Revisiting the original Underworld proved to be surprisingly refreshing and I was taken aback and just how glued I was to the screen. For this screening I decided to watch the extended cut, which apparently adds about 12 minutes (making the film a convenient two hours and twelve minutes) and I’ll be honest in saying that I couldn’t see what was added or replaced, although I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the original cut of the film. Indeed, I watched the film in cinemas back in 2003 and maybe once after, although there were a decent number of memorable moments and scenes that stuck with me for a while, although it’s worth noting that I retained nothing of the story or plot, save for the basic werewolves versus vampires driving force. It was a pleasant surprise then, that the film didn’t stick me with a ton of exposition at the beginning; we’re dropped into the action right off the bat with just a brief introduction to Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and her “Death Dealer” squad, as they chase down a pack of werewolves into the underbelly of a grim looking city that looks like it was lifted from the claustrophobic sets of The Matrix and Dark City. I found myself – while enjoying the action – wondering if the film was just going to skip around the reason for the feud between vampires and werewolves, but then the plot allows for the rollout of that background and I was reminded that yes, this first film kind of explores the foundation for the origins of the centuries-long battle.
While Underworld did not really convince me that it could exist in our own reality, I was drawn into the seemingly human-absent dark world that it establishes. I found myself questioning just how many vampires and werewolves there are, with just a tiny bit of dialogue indicating that a “large den” of lycans was nearly impossibly, I have to assume then that a coven of vampires was also somewhat of a rarity. So I needn’t worry about a crime scene investigator wondering why there’s hundreds of silver bullets and blood-drained bodies in the aftermath of ultra-violent events, the film reduces the presence and distraction of regular humans, which by the end of the film, I can live with entirely. There’s plenty of flashy action sequences to engorge yourself on, and the film retains a consistent style throughout that’s fueled by incredible stunt work, practical special effects and Beckinsale’s mesmerizing steely intensity. The CGI on screen seems to be fully invested into the werewolves and their transformations and while I could do without the gross internal views of bones cracking, I was pleased with the effect (being mostly shrouded in darkness probably helps).
For a film that features such a grand rivalry that spans hundreds of centuries, Underworld feels oddly small sometimes, which I would chalk up to the confined set pieces and simple story. While that story is a bit forgettable, it does a good job of propelling events forward and moving the characters along in a believable way within the context of the stylized world that the film establishes. I’ll give the film some respect for its no-regret approach and my full attention as I enjoy the ride.