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Jesse and Kevin goto the movies: Underworld

Underworld a slightly-flawed gem

On October 9, 2003

10/09/03 - Kevin L. NaultUnderworld is one of those rare movies that are well worth the full price of theater admission. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

First, however, I'm going to talk about the few things the filmmakers didn't get right.

One significant character, Kraven (played by Shane Brolly), was consistently flat or simply off. Almost without fail, he came across with an emotion that I didn't buy, given the circumstances, or merely came across emotionally flat when I was expecting real terror.

Second, a powerful performance by Kevin Grevioux (also one of two writers for the movie) as the werewolf Raze was partially wasted by the fact that I constantly wondered who he was. He was clearly an important part of the werewolf group, but didn't appear to be exactly second in command or anything.

Third, a few of the special effects wire jumps just didn't look right. For instance, there'd be a flip followed by a landing, but the flip was too slow. It didn't look like the character could have landed any other way than on his back.

Finally, the end was slightly anticlimactic.

Far more important are the things they got right. The movie is powerfully story-driven all the way through. You won't find yourself watching a scene wondering, "Why are they showing me this?" There are many things they have to establish, but there are no scenes where you think, "I'll see this again later."

The establishment is well worked into the movie itself, so that you actually understand things as they occur.

The special effects were also amazingly well done. There were a lot of wire shots, but they didn't make the classic mistake with landings, where the character seems to float down. The landings seem to have real weight.

Also, the werewolf transformation is the best I've ever seen.

"Romeo" in this story, Michael Corvin (played by Scott Speedman), is a medical intern. He's not a gunfighter, nor a ninja, and most importantly, when attacked by werewolves and vampires, he does not turn into one. When he manages to run away, he's doing well.

Kate Beckinsale plays the lead, Selene, with remarkable skill, emoting very well while maintaining the impression that she is a trained killer.

All in all, I was extremely happy with this movie, and I will be buying it on DVD when it becomes available.

Jesse Whitsitt-Lynch

Humans have long speculated about the moral and existential consequences of immortality, and those speculations in the Western world have manifested in the myths concerning vampires.

When cinema was invented, it continued to explore this mythic tradition; movies about vampires have invariably concentrated upon the disjunction between humanity and immortality. Until now.

Underworld is conspicuously not about the existential angst of immortality, nor about the moral quandary of sustaining one's existence at another's expense. Nor is it even focused on the other vampire-film staple: origin of mythic vampirism.

That is disposed of in the movie (as in the Blade movies) in a rather mundane way. Vampirism is caused by a virus, transmitted by saliva; such are the sacrifices that modern myths make to modern science.

This movie is about the juicier facets of the human condition, elements such as forbidden desire, unreasoning hatred, callous deception and political intrigue (my personal favorite). These touchy subjects are presented in the best science fiction/fantasy tradition, through the travails of non-human creatures. In this case, vampires and werewolves, so that our sensitive human audience doesn't feel these things hit too close to home.

Most of the story is told from a particular vampire's point of view: Kate Beckinsale's character, Selene.

A particularly vicious and efficacious warrior, Selene enters the story pursuing her mission to hunt the entire species of werewolves to extinction with gusto. A wrinkle in her genocidal mission appears when the werewolves appear to be "up to something." That something concerns an affably mundane human, Michael Corwin (played by Scott Speedman).

Everything progresses from there in an effectively twisted fashion.

The only complaint I would lodge against this movie is that it has some of the poorest casting and performances I have seen in a while, with two exceptions.

The leaders of the werewolves and vampires, Lucian (Michael Sheen) and Viktor (Bill Nighy) respectively, both put in intense, believable performances.

On the other end of the acting scale, Shane Brolly puts in an absolutely abysmal, pathetic performance as Kraven, the vampire seneschal, who sucks the life and believability out of every scene in which he delivers lines. The part of a craven (ha, ha), whimpering, scheming creature could have been given gravitas by Alan Rickman or Brad Dourif, or any other good actor.

At least the black faux-leather/latex ass camera shots and beautiful 'Gun fu' sequences were nice.

Ultimately, this flawed gem of a film is a good peek into the aspect of the human condition, so long as you plug your ears and close your eyes when the bad acting comes a-knocking.


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