In Len Wiseman's Underworld, a centuries old war between vampires and werewolves rages on right under our ignorant human noses. However, while watching the film, I couldn't help but think about the other war that's fought around us on the daily basis. That's right, I'm talking about Cats vs. Dogs.
It may sound silly, but the denizens of the Underworld bear more than a passing resemblance to these living room gladiators. The cat is a clean, sexy, and cool creature. Fierce when it needs to be, but otherwise content with sitting back and enjoying the finer pleasures in life. On the flip side, dogs are unkempt, shaggy, and generally stupid animals who would just as soon eat a pile of feces than allow themselves to be bathed (where’s my dog? I want to kick it!). In Underworld, the vampires are clean, sexy and cool, while the werewolves are unkempt, shaggy, and, while we never see them actually eat feces, one wouldn't doubt they'd at least do it on a dare.
Selena (Beckinsale) is a death-dealer; a vampire who hunts down the scattered remnants of the Lycan army and kills them with extreme prejudice. You see, Selena's family was massacred by lycans, but she was saved by a powerful vampire lord named Viktor (Nighy), turned, and now serves her master in the aforementioned capacity. When a hunt for Lycans reveals a plot to capture a human named Michael (Speedman), Selena presents her evidence to the vamp-in-charge, Kraven (Brolly), who dismisses Selena's theory that the savage lycan remnants are capable of concocting a scheme of any kind. Kraven, after all, is in his place of power as a direct result of his defeat of the Lycan leader, Lucian, centuries before. However, Lucian (Sheen) is very much alive, in league with Kraven, and has amassed his army and put into motion a plan that would not only bring to end the vampire reign, but also fuse the bloodlines of both vampire and lycan, creating the ultimate soldier. To do this, he needs the blood of a direct descendent of the first immortal; the human, Michael, whose genes are the only ones on Earth that can withstand the combination of both the vampire and lycan "viruses".
Underworld is a really decent flick. I was surprised, actually, because the trailers made it look like some sort of Matrix/Blade cocktail, but it's got a very nice mythology of its own. The origins of the vampire and werewolf species being the mutation of a virus is a nice change of pace, as is the back-story of how the werewolves came to hate the vampire (at one time, werewolves were their protectors during daylight hours). I was also really impressed by director Len Wiseman's insistence that as much of the effects work be done using as many "practical effects" as possible, with very limited use of CGI. The results are some astoundingly good prosthetics pieces and believable interaction between man...err..vampire and beast.
While the film is essentially an action epic, there's a great deal of character development that helps raise the emotional stakes, although, oddly enough, the two characters I cared least about were the principals in the film; Selena and Michael. We never really understand why they fall in love, unless it's of the "at first site' variety, simply because they don't spend all that much time on screen together. The relationship that I wanted to delve into more was the one between Lucian and Kraven. Their story would have probably made for an interesting film in its own right, as I found myself somewhat moved by Lucian's back-story and tickled by Kraven's unscrupulous nature. Still, Beckinsale is much more attractive than either, and that leather get-up....oh my.
If Len Wiseman's promise holds true then Underworld is simply the first part of a planned (and, apparently, scripted) series of films, and I, for one, look forward to the next installment. The principals are easy on the eyes, the action is balanced with solid storytelling, and it's just good solid fun. Underworld never feels preachy or attempts to be anything more than what it is-a solid action/horror hybrid.
The DVD from Columbia Tri-Star features a pair of commentary tracks, four featurettes, and a trailer. The featurettes are short (averaging around 10 minutes each) but informative, and do well to steer clear of the ultra-boring tech talk many effects-driven film documentaries fall victim to. It's a solid, if not overwhelming, package, and adds a little incentive toward purchasing a film that's well worth a spot in your collection.