Vampires are a secretive clan of modern sophisticates whose mortal enemies are the Lycans (werewolves); the two races, both living beneath the world of humans in a gothic metropolis, have been at war for centuries. The balance of power is upset when a beautiful young vampire Death Dealer warrior Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and a human with nascent Lycan blood, Michael (Scott Speedman) fall for each other amidst a conspiracy led by head vampire Kraven (Shane Brolly) to blend the two blood types to form a creature stronger than both. She breaks the rules to awaken the all powerful sleeping leader Viktor (Bill Nighy) to help her cause, but will she have to kill Michael or can she save him and herself, without betraying the vampire covenant.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Underworld wants to 're-imagine' vampires and werewolves for the new millenium, but the filmmaking team have really paid tribute to every gothic horror film and vampire movie and superhero action thriller that went before. The gothic architecture (thank you Budapest), the body hugging shiny (faux leather, probably vinyl) girl's outfit, the blue-black cinematography with deep shadows, the constant rain, the eternal night, and the snap crackle editing (thank you MTV) are all at least partly derivative. Still, the production is very much driven by style, and its substance is also derivative.
A Romeo and Juliet story smeared with the blood of warring vampires and werewolves. The transformations from human form are eye catching, but they emphasise the film's greatest self-contradiction: it is a creature feature, not a vampire movie. A real vampire movie scares us with the unseen, the unknown, the mystery, the hidden lusting and the emotional complexity of its character. Haven't seen one of those in yonks, with the exception of The Shadow of The Vampire. No, Underworld is a stylish attempt at reinvigorating the genre, but it is not a successful blood transfusion. All the same, there are many good things in it, including the thorough and complex production design (which I have disparaged with the 'derivative' label). Director Len Wiseman seems unsure whether to let his actors overact or reign them in to more naturalistic performances; frankly, I don't blame him. Who knows how vampires and werewolves actually speak and interact?
Kate Beckinsale is terrific, though, often given scenes in which she can use her powerful stillness, her interestingly pretty profile and her intellect, all at once! Scott Speedman (like some others in the cast) are required to heave and scream a lot, especially as they are either injected with mysterious potions or their bodies are about to erupt into creatures from your nastiest nightmare. You know, hairy beats with elongate snouts filled with fangs…this isn't new, but the morphing is good. Bloody and gory and noisy and very violent, Underworld is a darkly demonic goth-fest, but it won't bite you.
Review by Louise Keller:
An interesting cross-pollination of genres, Underworld unites werewolves and vampires in a gothic-style myth that spurts splashes of style and spectacular effects. With its premise emanating from genetic engineering, first time director Len Wiseman, whose experience and flair for design is clearly on show, has created an intense reality in which the look and mood is everything.
Take Kate Beckinsale, clad in skin-tight black leather, laced up bodice, collar-length bob with plenty of product and a pronounced pout, and you get the picture. She looks as though she has also borrowed Keanu Reeves' black coat from The Matrix, but still looks a million dollars and forges a striking presence as she gets her hands dirty rescuing a mere mortal who has been bitten by one of the Lycans. Yes, she is shot beautifully, while Scott Speedman, last seen as a rookie cop seeing the dirty side of the police force in Dark Blue, now pursued as an object of experiment, is busily defending himself as he is bitten, shot at, shackled in chains and given a pretty hard time of it. Of course, he is immediately attracted to the exotic Selene, oblivious of the fact that he comes from a genetic pool of Hungarians that has both vampire and werewolf blood.
Tony Pierce-Roberts' cinematography perfectly captures the gothic comic-book feel, and the seductive blue lighting throughout is striking. From the incessant rain and endless night, this reality is as real as was Alex Proyas' Dark City. Of course it is inevitable that a vampire movie is shot in Budapest; after all, apart from paprika and goulash, composer Franz Liszt and film director Michael Curtiz …. isn't that the mainstay of Hungary's claim to fame? Besides, the settings are fabulous. Production design and costumes are a big part of the film, while computer generated images married with sophisticated special effects are truly awesome. The story is wildly complex and don't be surprised if you get lost a couple of times. But it really doesn't matter much if this is the trip that you're after. After all, the moon is full, the effects are wicked and Underworld beckons with its allure of vampire style and gnarly werewolf substance.
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CAST: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, Erwin Leder, Sophia Myles
PRODUCER: Richard S. Wright, Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Robert Bernacchi
DIRECTOR: Len Wiseman
SCRIPT: Danny McBride (story by Len Wiseman)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tony Pierce-Roberts
EDITOR: Martin Hunter
MUSIC: Paul Haslinger
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Bruton Jones
RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 22, 2004