April 30th, 2004
Written by: Danny McBride from a story by Kevin Grevious, Len Wiseman, and Danny McBride.
Draft date: 5/19/02
Reviewed by: Christopher Wehner
NOTE: The screenplays we review are often in development and may experience many rewrites, some could end up being completely different than what is reviewed here. It is our hope that our reviews generate more interest in the film. Thank you.
Underworld is a monster-matching story, but at its core is a dark and complex narrative that almost succeeds. Set in Budapest, Hungary, the monsters wage a centuries old war on each other. The "Underworld" is a massive subterranean bunker system still standing from World War II, and is where the werewolves hideout. The vampires hide in a heavily guarded old mansion. The werewolves are kind of your street gang thugs, while the vampires are your, as Jesse Jackson might say, "corporate hoods." Sophisticated, intelligent, and plotting.
According to reports, the movie looks to start production in September, 2002 in Budapest, Hungary. The director is Len Wiseman, who started out working as a prop designer for movies like Independence Day and Stargate, before becoming a director of music videos for groups like Megadeth and En Vogue. Music video directors are a hit and miss breed as motion picture directors. Some pan out, and some don’t. The continuity of this story (any story for that matter) is crucial and with a first-time feature film director, that could spell t-r-o-u-b-l-e.
Somehow this story has been neatly mentioned as being inspired by William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," the next thing you know it will receive an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. There is a love story of sorts involved, but it’s a subplot and not a very well developed one.
Underworld is a wild story when at its best vivid and engrossing, containing some of the best action sequences I’ve read to date (with enough ZIPS, BLAMS, BANGS, and KABOOMS to make any CGI programmer froth at the mouth.) Ultimately, however, the story falls a little flat (not from boredom, but more of a numbing effect) and the love story between a werewolf and vampire fails to really materialize. There’s also something vaguely familiar about this script. It reminded me a little of David Goyer’s Blade 2: Bloodhunt, though Underworld should be a better movie.
The fizzling love story really involves a human/lycan, Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman) who becomes a werewolf, sort of, and then a hybrid (a vampire/werewolf). The female is Selene, who reminded me a lot of Nyssa from Blade 2. She is a bad ass vampire who is "strikingly gorgeous," and constantly decked out in a skin tight leather suit. (Kate Beckinsale will play Selene, so that’s a plus.) The two meet early on after an incredible action sequence and are clearly smitten with each other. But from there the love story fails to materialize early enough and then falls flat.
Remember when vampire movies were dark and mysterious? This script tries to recapture that a little, and I thought it was somewhat inventive at times. It’s sad though, when the best vampire movie is still the silent film Nosferatu, directed by F.W. Murnau in 1922. (I am, however, also a little partial to William Crain’s 1972 blaxploitation flick Blacula... uh, yeah.) The classic vampire movies I enjoy seem like a faint memory, movies like Ted Browning’s Dracula (1931) staring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula.
Vin Diesel as Xander Cage in XXX is the MTV generation’s answer to James Bond. Blade and now Underworld are the MTV generation’s answer to classic horror and vampire movies. The monsters today are more like comic book superheroes, which can be cool at times. However, something has been lost in the translation. Everything is focused on being cool and hip. The action is intense, the fighting is fierce, and meanwhile the genre stagnates into oblivion. You’re going to walk away from Underworld and go, "That was bitch-in’" and then you’ll promptly forget about it. As we will forget the writer and the director—that is until they make something memorable beyond the mere eye-gorging extravagance that is modern movies. Who knows, Danny McBride may become the next Preston Sturges for all I know.
The story isn’t bad however, and it actually teases you that the sum of its parts will add up to something. It comes very close at times, right up until the final moments. So the script, for the most part, was really an enjoyable read.
Michael is being hunted (by the werewolves) because he is a descendant of an important guy in the history of werewolves and vampires. Someone whose blood contains a pure genetic code that can allow for a mutation into a hybrid, a creature which would have all of their superhuman strength, immorality, and none of their weaknesses. At first the vampires are not aware of this. To them he is nothing more than a human.
Michael is brought to the vampire mansion by Selene after he saves her life, but was knocked unconscious. She was badly wounded, he is a doctor, and helped bandage her up. But later he was bitten by a werewolf, which now means he will turn into one. Selene is convinced there is something important about him and tries to convince Kraven, who is the King vampire, of her suspicions.
Selene is a "Death Dealer," a warrior with great skill and prowess. Kraven wants her as his Queen, but she has continually rejected him. When he discovers her infatuation with Michael he wants to kill him. She doesn’t let him. When they learn Michael is now a lycan (a werewolf in human form), they have to kill him. Selene disobeys and hides Michael, as she believes the werewolves are massing and may be plotting revenge against them.
What I like about some of the scripts I’ve read of late is the emergence of bad ass female characters. We’ll see it in Terminator 3, we’ve seen it in Blade 2, and we’ll also see it in Kill Bill. Selene is a nice continuation of this trend and she’s a sufficiently developed character in this script with some real internal conflict.
There’s lots of conflict throughout the script and tons of intense action and gore. With Vampires wielding swords, hi-powered guns, and the werewolves have invented ultraviolet ammunition that toasts vampires from the inside out, causing a kind of spontaneous-vampire-combustion effect. Very cool. But what’s most impressive about the story is how it attempts to explain the emergence of both the werewolves and vampires. In the 12th century a plague is devastating Hungry. In one village a lone survivor emerges. He was able to absorb the disease into his immune system where it mutated and hibernated (Michael’s ancestor). He passed this on to his three sons: "one bitten by bat, one by wolf, and one to walk the lonely road of mortality."
If the marketing people do their job on this one (which won’t be hard) it most likely can’t miss: vampires, werewolves, action, special effects and Kate Beckinsale in a tight black outfit. I’ll be there.
Until next time.
UPDATE: 11/03 - Well, I saw the movie and loved it. Just goes to prove that sometimes I have no idea what I'm talking about :) The writing, the visuals, the editing, Kate Beckensdale,.., wow, great movie I was totally wrong, the love story works.