Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
February 2009

Three's a crowd

Third 'Underworld' installment offers more of the same, sans Beckinsale

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Screen Gems
Director: Patrick Tatopoulos
Screenplay: Danny McBride, Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain
Starring: Michael Sheen, Rhona Mitra, Bill Nighy, Steven Mackintosh, Kevin Grevioux and Tania Nolan
Rated R / 1 hour, 32 minutes
(out of four)

Everyone knows that the third film in a series is supposed to be the black sheep. But what if the first two came out bad? Is there any chance No. 3 can redeem its sorry roots?

I'm sure it's happened before, though I can't think of an example off the top of my head. One thing's for certain, though - Underworld: Rise of the Lycans definitely doesn't pull it off. After the first two entries in the series followed Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a death dealer caught in the middle of the battle between vampires (her kind) and Lycans (werewolves), this one is a prequel, examining the origins of the story referenced in the first two.

First of all, the absence of Beckinsale is a huge blow to the movie's enjoyability, drastically depleting the hotness quotient. No offense, Rhona Mitra, but you are no Kate Beckinsale. And your character - as "character" goes in this trilogy - isn't as interesting, either.

Also gone from this installment is the very lucky Len Wiseman, creator of the series, director of the first two and husband to Beckinsale. However, despite his departure, everything about this movie is disappointingly familiar. Patrick Tatopoulos took over behind the camera, but it could have been Wiseman and we wouldn't have known the difference.

One of the primary gripes I've had about the Underworld series is its agonizing monotony, and that is perhaps most evident in this one. Almost every shot looks exactly the same. There's no variation of light or color, little contrast, no real composition to be spoken of. And it goes beyond just the visuals. Every character strikes the same over-acted tone, the emotions blend together, different rooms and different castles all but indecipherable.

The way the filmmakers have approached their material, the gothic setting, as Jake LaMotta might say, defeats its own purpose. Who can tell one character from the next - and who would even care?

The only characters that ever got past the "archetype" phase were Selene (for obvious reasons) and Viktor, the sinister elder vampire who came to life only because the great Bill Nighy gave such a spirited performance.

Viktor returns in this one, which is set something like 1,000 years before the original and tells of the origin of the first Lycans. Viktor created them to be a race of slaves, going so far as to raise the first of them, Lucian, as a sort of son. Lucian is played by Michael Sheen, who makes the natural leap from Oscar bait like The Queen and Frost/Nixon to playing a werewolf in the Underworld franchise.

Some years later, Lucian is a strapping young slave-lad who keeps guard while secretly romancing Viktor's daughter, Sonja (Mitra). That, of course, is strictly forbidden. Conflict ensues, Lucian gets in trouble and eventually makes it his duty to lead an uprising among his enslaved Lycan counterparts.

I'll give the filmmakers credit for scrupulously creating this world, its backstories, its politics. They pay attention to detail and seem to actually care.

If only they'd taken as much time coming up with a visual style that didn't seem like Gothic 101 or striking a tone - in dialogue, in character - that wasn't so monotonous, then the series might not have been such a relentless bore.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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