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Friday, October 4, 2019

Review: Underworld

Director: Len Wiseman
Screenplay: Kevin Grevioux and Len Wiseman
Year: 2003

The first entry to the creature features section of the "31 Days of Halloween" belongs to "Underworld". You must be asking yourself why "Underworld" maybe even preparing to comment about all that this movie does wrong. But first, we need to go back to when this movie was released. 

“Underworld” was released in 2003, when at that time the vast majority of movies presented vampires and werewolves as mythical creatures, often using their animal instincts to defend themselves and, to a certain extent, being incapable of adapting to modern life. Although in 1998 “Blade” has started opening the path for a new style of vampire movies, it was “Underworld” who finally opened this door ajar and gave new possibilities of seeing these creatures better coupled to the modern world.

The popularity that “Underworld” garnered cannot be ignored. Its innovative story, gothic style and, why not, its protagonist Kate Beckinsale (“Vacancy”), managed to captivate an impressive number of fans. This noticeable following by the public made this saga to be able to bring a total of five entries. Even when this saga has not been well received by critics, it has been successful with the public, almost tripling in profits the initial budget for all five movies.

It is not hard to understand why “Underworld” was so well received by the public, but not by critics. While it offered a movie with plenty of style, the script seems like an excuse to show the ideas and not to be a coherent story. The plot of this movie faces vampires and werewolves in a war that has been going on for centuries where Selene is a vampire that focuses on tracking and eliminating werewolves. This war reaches a crucial moment where the werewolves try to create a hybrid that allows them to take the upper hand in this war.

One of the worst crafted areas of the script is the character development. It was never clear to me the col character of Selene, while other vampires as Kraven or Viktor are very emotional, but this ends up affecting the love story being developed between her and the human Michael. When the first love reaction takes place, it comes from out of nowhere and feels extremely forced. It is not clear either the reason why Selene feels attracted to this human and everything that goes on between them seems like a way to justify key moments in the plot and it’s hard for the viewer to get interested in the story.

Like with the development of the characters and love story of Selene and Michael, the development of the plot also suffers from this script. The characters take too many incoherent decisions that only serve to move the story forward in a predetermined direction. During the movie, a great deal of topics are brought up, but none are deeply explored. Something that could have benefited the story would have been focusing on fewer topics and explore them deeper to have a better-developed story and not one as superficial as what “Underworld” presents.

The acting is an ensemble of light and shadows. While the performances by Michael Sheen (“Midnight in Paris”) and Billy Nighy (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”) as Lucian and Viktor are great, the performance of Shane Broly (“Spread”) as Kraven comes out as exaggerated, Scott Speedman (“The Strangers”) as Michael has no charisma, and Beckinsale as Selene leaves you doubting if that was the character that director Len Wiseman (“Total Recall”) was looking for or if it’s an acting fail. Of course, looking at Beckinsale’s career you know she is a capable actress and leads to thinking that this is another idea the script could not line up with its story.

The cinematography is one of the distinctive traits, not only of this movie, but of the whole saga, and is what’s better crafted. The use of cold colors, particularly tones of blue, give it a unique style that brings out the gothic undertone it presents. It also helps emphasize the red color of the blood, one of the elements that must always be present in a vampire’s movie as something that defines them. The special effects are also well done and complement well the characters, creatures, and the style of the movie.

“Underworld” without being a cinematographic wonder, manages to give a twist to classic vampire tales and does it more for its ideas and style rather than by the execution of them. Without a doubt inspired in “Blade” and “The Matrix” to ground its characters and style, but ends up being a product with a lot less quality than those two movies, with still with plenty of importance in horror cinema, particularly in vampire movies. Its visual and cinematographic style is recognized even by those who are not horror movie fans, but its plot and dull execution doesn’t let it come even close to the coveted masterpiece status.

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