An Enquiry Concerning Why Your Favorite Movie Sucks: Underworld
I remember renting Underworld some time ago. I was in the mood for goofy horror flicks, so I rented it along with House of the Dead and House of 1000 Corpses. I watched them all, and was astounded, thinking, “wow, these are three awful movies.”
Each is awful in a different way, mind you. House of the Dead is a stunning and fascinating example of across the board incompetence, laziness, thoughtlessness, and so on. House of 1000 Corpses was a shrill and irritating display of its makers’ contempt for humanity at large.
Yet of the three, Underworld is the one that my wife gave up on earliest.
It was a wise decision on her part.
Now, some films take precision for us here at CPO to destroy. But not Underworld. I don’t need to point out obscure plot-line inconsistencies, random and sundry continuity errors, physics problems, factual errors, etc. It sucks in such a broad and general way, we don’t even need to point out the small short-comings. (You wouldn’t bother saying something like, Stalin never put the cap back on the toothpaste right?)
So, I re-rented the pure unfiltered stupidity of Underworld for the purposes of the column. In the back of my mind, I thought perhaps I was too hard on the film first time around. I sat and I watched the flick, with my spiral notebook, ready to take notes every time the flick did something idiotic.
I had ten pages by the end of the film.
Thus, some of this column will be a translation of my realtime notes on the flick. Almost like a one man Raw Rabble, only without the subsequent podcast.
So, the film starts off with 3 minutes of bored-voice over by our protagonist, Selene, who also spends this time standing in a windowsill trying to look “all goth” and such. I don’t recall that much of this giant chunk of exposition, but suffice to say it isn’t terribly riveting nor particularly integral to the rest of the flick.
Anyways, since Serene is a member of a covert task force of clandestine army of a hidden race smothered in secret sauce, she decides the best way to blend in is to jump several stories to the ground for no apparent reason while wearing a shiny black pleather jumpsuit looking like a reject from a Madonna video.
We immediately jump into a Matrix scene where, through a green filter, we watch a bunch of shinily garbed people shoot slow motion bullets towards other less shiny people at a subway station. (But I will say that some of the bullets are blue and glowy, and set to kill vampires in a more Bladeish style.) Some un-named, un-introduced people are killed by other nameless folk in an interminable and incomprehensible mess of what alleges to be an “action sequence.”
Finally, members of either side start monstering up and fight some more, but miraculously manage not to do anything interesting.
“Oh look he’s vamping up! The other guy is turning into a wolf! Awesome! They’re gonna figh- Wait that’s it? That was the fight? What? Just a shitty transformation scene and a choke? The hell?”
Our heroine Selene doesn’t seem to have much in terms of skills or powers aside from an uncanny ability to not get shot.
I should also point out that the war is between “lycans and bloods” or “lycans and vampyres” because a war between werewolves and vampires with an “i” might sound silly.
Back to the flick, we inexplicably jump from one lame action sequence to another lame action sequence: gratuitous werewolf Fight Club. Two werewolves fighting, surrounded by a circle of non-tranformed werewolves, how could this thing not be cool? Well, Underworld‘s ability to suck the coolness out of the room astounds ONCE AGAIN, with the magic of over-editing and close-up! Not only can you not tell what is going on in the fight, you can’t even tell what is fighting what! Goddamnit! Can’t I find some film-makers who know how to make films!?
I should mention that most every character in Underworld speaks with some sort of vague accent. Just thought I’d throw that in there.
12 minutes into the film, I note that nothing has happened that has made a damn bit of sense. I am overcome with a warm, heavy feeling. My mind starts to wander.
To stay awake, I start taking note of all the bad RPG names in the movie. We have Kahn, Kraven, Lucian, Raze, Selene, Soren, Corvin, Trix, Viktor (Victor with a “c” is for the rabble donchaknow?), etc. It’s like a who’s who of Gothic AOL email addresses.
Speaking of Kraven (well sort of), all I can say about that character is, “wow!” Not only is the interim leader of a vampire coven a sniveling pansy lounge lizard, but the actor portraying him manages to pull off a sub-Keanu performance. Bra-f*cking-vo! The character reaches a new benchmark in lousy film characters! In a film with porno level acting, he is able to suck head and shoulders above the rest.
23 minutes into it, I note that the experience of this movie reminds me of those 8am college course I took. The room would be stifling hot, and I would be on about 4 hours sleep… Jesus, I hope I don’t have to answer questions in Spanish during this flick.
At this point I also note that I don’t give one rat’s ass about Selene. Nor the vamps. Nor the Lycans. Nobody has given me any sort of personality or sense of empathy. I’m under the impression that the film thinks that I am supposed to care about Selene and Michael because both are attractive and the camera spends much time pointed in their general directions.
Anyways, the movie throw some more bad CGI my way, and reveals that werewolves can walk on ceilings and walls… somehow. The whole gravity thing doesn’t seem to bother them. But I guess it makes sense as the Lycans are half dog, and I’m pretty sure that my dog, MacArthur, can do this thing. He just doesn’t want to…
Oh wait, Selene has more vampiric powers! Apparently, vampire… wait, no, this is true, vampires, rarely need to reload…. Most of the time, vampires just toss the old gun away and grab a new one.
Only 28 minutes into the movie, our hero(?) Michael says, “What the f*ck is going on?”
I am not able to answer his question.
Anyways, we jump to a couple more bland action sequences. I don’t really remember much of what happens. I do know that for some reason, Lucian is able to heal bullets out of his skull in a manner strikingly similar to Wolverine in X2, only without the benefit of an adamantium skull. Not content to just be Wolverine, Lucian decides to also be the T-1000. He chases down a speeding car by foot, jumps on its roof, and starts stabbing through the roof with his wrist knives until the driver hits the breaks and he rolls off and said knives plink-plink on the asphalt.
Then we get a gratuitous car flip into a lake, and Michael is forced to use CPR to revive Selene… Wait, vampires need to breathe? And they have reflections in this movie. And will pass out from blood loss… These aren’t vampires! These are just really hardcore goths who work out a lot. You’re not tricking me movie!
Wait, no vampires can stick to ceilings in Underworld. I don’t think goths can (memo: ask Lucard, “can goths stick to ceilings?”).
40 minutes into the movie we learn that Kraven has made some sort of deal with the Lycans. I am overcome with, uh, apathy, I guess. In order to capitalize on this apathy, the flick jumps to an extended sequence of Selene… READING.
Selene, being the genius that she is, figures out that the Lycan she saw was Lucian because he was wearing a necklace similar to one worn by Lucian in an old drawing. For some reason, she doesn’t question why Lucian has Viktor’s symbol branded onto his skin. Whatever, she’s the death dealer…
God this movie needs robot puppets. Not only does our hero look like the guy from Creed, not only is our heroine completely insipid, the flick decides that a scene of Selene writing VIKTOR on a foggy mirror is necessary. Maybe my DVD player is broken. No actual movie could be this lousy right?
45 minutes into the film: I now hate Selene, and remain unconvinced that Kate Beckinsale has adequate range of motion in her facial muscles. Maybe her face was bitten by a snake and became parazyled.
50 minutes into the film: I think Underworld has given me low blood sugar… can a movie do that?
More over-use of close-up, some jumpy flashbacks, some more close-ups, some more jumpy flashbacks, more actors vacantly staring…
1 Hour 11 minutes into the film: I require a nap.
I wake up with Underworld stank still on my eyes. I de-tox with the Arcade episode of “Newsradio” and feel better.
Back to the flick.
At 1 hour and 22 minutes into the flick, the plot of the film is partially revealed. And the theme: ahem, fear of miscegenation makes monsters fight.
Wait a second… Silver Nitrate is clear, not silver. I don’t think this film is an accurate depiction of the real world! Wait. Shit. Sorry…
1hr 40 minutes: It is an all out and poorly shot war of bad versus bad. Creed-guy gets shot by Kraven, so Selene has to bite him to make him a vampire werewolf hybrid.
Meanwhile, I wonder where are the lady werewolves are…
Anyways, we get a vampire-werewolf hybrid, a completely original idea that has not been thought of by every 3rd grader in the country. Oh wait… Anyways, Underworld‘s vampire-werewolf hybrid is somewhat less cool-looking than my friend Frank’s drawing of one from third grade. Apparently, this film thinks that Vampire + Werewolf = Shirtless Photo-negative man.
So, shirtless photo-negative Creed has a prissy scratch fight with Shaun of the Dead‘s step-father, and fares quite poorly. Shaun‘s step-father gets Mr. Creed in the dreaded “Rowdy” Roddy Piper sleeper hold before Selene decides to ~Cheat to Win! She chops off the top of his head.
So for two hours of my time, I get to see some dude that looks like the guy from Creed turn blue…
Hey, if you like poorly-lit, humorless films with bad direction, flat characters, and a dearth of originality… well there are a lot of movies out there for you…
How to make this film into something that won’t make me want to kill puppies
First off, let’s throw out my thesaurus and just tell it like it is. Underworld is bad. The story is bad. The continuity is bad. The acting is bad. The camera-work is bad. The CGI is bad. (I’m bored of this bad repetition.) The character development is nonexistent. I imagine that even the catering was sub-par.
So there are a couple of ways to make this film better.
A. Make the vampires interesting. All the vamps do in this movie is mill about and throw cocktail parties. They don’t even eat humans. Isn’t that as boring for them as it is for me? Wouldn’t immortality breed some interesting hobbies? What do the vampires think of vampire movies? Is there secret Vampire PPV? Do they like Pikachu? I’d imagine that vampires would make good dancers.
Just do something goddamnit.
Fucking Vampires. They didn’t even have any cool powers. The least you could do would be to turn into mist…
B. Import characters. I don’t trust the makers of Underworld to be able to create or develop their own characters. Solution? Import characters from other, better movies. Even you freaks that like this piece of shit will admit that it becomes infinitely better with the addition of Blade or Ash or Larry Talbot or Vampire Hunter D or even Buffy.
C. Add elements of the mundane. i.e. Do vampires have trouble with relationships? Trouble at work? Do they have bratty kids? Do werewolves tell vampire jokes? Are there derogatory terms? Do these monsters work? How do they afford these fancy weapons? What do werewolves eat?
D. Embrace the Drive-in! Underworld spent a bunch of time denying it’s b-movie routes. It took itself way too seriously. It is already an R-rated monster movie, might as well drop in some scream queens, gore, salaciousness, lewd jokes, carnivorous hillbillies, killer penguins, and jive-talking velociraptors…
E. Make a different, better movie.