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 beasts with elongated 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.
The gothicity continues on the DVD presentation, which is where this film will probably find its biggest audience. Crammed with extras, the package includes two full audio commentaries. One by the creatives, writer/director Len Wiseman and writers Danny McBride and Kevin Grevioux. Fans of gothic novels will be thrilled to learn that Wiseman’s inspiration was just that. Wiseman sets the pace and the commentary is a good mix of funky chat and informative storytelling.
The second is the more technical commentary by producer James McQuaide plus creature maker Patrick Tatopoulos and supervising sound designer Claude Letessier. These guys reveal how this US$22 million film ended up looking like twice its budget with inventive effects.
There’s a nice, 8 minute freeform extra called Sights & Sounds; it’s just wild footage from the set and is as much fun as anything I’ve seen by way of background stuff from a film shoot.
In the 13 minute Making of feature, we learn that making this film has been Kate Beckinsale’s best movie making experience. (I suspect Budapest had something to do with it…but she reckons it was also the character.) Len Wiseman reveals he wanted to make an action movie with vampires in it, not a vampire movie. And having a female lead, says Beckinsale, allows the film to play a bit camp. But there is more, not counting stake knives….
Published May 19, 2004
Email this article
UNDERWORLD: DVD (MA)
CAST: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, Erwin Leder, Sophia Myles
DIRECTOR: Len Wiseman
SCRIPT: Danny McBride (story by Len Wiseman)
RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes
PRESENTATION: Widescreen (2.35:1/16:9 enhanced); Language options: English (5.1), Italian (5.1); Sub-title options: English, Italian;
SPECIAL FEATURES: commentary by director Len Wiseman and writers Danny McBride, Kevin Grevioux; technical commentary by producer James McQuaide plus Patrick Tatopoulos and Claude Letessier; 15 minute featurette ‘The Visual Effects of Underworld’; Making of the movie; three additional behind the scenes featurettes including an exploration of the film’s stunts and creature effects; storyboard to final film comparison for 5 key sequences; ‘Worms of the Earth’ music video; TV spots; movie trailer; bonus movie trailers.
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Entertainment
DVD RELEASE: May 19, 2004