September 25, 2003

Underworld

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When I was younger, I read a LOT of Anne Rice vampire novels, and I’ve always been a fan of vamps in general, so I was psyched to see this movie. Okay, so maybe I wasn’t the coolest kid, but that’s beside the point. The point is that vampires are pretty damn seductive, what with the immortality, the gothic fashion, and the flashy teeth. Add the fact that vampires are always really hot, and it’s a recipe for success. Who couldn’t love those cuddly, fanged critters? Apparently werewolves.

That’s right folks, it’s a face off between the rabid, furry-tailed Lycans (werewolves) and those preternaturally pale creatures of the night, vampires (no special name for them). Added to the mix is a bit of a Romeo and Juliet forbidden love angle, but cross-species. Kate Beckinsale (Selene) is a vampire who lives(?) to kill Lycans. Enter Michael, an intern at a local hospital who gets sucked into Selene’s dangerous world. Of course, there’s sexual tension between them, but this only leads to trouble, as all of Selene’s vampire posse would as soon as kill Michael as look at him since he’s a human. Tricky, no?

The film was shot in Budapest and Prague and man, do these cities ever look good in the dark. If nothing else, this film had aesthetic style to spare. A consistent color scheme of black and grey flickered grimly across the backdrop of old European cobblestone, setting an appropriately morose, tense, and chilling mood. Both the Royal Eastern European mansion draped with copious amounts of velvet and satin and the seductively elaborate costumes beautifully rendered the decadence of the vampires. On the other hand, the Lycans are introduced fighting amongst themselves in the cities’ sewers wearing dirty, disgusting clothing and showcasing some pretty greasy and lank hair. Hmmmm, I wonder who we’re supposed to be cheering for?

Mystery was something the movie definitely had going for it, perhaps to excess. I’m all for not telling the audience too much, but there were quite a few story lines that were introduced and then promptly abandoned and never mentioned again. We’re told almost nothing about Speedman’s character, other than that he’s an intern, works crazy hours, and no one knows what he does in his spare time. The brief glimpse we’re given of his apartment contains clues as to a family and some significant other, but none of that is explored any further. Though, judging by the ending of the film, the producers are probably planning on making a sequel or two, so they have to leave something to develop further if they want to make more money.

Dialogue was really not the highlight of the film. Beckinsale certainly made the most of what she was given, delivering her lines behind a veil of wild, dark hair, sexily dishevelled from kicking werewolf ass in the rain. Speedman, however, had roughly a dozen lines by my count. And though he too is very hot, he didn’t have his shirt off enough to make up for his dreadful script and delivery. His character had the important function of being an outsider and serving to relate exposition to the audience, but he was sorely underutilized in this capacity.

Overall it was a solid cast which put in quite a few quality performances. As mentioned above, Beckinsale really shone and I think we can safely assume we’ll be seeing her in a greater profusion of starring roles from now on. At least I hope so, because she deserves them. Putting in a spectacularly creepy performance as Viktor, the oldest and most badass of the vampires, was Bill Nighy. Definitely someone who I don’t want to meet in a darkened alley. He really blew away the screen. In some instances he was slightly overdone and melodramatic, but it’s not exactly Shakespeare, so roll with it. Michael Sheen also was spine-tingling as a pretty mean werewolf.

Admittedly, this was not a perfect film: the plot became needlessly complicated at times, story threads were introduced and then forgotten, and dialogue was pretty weak. However, the cast was tight (and I’m not just talking about their pleather clothes here), the action was intriguing and startling as most action films post-Matrix are, and the setting was gorgeous. The film was in general just fun to watch. Though one last little criticism would have to be that there was definitely not enough blood drinking going on by the vampires. Neck biting is always great to watch, and I felt I was a little cheated by the lack of extreme hickies. Don’t go for intellectual stimulation, but rather, for entertainment, especially if you like things dark.


Archived article by Sue Karp