outfits. This is the same Kate Beckinsale who played the comely nurse in PEARL HARBOR. Apparently she could not resist the urge to play an action hero. She is a "Death Dealer" which means she earns her daily blood by hunting down werewolves in a war of attrition between the two armies of monsters.

Selene has to be very careful not to let the world of humans know of the existence of these two armies in their midst so when she has a wild gunfight on a subway she keeps everything very discrete in some way not obvious to the viewer.

As sort of a sort of a secret agent in the war she sees something that perks her curiosity. There is some strange behavior on the part of the werewolves involving a human named Michael (Scott Speedman). Michael is somehow involved in a strange plot involving vampires and werewolves. (Are there any other kind of plots involving vampires and werewolves?) The vampire Kraven (Shane Brolly) wants rule all the vampires and is making deals with (gasp) werewolves. Selene has to stop him.

In the meantime she is falling in love with the human Michael who may no longer be human. The result may be the first love between a vampire and a werewolf, like Romeo and Juliet, but without any sort of gentle poetry. In fact there is not much in this film that is gentle. Certainly nothing is gentle that can be made violent just like nothing is quiet that can be loud. Just about everything is overdone.

The battles all have wirework and lots of gunfire. In her battle to stop the evil Kraven (the name just sounds evils, doesn't it?), Selene has a secret weapon. She can revive the great ruling vampire, like the King of the Gypsies, to come to her aid. This is Viktor (Bill Nighy of I CAPTURE THE CASTLE and the upcoming LOVE ACTUALLY), an age-old vampire powerful but at the same time decrepit.

About the best thing about UNDERWORLD is its production design and art direction. The entire look of the film seems to imitate THE MATRIX with dominant colors being black, gray, and steel blue. Occasionally there is some muted red added because what is a vampire film without blood. But the look of the film is far better than the script.

Many scenes are staged for visual excitement but not logic. Selene will be running and from nowhere a fist will sock her on the snoot. Then you will see that it is from an enemy that she should have been able to see from across the room, but then there would not have been the exciting scene.

One of my pet peeves from BLADE holds true here. The vampires seem to be vampires by virtue of a special blood type. The same goes for the werewolves. That would be okay if they were purely scientific creatures, but they both have supernatural powers.

There are scenes of both running upside-down on the ceiling. That is a supernatural power and could not possibly come from a blood type. The writers should decide if their vampires are supernatural or preternatural and not confuse the two.

The nice thing about this film is you are never more than five minutes away from the big dramatic or action scene. If you go out for popcorn you will miss it. But don't worry, there will be another one along in another five minutes. And none of these scenes will be clear in your mind in two hours.

I give UNDERWORLD a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low 0 on the -4 to +4 scale.

 Mark R Leeper  Copyright (c) Mark R. Leeper 

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