Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Release Date: January 23, 2009

Movie of the Day for Saturday, November 8, 2008
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Kate Beckinsale finds out her husband hasn't cast her.

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156/169 Max Braden I had completely forgotten who was who and did what to whom by this movie. But how great is Michael Sheen to swing this and Frost?

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BOP’s Fundamental Rules of Cinema #314: Put the word “lycanthrope” anywhere in the title or description and we will watch your movie. Putting Kate Beckinsale in a tight leather outfit is simply a happy bonus. Of course, we will not be getting said bonus in the third Underworld film, a prequel to Underworld and Underworld: Evolution.

Beckinsale and her man, Len Wiseman, the director of the first two titles, are sitting this one out. Beckinsale has moved to a series of umpteen dramas while Wiseman is still basking in the glow of his blockbuster success on Live Free Free Or Die Hard. Replacing him as director is first time helmer Patrick Tatopoulos, the creature creator for the franchise’s first two films. Wiseman will still take on a producer’s role in the film, but his wife’s posterior will no longer be a key selling point for the movie. Have no fear, though. A replacement has been brought in and it’s Tomb Raider-esque. This will all make sense in a moment.

The glory of Underworld is the fact that it seems like a low budget horror flick on paper. Vampires square off in an eternal struggle against their mortal enemies, werewolves. It should be a bare bones series of clichés, but that is not the way Wiseman went with his production. Instead, he loaded up the cast with well respected British thespians, many of who were virtual unknowns in North America at that time. The result is that the tales are Shakespearean in tone as well as execution, with actors who have the rare ability to pull off such an impressive feat of legitimizing otherwise fluffy stories.

The casting problem being faced now is that of later successes for certain celebrities from the first film film. In addition to Beckinsale and Wiseman's ascensions, Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy, key characters from the original Underworld, went from being virtual unknowns to recognizable stars outside of England (where they were already well established). Sheen’s work as Tony Blair in The Queen made him an awards season sensation and Bill Nighy got key roles in Love Actually and Shaun of the Dead before blowing up as Davy Jones, the tortured villain in the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. Both of them are famous now, making their potential return to the series a huge boon.

There is only one problem with them doing another Underworld movie with them in returning roles. Both of their characters died in the first title. This reason more than any other is why the idea of making Rise of the Lycans a prequel is a masterstroke. Sheen’s tortured werewolf, Lucian, and Nighy’s vindictive vampire, Viktor, are mortal enemies who faced off at the end of the first film. Neither survived that encounter. Going back in time to reveal how the reason that the vampires and werewolves first came into conflict completely opens up the storytelling for another movie. Given that a vampire Death Dealer has been the lead actress in the first two titles, it also creates a new point of view that will focus on the early years of Sheen’s Lucian, a monster whose only crime was love.

Since the producers, particularly the one married to her, are well aware of the marketing advantages of Beckinsale’s…assets, bringing in an equally gorgeous actress to replace her was crucial. Enter Rhona Mitra, the original Laura Croft. Mitra follows her role as an action heroine in the well received but financially disappointing Doomsday with this project. In it, she portrays Sonja, a character previously seen only in flashbacks. She is the key player in this title as she is the tie that binds Viktor and Lucian’s fates. Sonja is the daughter of Viktor who gives in to her love for Lucian, participating in the love that dare not speak its name between vampires and werewolves.

Given that the werewolves are slaves to the vampires at this point in the timeline, life does not end well for Mitra’s Sonja. Pregnant with Lucian’s child, she is discovered by her father, who takes the news about as well as Lindsay Lohan’s dad is dealing with his daughter’s Ronson obsession. Viktor chains up Sonja, then leaves her and his unborn hybrid grandson to be burned alive by the morning sunrise, all of which he forces misbehaving slave Lucian to watch. Since we already know how this winds up with Lucian dying at the hands of politician/traitor Kraven and Viktor getting half his head chopped off by Beckinsale’s Selene, the question of how/where the Underworld prequel will end is an intriguing one.

The Underworld movies have proven themselves as money makers. The first two titles earned $112.3 million domestically against a combined budget of only $72 million; they also pulled in a modest $41.7 million internationally. Best of all, the titles are spectacular earners on home video, meaning that these projects are Hollywood’s favorite sort. They are low risk, high upside properties and the third title in the trilogy offers the bonus of focusing upon some brilliant actors presumed written out of future storylines. As long as North American audiences are willing to accept Rhona Mitra in Kate Beckinsale’s stead, there is no reason to believe this will be anything other than another steady performer for Sony’s Screen Gems. (David Mumpower/BOP)

Vital statistics for Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Main Cast Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, Rhona Mitra
Director Patrick Tatopoulos
Screenwriter Danny McBride
Distributor Screen Gems
Screen Count 2,942
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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