ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  len wiseman

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  sci-fi

LENGTH  -  121 minutes

RELEASED  -  19 september 2003

DISTRIBUTOR  -  screen gems

OFFICIAL SITE  -  underworld

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $30,000,000
underworld - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from underworld at

buy the dvd from underworld at

selene, vampire warrior, is entrenched in a war between the vampire and werewolf races. although she is aligned with the vampires, she falls in love with michael, a werewolf who longs for the war to end.

the actors only had two weeks of wirework and prop training for the movie.


picture from underworld

picture from underworld

picture from underworld


three out of four possible stars

Hovering between a Schwartzenegger-esque gun-fest and a dark, slickly filmed (yet cliché ridden) vampire flick, Underworld contains few surprises, but it shouldn't be discounted simply because it's easy to guess the direction of the plot. Excepting some strange head jerks and grunts that may inspire a few chuckles in the audience, courtesy of actor Billy Nighy, who plays the ancient and robotic-like vampire, "Viktor," the film jaunts along unapologetic for its genre and full-blown toward a sequel. Though it's slightly annoying that the film's ending so neatly tied the plot up for a second film (which, if the box office on this movie is a success, a sequel will surely be in the works), the plot itself is secondary to the reason why a person might enjoy watching the film.

What sets this movie apart from its action contemporaries is the large amount of in-camera special effects. Though there are several digitally enhanced shots throughout the film, many of the stunts seem to have been created on the day of filming, rather than on the hard drive of a computer. Thus, the appearance of wholly digital frames remains few in number and the stunt work and make-up techniques really come out to shine. And since those effects are so well done, the digital additions are much more valuable since they're not over-used. This film represents what could be considered a perfect balance between in-camera effects and CGI as each technique is highlighted, but is not overburdened by the other.

It's probably a shame then that the plot of the film becomes so mired in exposition in the second half, as dialogue-laden explanations near the end are too complicated. Since such revealing information about the plot is given at a rather late moment in the film, it should have been trimmed in length or delivered more succinctly. The "explanation time" holds up the action and weaves to dense a tapestry for the audience to really care about. The destinies of the two main characters, Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and Michael (Scott Speedman), are foremost in the audience's mind, and what befalls them in the present is more important than the specifics of the vampire/werewolf war that has raged for centuries.

An alternate technique might have been to relate more of the "reveal" earlier in the film so as to diffuse the bottle-neck of information dumped on the audience at the end. As it is, the plot is too complicated anyway, so making the audience endure its labyrinth of turns for an extended amount of time might have proved fatal to the film's success. Even the quite visible plot holes don't doom the picture into the ground, so to speak. As it is, this film probably won't find a willing audience completely across the board, but it will have a wider fan base than say a teenage "slasher" film. People of all kinds are fascinated with vampires and it's that curiousness and interest in the subject that will allow this film to gain a wider audience than the typical horror film.

An interesting aspect of this film is the lack of real historically tested, bankable A-list movie stars with their names listed above the title. Though Kate Beckinsale has been part of some successful films (Pearl Harbor was one of the biggest grossing films of 2001), she's never carried a film by herself before and Scott Speedman's limited big-budget film experience will make him a new face to many viewers. Without the hat of one of Hollywood's elite to hang this picture's advertising success on, the producers and director of Underworld are putting their faith into the story, special effects, and acting abilities of its writers, crew, and cast.

Which seems to have been a sound decision as all the different elements of Underworld, such as the symbiotic relationship between the stunts and make-up departments, allowed for an easily convincing portrayal of vampires and werewolves. Because these two mythical species are completely fictitious, making sure their production values were high and the cliché elements.

There seems to have been at least a few intelligence quotients devoted to making this picture not so obvious a dissection of vampire/werewolf life. For example, although a vampire's most obvious weakness is to sunlight, this aspect is only brought up once in the film and isn't a pervasive element; it doesn't catch anybody by surprise, nor does any character have to run like mad to get indoors before the sun rises - a typical plotline in a vampire film. Although there are over-used elements in the film (all the character dress completely in black, for example), the wardrobe department seems to have had their heads on straight as a good does of style (and corsetry, it seems!) is packed into their clothing choices.

If one is going to adhere to a cliché-ridden vampire element like midnight colored clothing, at least they decided to make it worth their while with a plethora of slick capes, leather, and dangly bits of material. This picture's motto seems to be, "if you're going to go cliché, go all out." And that benefits the film, as none of the efforts of the cast and crew (save the plot) can really be insulted. Dark, swift, and stylish, Underworld is a vampire film stocked to the brim with guns, bullets, and werewolves, and it doesn't pretend to be anything more or anything else.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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