September 19, 2012

Underworld (2003)

"Selene, a beautiful vampire warrior, is entrenched in a war between the vampire and werewolf races. Although she is aligned with the vampires, she falls in love with Michael, a werewolf who longs for the war to end."

After much deliberation (not to mention procrastination), I decided to rewatch "Underworld" and its first sequel again to see if I liked them any better now that several years have passed since I first saw them. I did this for two reasons: one, I'm pretty sure that watching so many lame movies in a row has rotted my brain to the point where I can barely tell the difference between a good movie or a bad one anymore, and two, I couldn't remember a damned thing about any of them except that they were all in blue and black.

I was talked into buying the DVD of "Underworld" when it came out by a workmate of mine. He was slightly obsessed with it (plus "The Matrix" trilogy and all manner of other embarrassingly dull sci-fi movies). Somehow he wore me down enough to buy it first, knowing full well that I'd end up giving it to him once I'd watched it. I was glad to get rid of the thing because it not only confused me but almost bored me to tears in places. We both worked in Woolworth's at the time so I got it cheaper by using my 20% staff discount card. It was no great loss to give a DVD away to someone who seemed to genuinely appreciate it.

Having now acquired copies of the first three "Underworld" films from my local pawn shop just to complete the "4 for $10" deal when I couldn't find anything else which I wanted, it seemed silly to not revisit them all back-to-back especially as I've written a review of the most recent one, "Underworld: Awakening". I'd already reviewed "Rise of the Lycans" a couple of years ago too so I knew I wouldn't have to write anything about that ever again.

Anyway, as things turned out, I'm slightly ashamed to say that I kind of enjoyed "Underworld". I'm not sure if it was just because I couldn't take my eyes off Kate Beckinsale or if I genuinely got interested in the story. If I had to put money on it, I'd go with the first of those answers because, honestly, I could barely understand what was going on.

Okay, so I got that Kate Beckinsale was supposed to be a vampire and a stone-cold werewolf killer, and Scott Speedman was the last of a bloodline of humans who could become a hybrid of a werewolf and a vampire, but I still don't know what the point of either of them was. Was there supposed to be some horror involved in their relationship? Was it just another story of star-crossed lovers set against a background of war in a fantasy version of Czechoslovakia? Where was the focus?

I understood that Michael Sheen was only a superficially righteous werewolf leader called Lucian (mispronounced as "Looshun") who was trying to create this hybrid. But to what end? Was the hybrid a weapon, an ally, or just another immortal monster with no purpose?

Bizarrely, for those of you who don't know, Michael Sheen was the real life father of Kate Beckinsale's daughter even though this was the film in which she first met and started to fall for the director, Len Wiseman, who, of course, we all know she later married. Showbiz people have the weirdest relationships, but the stuff which must have been going on behind the scenes just made me scratch my head in disbelief. Just add the fact that both her ex and her future lover were watching her pretending to be attracted to Scott Speedman's character, and I'm surprised that the amount of conflicting emotions didn't end in some terrible tragedy. I never thought that Kate Beckinsale was a very good actress before, but knowing the back story, I now think she must be one of the most professional in the business. To give even more credit where it's due, everyone involved in "Underworld" must be like that because it turned out to be a very high quality production.

With that slight digression and praise out of the way, I still didn't really like the story. I found all the stuff with Bill Nighy as "Viktor the vampire" particularly confusing, couldn't work out who was a good guy and who was bad guy, and whatever was going on between Lucian and Kraven (Shane Brolly) looked as if it was actually a good thing. Wasn't their deal supposed to lead to a peace treaty of some kind? I couldn't figure out how turning Scott Speedman into a hybrid was supposed to achieve that, but never mind. Somehow reanimating Viktor before his time made a mess of everything and, presumably, that was all there was to the plot. It was all secrets and lies, fighting for the sake of fighting, and it didn't seem to matter which side anyone was on because everyone thought they were doing the right thing.

I know that "Underworld" wasn't a box office success and I can see why. The film looked fantastic (albeit in only two colours most of the time and sometimes in three or four), but it was ultimately a character based story with no great depth to any of the characters.

The action scenes were incredibly stylish, the CGI was state of the art at the time, and all the effects (including the make-up and creature designs) were great. But what actually happened over more than two hours other than setting up a fantasy world in which a lot of one-dimensional but extremely well-acted characters got killed off?

Nearly nine years on from when I first watched "Underworld", my opinion hasn't changed that much. Although I was more entertained this time and could recognise the effort that went into making the film, on both emotional and intellectual levels, I still wasn't satisfied by it.

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