Title: Underworld
Running Time: 121 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for violence/gore and some language
Release Date: September 19, 2003
Studio: Screen Gems

Perhaps the most important thing to realize about Underworld is that it is primarily an action film: not a groundbreaking exploration of the vampire mythos. That being said, Underworld actually had more of a plot than I expected. I saw it the day after it opened, having only a single viewing of the downloadable trailer and a few comments from friends on a BBS to go on. I'd heard that it was "pretentious", "like Romeo and Juliet, only with vampires and werewolves", and "pretty to look at." I have a feeling a lot of people went to see Underworld with the impression that it was going place much more of an emphasis on the vampire society and mystique than it actually did. The vampirism and lycanthropy were there mostly for aesthetic effect on what was basically your standard action flick.

We meet our viewpoint character, Selene (played by Kate Beckinsale), in the film's first few moments. Dressed in a form-fitting vinyl suit, a Matrix-esque overcoat, and the sexiest boots I've ever seen, her inner voice narrates to the audience that she is a warrior in a centuries-old battle between vampires and werewolves. First impression: this would make an excellent premise for a video game. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I liked the Resident Evil movie. I'm a sucker for the chicks with guns subgenre. There isn't much dialogue in the first few minutes of Underworld, unless you consider bullet exchange a form of conversation. A shootout ensues in a subway station, here we meet our first few werewolves, or "lycans", as they are referred to in the film. In the scuffle, Selene discovers a werewolf hideout, and realizes that perhaps the opposition is stronger than she and her vampire clan had suspected. She returns home; "home" being a massive high-tech mansion somewhere outside the urban sprawl. At this point, I made the following observations about the reality portrayed in Underworld:

1.) The reaction of humanity as a whole to the existence of supernatural humanoids is not going to be explored; this movie isn't about "normal" people.

2.) If you put a vampire and a werewolf together in a room and took their guns away, the vampire would be ripped to shreds.

3.) For creatures that presumably have had several human lifetimes of practice with firearms, these vampires and werewolves have fairly poor aim. (though one might argue that any increased weapon proficiency will be countered by an equally proficient ability to dodge.)

4.) This entire movie is most likely going to take place in the dark. And it will be raining constantly (which might account for the vampires' apparent fascination with vinyl).

Selene returns home in the midst of a party to celebrate the forthcoming Awakening of one of the great clan leaders, Marcus. It is not really made clear why several vampire elders are kept in storage for centuries at a time; perhaps these vampires are so old that periodically they need to rest in order to regenerate. Right now, the decision-maker for the clan is an extremely irritating vampire called Kraven. He is, to put it mildly, a dick: rude, self- important, and a terrible dresser. I practically (okay, literally) laughed out loud when he walked into the room demanding that Selene put on something "elegant", while he was wearing a sparkly Liberace shirt. Nipping at his heels is Erica, looking like Vampire Barbie: she is, for some incomprehensible reason, infatuated with Kraven. Kraven has eyes for Selene, but one gets the impression he feels entitled to her; she is not attracted to him in the least. Considering the way he treats her, this is perfectly understandable; he barks orders at her and slaps her, and she is SO not into that sort of thing.

Here we have our first mention of Victor, another vampire elder currently in the midst of a very long nap. Victor had been the clan leader prior to Kraven, and Selene obviously has a lot of respect for him. She looks up to Victor like something of a father figure, and seems extremely bitter now that Kraven, rather than Victor, is in charge. There's a lot of, "Victor would never agree to this!", "If only Victor were here right now!", "You just WAIT until Victor hears about this!"

When Selene suggests that the werewolves are fortifying their numbers in secret, she is met with scorn and disbelief. Using a surveillance recording, Selene also figures out that the werewolves were following a human. Apparently, this is quite a big deal. Selene gets the impression that the lycans must have some nefarious purpose in mind for this human, a young medical intern named Michael Corvin. Though she has no idea what this purpose could be, she figures that it does not bode well for the vampires. She sets out to find Corvin, to see what special characteristic he might have that the lycans would be interested in.

Selene finds Corvin at his apartment. She is just a bit too late, however; the lycans are already there. We have another action sequence, a scuffle involving plenty of wall- climbing (the lycans have Spiderman-like abilities) and seemingly inexhaustible rounds of ammunition. Something happens to Corvin during this struggle (take a wild guess what it is!) and Selene saves his ass, only to have him save her ass a few scenes later. This presumably forms some sort of bond between the two, or at least the beginning of an understanding. It doesn't lead to very much. Those of you who were looking forward to vampire-werewolf sex (or any sort of sex whatsoever) are going to be disappointed. I actually found it kind of refreshing NOT to have the vampires portrayed as sexually obsessed. I also do not believe that the comparison to Romeo and Juliet is a good one; the only plot element shared by R&J and Underworld is the idea of two members of rival clans forming some sort of alliance.

One of the things I always pay close attention to in works of fantasy where humans are suddenly made aware of things outside their previous paradigm of reality is the believability of the humans' reactions. In some cases, acceptance of things outside the norm seems to occur too quickly and without sufficient incredulity. Corvin, however, seems appropriately terrified and confused. The movie does a good job of integrating Corvin into the world of vampires and werewolves -- and we eventually discover why this confrontation was probably inevitable.

Perhaps because I wasn't expecting much in the way of plot, I was pleasantly surprised by the story element of Underworld. I generally get a bit smug about predicting plot twists, (I had Sixth Sense figured out within the first 30 minutes or so), but this movie managed to slip one by me without my noticing the warning signs. There is much hidden in the past (Selene explains to Corvin that "digging into the past is forbidden"), and when it is brought to light, the characters are forced to make some major adjustments to their allegiances and points of view. I found myself at a loss to state who the good guys were and who the bad guys were; everyone seemed to have their own agenda, and everyone was willing to achieve it through unsavory means. If I had to pick sides, I'd have to say Selene and Michael were the most admirable, since they seemed most willing to question the origins of the conflict between the vampires and the lycans. Plus, Selene was pretty damn hot. (This movie did suffer from a lack of attractive males; Corvin just looked goofy, the werewolves looked like members of 80s thrash metal bands, Kraven was obviously trying way too hard, and Victor had...issues.)

Overall, I definitely enjoyed Underworld. It had enough stroboscopic lighting effects, sudden noises, and eye candy to satisfy my pathologically short attention span. However, I concede that perhaps going into a movie with low expectations, and enjoying it in part because it exceeded those low expectations, means that Underworld was by no means a "great" movie. A fun movie, yes. A deep philosophical commentary on alienation and supernatural abilities as metaphor, not on your life. They could certainly have done more with the vampires; the bit about the sleeping elders still bothers me a bit...what exactly are the conditions for immortality, anyway? Plus, there was a conspicuous lack of blood- sucking. I think there may have been one single instance of a vampire actually biting someone in the whole film; the fangs seemed mainly decorative. I also think that Hollywood really needs to stop shopping at the Matrix outerwear boutique; why couldn't the vampires have had cloaks, for pete's sake? Why is it always those damn trench coats?

If you are going to see Underworld, do so as a diversion. You aren't going to learn anything new or experience much of a mindfuck. If you can find the element of fun and relax your inner cynic, you will probably enjoy this movie.

A sequel is apparently in the works; the film's creators envision Underworld as the first of a trilogy of films.

Numerous noders messaged me regarding the lawsuit filed by roleplaying game publishers White Wolf. White Wolf officials allege that Underworld's setting and characters are, in fact, copied from the games Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Author Nancy A. Collins, whose short story Love of Monsters was published by White Wolf in 1994, claims that Underworld's plot is lifted from that very story. I've never played the games in question, nor read the story, so I can't speak for the legitimacy of the lawsuit. However, the archetypes of vampires and werewolves have existed in literature and film for many years. I would imagine that there is bound to be some perfectly innocent overlap.


Selene                    Kate Beckinsale
Michael                   Scott Speedman
Viktor                    Bill Nighy
Lucian                    Michael Sheen
Kraven                    Shane Brolly
Singe                     Erwin Leder
Kahn                      Robbie Gee
Erika                     Sophia Myles
Dr. Adam                  Wentworth Miller
Raze                      Kevn Grevioux
Amelia                    Zita Gorgog
Dignitary                 Dennis Kozeluh
Soren                     Scott McElroy
Trix                      Rodd Schneider
Rigel                     Sandor Bolla
Nathaniel                 Hank Amos
Gunshot girl              Zsuzsa Barsi
Pierce                    Rich Cetrone
Taylor                    Mike Mukatis
Candidate #1              Sandor Boros
Candidate #2              Janos Olah
Death Dealer Captain      Andreas Patton
Mason                     Danny McBride
Sonja                     Jazmin Damak
Wolfgang                  Atilla Pinke
Zsuzsa                    Judit Kuchta
Timea                     Vanessa Nagy
Michael's old girlfriend  Ildiko Kovacs
Werewolf Performers       Briane Steele and Kurt Carley


Director                  Len Wiseman
Screenplay                Danny McBride
Story By                  Kevin Grevioux, Danny McBride and Len Wiseman
Producers                 Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi and Richard S. Wright
Director of Photography   Tony Pierce-Roberts
Creature Designer         Patrick Tatopoulos
Production Designer       Bruton Jones
Art Director              Kevin Phipps
Editor                    Martin Hunter
Casting                   Deborah Aquila, Tricia Wood and Celestia Fox
Costume Designer          Wendy Partridge
Music                     Paul Haslinger
Key Make-Up Artist        Trefor Proud
Key Hairstylist           Giovanni Giuliano


http://romanticmovies.about.com/library/weekly/aaunderworldcast.htm (an odd resource, because I didn't find this movie particularly romantic)
My own viewing of the film.