Tag Archives: Underworld

Appropriate Attired Adventurers Assemble!

Well, this is awesome.

Image

Fantasy and SF book blog A Dribble of Ink turned me onto this neat Tumblr – Women Fighters in Reasonable Armour and I’m rather taken with it.  It collates examples of fantasy and SF artwork depicting female characters garbed in attire which is actually practical and appropriate to the ass kickery which they are engaged in.

I’ve blogged about this before in relation to my beloved “Resident Evil” and “Underworld” movie series – and I guess that there’s an tie-in with the current blockbuster “Avengers” movie – in which your strong, competent heroines are togged out in PVC/Leather catsuits or some derivation thereof.  I’ve found it a bit curious, to be honest, with all kinds of mixed messages suggesting themselves:  I love the (mostly) empowered heroines, I’m just not crazy about the ass-hugging camera angles frequently employed to depict them.

It’s that cross-over point between agency and objectification – which I’m sure as hell not smart enough to figure out by myself (there may be that undeniable masculine perspective which is also standing in the way of better understanding).  That said, I feel that the issue goes something like this – the phenomenon of ‘male gaze‘ is the problem in most depictions of otherwise strong female characters in genre entertainment.

Let’s say that two directors on a film both shoot variations on the same scene with a female warrior in an action scene.  The details of the scene are identical, but for the way that the female character is shot – one director frames the female character neutrally, allowing her to proceed through the sequence without the camera lingering on her body or focussing on anatomy in any particular way.  The other guy is Michael Bay.

Rosie Huntington-Whitely - also pictured, Michael Bay's explosive super-ID...

You can begin to see the problem if you took in a screening of the thirdTransformers film – in which Bay’s camera leered so constantly after star Rosie Huntington-Whitely‘s rear end that it was possible to conclude that the director missed his calling in life and might have sought more appropriate employment as a proctologist.

It’s possible to argue that Hollywood’s M.O. is to market around visuals and aesthetics, so can’t do anything but focus on eye candy and create narratives in which the visual shorthand is paramount (no pun intended), but there’s got to be a point in superhero narratives, fantasy fiction and sci-fi stories where common sense prevails and the heroines aren’t attired in costumes which make no fricking sense.

Jim C Hines - making my point about the 'male gaze' in hilarious fashion.

If Hollywood starts insisting that Jason Statham wear armour-plated Speedos as he kicks in henchmen’s teeth and that action heroes have to be dressed in as vulnerable a fashion as possible, I suppose that we might be said to have reached some kind of parity in the depiction of  the genders when every hot dude is being as exploited as much as every beautiful gal.  Over in the realm of fiction, writers have been engaging with the silly archetypes and imagery being used to market their novels – witness io9’s posts on fantasy writer Jim C. Hines, who has been writing a series of blog posts deconstructing some of the tactics used to market books to readers in a charming and self-effacing way.

Sensible armour, worn by a sensible young woman. Almost makes up for Bella in "Twilight" being such a drip, doesn't it?

There is hope, of course – forthcoming summer fantasy blockbuster “Snow White & The Huntsman” goes some way towards depicting a capable heroine who doesn’t have to wear a chain mail bikini to wield a sword and punch undead beasties in the ‘nards, the “Alien” prequel which isn’t, Ridley Scott‘s “Prometheus”, seems to wait a decent amount of time before finding a narrative reason for female lead Noomi Rapace to show up in her pants and even the catsuited heroine of “The Avengers”, Scarlett Johansson‘s Black Widow, might be wearing a catsuit but isn’t striking cheesecake poses, breaking a heel and waiting for her male compadre to save her.

Do these archetypes exist because we’ve established a taste for them as an audience or because we’ve been told that this depiction of heroes and heroines is what we want?

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A Season of Vamps: “Underworld: Awakening” review

The Becks, as Death Dealing Vamp Selene, in "Underworld: Awakening".

Geek film critic Harry Knowles, of Ain’t It Cool News fame, has always been a proponent of giving his film reviews a wider context .  He wants to give you a sense of what the screening was like, how the audience behaved and a picture of how the surroundings of the film enhanced or detracted from his experience.

I would do that myself, but I’m not sure that you need to know how about my inhaler falling out of my pocket and getting stuck under the car in the cinema car park, or the van full of kids who were THIS EXCITED ABOUT GOING TO PLAY LASERTAG, LOLZ!

Instead, know this:

Mummy 3D Specs and her lovely offspring, Junior

Yep, that happened alright.

The normal-sized pair of 3D glasses is what I usually take with me when going to the cinema to see a 3D movie.   I forgot them when I set out to see “Underworld: Awakening” today and so ended up using the top, kids-sized pair of indoor, knock-off Raybans when it was handed to me – I’m 6 feet 3 tall and have unruly long hair – those glasses were lucky to stay perched on the bridge of my nose without exploding.

I’m assuming shenanigans on the part of the Emo-haired, apparently eleven year old cashier at Cineworld – however, his cunning (or inept) ruse did not prevent me from enjoying this latest salvo in the eternal war between vampires and werewolves, but did confirm that 3D doesn’t really add much to the experience.

SPOILERS, probably, from this point forward.

Kate Beckinsale’s eternal vampire warrior Selene – ‘death dealer’ in the ornate parlance of this franchise – has been frozen, experimented on and generally kept under lock and key for twelve years when we first meet her.   In flashback, we see that the wider world has finally gotten hip to the supernatural war being waged in the shadows – you would think that governmental types might have noticed ten feet tall werewolves running amok and be-winged ancient vampires attacking all and sundry as a minor blight on urban living – and instigated a cataclysmic purge.

Hence Selene’s on lock-down, her vamp/wolf hybrid love Michael is missing presumed dead and the supernaturals who swaggered through the previous films like they owned the joint have gone to ground.

To make matters worse, Selene’s having weird psychic flashes which link her to person(s) unknown and the Med-Tech group who were experimenting on her are quite keen on getting her up and flash-burning her into oblivion.  It’s not the best of days for anyone and it’s made a bit worse when Selene finds out that she now has a daughter, Eve (series newcomer India Eisley).

Bloody moody teenagers. What's wrong with classic Vampire black attire?

If you saw the picture of Eisley and thought to yourself, “Franchise spin-off, ahoy!”, then we’re on the same page.  It’s not hard to see that this iteration of  “Underworld” acting as something of a soft reboot for the series, with the likes of Eisley and Brit heart-throb-in-waiting Theo James filling a nice Beckinsale and Scott Speedman-sized space should the producers decide that they want to skew the series younger and attract some of the tweens and teens who’ve flocked to the “Twilight” films.

This said, all concerned may want to make some changes before that sort of plan is considered – I’m not remotely a champion of censoring films, but the level of violence in this sequel did make me wince a couple of times.  This is one film which absolutely earns its 18/R rating, so be fully warned if you’re not a fan of gore, blood and heads exploding.  It makes the last “Rambo” look like a Miley Cyrus vehicle.

As I’ve said, I did enjoy the film but had some reservations about some choices which were made.  The utterly convoluted but entertaining back story of the previous entries in the franchise is more or less forgotten in favour of covering events in the here and now.  Eve is the focus of this movie and the wholesale devastation of the Vampire and Were populace is dealt with in a quick-fire introductory sequence.

The cynic in me suggests that the introduction of new characters might be a studio’s favoured way of moving forward with the franchise and recasting younger, (subjectively) hotter and – most importantly – cheaper actors who aren’t married to the producer/writer/director.

Still, Eisley is actually quite good and Theo James acquits himself well, too, so the idea of seeing another “Underworld” sequel in two years with these two front and centre doesn’t fill me with the same level of horror that it might do for the mainstream critics (it looks like this film is going to have a pretty decent launch this weekend – number one at the US box office with $23-24 million and nobody has a good word to say about it.  Almost guarantees that there will be another film…).

To sum up – Kate’s great, the gore in this picture is mind-boggling, the 3D is okay, the climactic battle is a gonzo Battle Royale and it occurs to me that my favourite guilty pleasure horror action franchise is turning into a Vampire-centric “X-Men”/superhero clone  – and I’m absolutely okay with that.

Just don’t do a “Twilight”  number on the next one, eh, Screen Gems?

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“Underworld: Awakening” is for adults, apparently.

Well, this is a turn-up for the books.

Da Becks.

The BBFC – Britain’s film classification organization, who are like a more accountable MPAA  – have a very useful website which gives consumers information about classification decisions (along with some very useful release date information) and it’s only gone and told me that “Underworld: Awakening” has been passed uncut in the UK with an 18 rating.

It contains ‘strong, bloody violence and horror’, apparently.  If I were a kid today, I’d love a site like this – it would make my film watching choices so much easier, particularly when using the BBFC’s informative and only slightly hilarious Extended Content Information notes, which perhaps work in a fashion different to their intent.  If you want to know what films you SHOULD be watching for sex, violence and the like, the ECI notes are your very best friends on the internet.

Theo James in "Underworld: Awakening".

I’m sure that the good people at Sony and Screen Gems might have preferred a slightly more inclusive rating which didn’t bar tweens and teens from seeing the flick but I have to quietly voice a sigh of calm relief – the ratio of ‘kids ignoring the film and texting their friends’ to ‘nerds who, you know, want to watch the film‘ is going to be that much more biased in my favour.

Hurray for censorship (or not, in this case)!

For those of you who want some more clips and Vamps-vs-Lycans shenanigans, you can check out five clips and some new images at Beyond Hollywood’s preview page.

 

 

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A Season of Vamps – “Priest”

As part of the build-up to the January 20th release of “Underworld: Awakening”, a movie which I feel like an ill-advised, one-man-band cheerleader for (don’t ask me why I am, just be aware that I am so afflicted and aim your sympathy accordingly), I thought that it might be fun to run a series of posts which look at recent, classic and current vampires in pop culture and discusses what we think about them, why we watch them and why they persist as a horror staple when so many other fictional monsters fall by the speculative fiction wayside.

To get things going with a resounding “Hmm…”, I’m looking at 2011’s Franchise Which Wasn’t, the Korean comics adaptation “Priest”.

On the face of it, this is a can’t miss premise: disgraced religious warrior is pitted against super-powerful vampire hybrids in a dystopian future.  It’s a simple high concept which has a lot of scope to talk about faith, fear, politics, the self, and all manner of interesting subject matter and juxtapose that against a fast-moving tale which hits on our enduring love of the undead and our uneasy relationship with religions and their place in contemporary society.

I can’t speak to the Korean manhwa (comic) by Min-Woo Hyung but the film which results from his work is a disappointment on a couple of levels – some of which it takes sole responsibility for, one of which is resolutely the result of my own (not realistic) expectations.

To the latter – when I watched the trailers for this film, I was honestly expecting the “Judge Dredd” film that we didn’t really get with Sylvester Stallone and director Danny Cannon, back in the mid-1990’s: a world in which we had surrendered  personal freedoms to live in a none-too-welcoming future of grim, impersonal super cities, presided over by a ruthless warrior police force whose remit was more based on a more binary morality than interested in anything resembling justice.

It’s fair to say that we do at least a visual sense of that world in the finished film, but the representation is brief and doesn’t really extend to a convincing, detailed depiction of what it might be like for people to live in it.  Like much else in the film, the film’s universe is a purely visual creation, where things exist to be cool and look striking – if aspects of the world in “Priest” don’t seem to make too much sense, the viewer frequently gets the idea that we’re not meant to be looking at them with too much scrutiny.

What was hinted at by the advanced trailers for the film is fully depicted in the end product – this is more of a sci-fi western than a horror picture and in that respect it at least manages to subvert expectations by largely eschewing the dark and dingy territory that you might expect from a story where the antagonists are vampiric creatures and setting much of the action in a bright, sun-drenched, sandy, lawless badlands environment.

Think “Mad Max” with a hint of the Man With No Name and you’ll get a sense of where the film makers are aiming at but don’t quite manage to hit.

The actors are good  – Paul Bettany doesn’t play down to the material or do anything less than his best work in this film.  He’s a muted, tortured presence as the titular character, but I wonder what kind of effort he was exerting to stay with the American accent that his role demands here – is there any real reason this particular protagonist in a ruined future absolutely has to be from the States?

He’s more than matched by Maggie Q, whose turn in this film suggests an actor familiar with the traditions of the ‘Martial Chivalry’ genre – she’s grave, restrained and capable in the face of the unstoppable Vampire foe, here epitomised by Karl Urban.

Urban is one of those reliable actors who lends even fairly straightforward material like this a bit of quirky individuality and energy.  He’s particularly fun in this film as a mysterious bad guy who has a history with Bettany’s hero and a revenge motive which is quite neat and mean-spirited.

The vampires in this film, you see, waged war against humanity for centuries until they were bested by a resurgent human race banded together under the banner of religious faith.  The surface of the planet after the war is a scorched hell – the excellent animated prologue movie by director Genndy Tartakovsky fills in some of the back story in eye-popping style – and vampires are consigned to reservations far away from the Walled Cities which house the survivors of the conflict.

When a report of a vampire attack on his estranged brother reaches Bettany’s character, he rejects his religious order’s call for calm and sets out to arrest what he believes must be a resurgent vampire populace before it can again overrun the new cities and what’s left of humanity.

If any of that sounds a little ordinary and entirely devoid of innovation, that’s because it really rather is.  Again, I can’t say how this reflects on the source material, but the adaptation is – charitably – based on archetypes and lots of things that you’ve seen before in other media.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as with many B-movies part of the joy of them is in noticing the homages and allusions to what’s gone before.  Director Scott Charles Stewart openly homages John Ford’s “The Searchers” during the film and that’s nothing if not ballsy – this vampire actioner really doesn’t have the story or stylistic chops to live up to the legacy of that celebrated Western.

It’s a pacey and concise film – the running time is a brief 87 minutes – but it could also have benefited from more of a sense of humour.  I’m not saying that Bettany’s tortured hero had to quip wise after each vampire fight, but some levity might have lifted a story which takes itself rather more seriously than is probably good for it.  We’re not dealing with the angst of a tale like “Let the Right One In”, after all – this film doesn’t have much more to say than ‘kung fu priest beats up mutant vampires – repeat’, for cripes sake.

In the pantheon of throwaway horror action pics, this is a little bit more throwaway than most, but your enjoyment of it may increase relative to your love of Paul Bettany, Karl Urban and Maggie Q.  If you happen to be a fan of any one of those actors, you can consider this a three and a half star to four stars out of five film.  Everybody else should consider this as one of those films that you watch on an otherwise unoccupied evening and enjoy despite yourself if you’re any kind of SF geek.

 

 

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Another “Underworld: Awakening” poster rises from the grave…

Seriously Kate, have you ever considered fronting a European Symphonic Metal band?

Another day, another poster for this January’s “Underworld: Awakening”.

This time, we’re going with giving the punters what they want – Kate Beckinsale doing her best impersonation of Sharon Den Adel, guns akimbo, wintry vibes to the fore.

It’s a toss-up as to how many fans will view this poster, I think – are we supposed to say “Hmm…looking good there, Ms B.” or “Hmm…I wonder where I can pick up those contact lenses she’s wearing?”

In other news, the full track listing for the soundtrack has been released over at Loudwire.

You can expect the likes of Mumford & Sons, Jessie J & Lady Gaga.. Evanescence, Linkin Park, (my beloved) Lacuna Coil and The Cure on the CD, which will be available from January 16th, handily a few days before the film’s debut on January 20th 2012.

I saw the trailer again yesterday when I went to see “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” at the cinema and it’s got a lot more impact when you watch it on an appropriately sized screen (in my case, Cineworld Sheffield’s impressively huge screen 7, popularly known locally as ‘The Full Monty’), and projected digitally.

Can’t wait to see this in January – but given the amount of “Underworld” posts that I’ve written, you may have picked up on that already.  I’d worry about going on and on about this, were it not for the views that such posts generate – it’s one of the most popular topics that I write about, don’t you know? Fellow, down-low, faux-mall Goths unite!

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Vampires for Christmas…

Those lovely people at Screen Gems just keep on giving.  Well, ’tis the season and all that.

I'm going out on a hairy lycanthropic limb and saying that Selene's not on Team Jacob...

Not content with dropping the third trailer for this January’s fourth entry in the Kate Beckinsale PVC vamp franchise,  “Underworld: Awakening”  – which spends an awful lot of its runtime telling you that it’s in 3D, because it’s the law, now, apparently – the studio have also released a Kate Beckinsale-narrated trailer which brings you up to speed on the franchise’s highlights so far.

But oddly, Selene is kind of into were-folk when they look like Scott Speedman. Go figure.

Yes, there have been highlights, snarky internet haters.

Michael Sheen, classing up the joint all proper-like.

Sophia Myles, also offering a bit o' class.

Bill Nighy, whose very presence improves a film by 278.9% on average.

And those guys are just in the first film.

The “Underworld” movies have proper actors in them, don’t you know – and none of them give the impression that they’re slumming, which is pretty cool.  It’s one of the reasons that I like the series – I’m well aware that it’s noisy, derivative, B-horror fare and I’m pretty sure that the creators are, too.  There seems to be an implicit bargain between audience and film-makers that we’re going to enjoy this film and the universe it occurs in and not think too much about how silly it is – it’s a shame that critics haven’t joined the party, but you can’t have everything (where would you put it?).

So, there’s a new “Underworld” flick out in January and I’m kind of excited to see it.  Revelatory stuff from Fluffrick, once more.

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Kate Beckinsale back in “Underworld: Awakening”, Lycan community nonplussed…

Loud Emo tunes, stylised goth posing, in 3D, with the Becks - at this point, they're making these flicks for me...

After the mostly Beckinsale-less prequel film, “Underworld – Rise of the Lycans”, the producers of the “Underworld” movies have seen sense and made another entry in the series, with Kate Beckinsale returning as moody, PVC-clad, werewolf smasher Selene.

“Underworld: Awakening” is due out in January 2012 everywhere in the world apart from the UK.  Seriously.  The official website lists an opening date for seemingly every other territory in the world apart from mine.  Hmm.  I suspect that the film will be out in the same time frame, but it does seem quite weird to omit the country of Beckinsale’s birth from that list.

Cynics would say that to miss the fourth film in this series is to miss nothing very much, but as I’m a fan of this admittedly goofy and absurd genre film series, I’m not one of them.

Deportment, style and the ability to separate your neck from your shoulders. What's not to love?

I love that these movies are so serious!  The ‘Vamps vs Were…sorry, Lycans‘ fiction of the films is so earnest and considered that it attains far more of a place in my heart than if it were just being chucked out in the market place to earn a quick buck (Any writer of fan fiction must look at this series and think “If they can do it, why can’t I?”).

The predominantly European settings also mark this out as different for me – which makes me wonder if this fourth, shot-in-Canada film will have a rather generic look, given that a good 60% of the SF tv shows that I watch are shot in the Great White North: I’ll be waiting for Callum Keith Rennie to show up every five minutes.

If you’re wanting to see the latest trailer, you can find it here – expect the Becks in PVC, lots of sliding through hordes of disposable bad guys, plate glass explosions, earnest posing atop buildings at night and yes, the promise that the movie is in 3D, as all genre horror/action movies must be nowadays.

It's going to happen, isn't it?

Of course, the pressing question which must be answered is this: when are Screen Gems and Impact Pictures going to get together and make the ultimate throw-down – Kate Beckinsale vs Milla Jovovich in an “Underworld”/”Resident Evil” fan-service mash-up?  For the love of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, it practically writes itself.

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