A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Underworld

November 27, 2010

Underworld

Back when this movie first opened in theaters Amanda and I happened to be in Boston on opening night. I don’t recall why or who we were with. Outside the theater where this movie was about to premier there were a bunch of pretty young Goth boys and girls in their corsets and frills with their big boots and eye-liner. I think we might have made some kind of snide comment, like you sometimes do, and I felt guilty about it. Because inside I’ve always secretly felt a kinship with those kids. I had a fascination with death and other morbid things when I was in High School. I’d have been Goth myself if such a thing had existed then, except that all the make-up and elaborate costumes would have been far too much effort for me. Anyhow – I wish now that I had hung out with those kids and gone into the theater to see this movie on opening night rather than waiting for its eventual DVD release, because it’s the most beautifully Gothic of all Goth movies, and it really is a joy to watch.

It’s a story of a modern day conflict taking place as part of a thousand-year-old war between vampires and were-wolves (called lycans here.) Modern-day here means that it appears to take place in present and the combatants mostly shoot each other with semi automatic pistols instead of hand-to-hand with fangs bared. The vampires are decadent, living in opulent covens full of high-tech security. The lycans are hunted fugitives striking from a secret sewer base. For centuries the lycans have been on the run, hunted methodically to the brink of extinction by the death-dealers, chief amongst whom is Selene. She’s a slinky leather-clad bad-ass with a chip on her shoulder who wants only to kill lycans. After an encounter with a couple of lycans in a subway tunnel she begins to suspect that they might be hunting for a specific human target – a young medical resident named Michael. She is soon proven right, though she has no idea the many secrets and plots that riddle both the vampire and lycan camps.

I feel like I could just do my whole review in the form of a long list of all the things I love about this movie. Oh, it’s not great cinema, but in terms of vampire action movies it is amongst the best out there. I just don’t know where to start. With the look of the film, I suppose. The production design is fantastic. The sets for the castle lair of Selene’s coven are fantastic, especially the inner sanctum where the ancient vampire who created her lies dormant at the start of the movie. Much of what you know about the history and technology of the vampires is presented visually here. The costume design is also astonishing. This is thanks to Wendy Partridge, who also worked on the costumes for Hellboy and Blade II. It is her we have to thank for Selene’s tight, tight pants, multi-buckled ass-kicking boots and voluminous jacket. The intricate robes of the ancient Viktor. The elaborate Gothic outfits of the decadent vampires who live in refined comfort far from the battle-lines. Every costume here tells a story – and there are so many of them that I crave for myself.

There are a few of the performances here that really draw my eye as well. Kate Beckinsale is fun as the take-no-nonsense Selene of course. The entire movie relies on her to drive most of the action and I certainly never got tired of seeing her kicking ass. But it’s a couple of the other roles that really garner more attention from me. Kevin Grevioux has a writing credit as well as depicting Raze, the most menacing of the lycans and right-hand-man to the lycan leader Lucian. His voice is simply unbelievable, which makes me wish that in story meetings he had pushed to give his character more lines. Man. And what I was most looking forward to as we put this in tonight was watching Bill Nighy as Viktor again. This was several years before he was transformed digitally into the tentically Davy Jones for the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, but many of the mannerisms he used in that performance are in evidence here. He’s just a fun actor to see at work, and this is a nifty character for him to play with. Viktor is one of three uber-powerful vampire lords, worshiped almost as gods, but he’s also got secrets and schemes which are revealed as the movie progresses.

That’s another thing I love about this movie. The world that is being created here is so rich and full of intricate back-story. Mixed in with all the vampire vs. lycan warring here there’s a kind of mystery. Or several mysteries which Selene must unravel. Why do the lycans want Michael? What’s Kraven’s game? What’s driving Lucian on so? Everything is related to events from centuries ago, and almost everything that Selene has been told about the past comes into question as the movie goes on. I love that there’s enough depth here to have a little plot in with the action, and that the back-story is rich enough that at the time of this writing two other movies in the series have sprouted from it.

This is the way a vampire action movie SHOULD be made. Some great action and special effects. A deep and interesting world realized through great production design and costumes with a fun cast as well. I wish I had seen it in the theater. On opening night. With the pretty goth kids.

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November 27, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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