Monday, January 23, 2006

Underworld Evolution

The skinny: Good, but could have been better.

If you've never had the pleasure of watching the first Underworld movie, do yourself a favor and go buy a copy and watch it. Then go see the sequel in theaters now. Watching them back-to-back certainly helps make the beginning of the jarringly jumpy second installment easier to digest.

Evolution starts out with a neat flashback to the year 1202 where we see some of the backstory that drives the main plotline. From the previews that were packaged with the unrated extended edition of the first movie, it seemed like the flashback would have been longer and played a bigger part of the film, but it only lasted for a few minutes before the audience was greeted by the familiar Underworld title shot. Suddenly, we jump to Selene and Michael somewhere out in Russia (did geography get thrown out the window too?), a mysterious and well-manicured man with a crack team of military soldiers watching and cleaning up after the Death Dealers, and the vampire Marcus going berserk for seemingly no reason. The story eventually ties all of these elements together in a fairly decent plot that actually makes more sense then some other movies today.

Unfortunately, gone are the velvety-rich gothic atmosphere and the deeper politics of the Death Dealers' mansion, instead replaced by lots of cold snow, lonely rocks, and gobs of blood and violence. Sadly the omnipresent threat of the first movie, the Lycans, make few scant appearances in this episode, mostly in the flashbacks and as slaves to one of the vampires. In fact, most of the great elements of the first movie are absent here, but fans such as myself will still find plenty of goodness to ahem sink our teeth into. Another thing I found unsettling was the convenient closeness of all of the locations in the film... the entire soirée seemed to take place in little over 24 hours but much ground seemed to have been covered with little travel and effort.

The pluses of the movie? Well, how about a very sensual and revealing sex scene? We never actually get a complete shot of anything vital, but seeing the big screen filled with nekkid Kate Beckinsale is a sure enough reason for any straight young guys (okay, and the same goes for Scott Speedman for the ladies). Lots of blood and violence--almost excessively so--abounds in this episode, including a few shots I found amusing by not editing out the splatter of the crimson fluids on the camera lens. Another nice touch was the LFE (low-frequency effects) channel being super-spammed for the uber-powerful characters--I never knew bass could be so loud and deep! The ending is predictable and intentionally leaves itself wide open for another installment, which could be a good thing.

If Ms. Beckinsale's husband, director Len Wiseman, would have focused less on making masturbatory material for himself and more on making a better movie, then I'd be more hopeful about a third installment. We'll have to wait to see what the box office figures show to find out if they'll let him make a third one. I love the whole concept, so I'll probably go back and watch Evolution again and buy the DVD when it comes out. Like I said before, it's not a fantastic movie and it's not horrible, but it certainly could have been better. Bring back the finesse and dark beauty of the first film and stop trying to drown us in blood and gore.


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