The millennia-old battle between Vampires and Lycans rages on in stunning 3D in Underworld Awakening, the fourth and most spectacular installment in the hugely popular franchise. Taking the celebrated saga’s signature action and mayhem to a new level, Underworld Awakening pits the legendary Vampire warrioress Selene (Kate Beckinsale) against her most powerful adversary yet, just as she discovers a shocking secret that will change everything she has ever fought for.
Fifteen years have passed since Selene and her human-Lycan hybrid lover Michael vanquished the Vampire Elder Marcus in Underworld Evolution. In the intervening years, mankind has discovered the existence of both the Vampire and Lycan clans, and launched an all-out war to eradicate both species. Selene, captured during the genocide, awakens after more than a decade to find herself captive in a sealed laboratory at Antigen, a powerful biotech corporation dedicated to developing a vaccine against the viruses that have created the Vampires and Lycans.
Selene is heartbroken to discover that Michael is dead, but her grief is soon overshadowed by the shock of her discovery that, while in a cryogenically frozen state, she has given birth to his daughter, Eve (India Eisley). As she seeks asylum for herself and her child, Selene finds herself in a world in which her once proud people have been hunted nearly to extinction and the few survivors hide underground.
Shunned by the remaining clans, Selene enlists the support of a young Vampire, David (Theo James), who joins her in a bloody vendetta against Antigen, where shadowy forces conspire to destroy both her and her child. With their traditional enemies, the Lycans, once again in ascendance, even Selene seems powerless in the face of the most ferocious opponent in Underworld history—a genetically enhanced uber-Lycan.
Taking things to the next level
For the fourth installment of their mega-hit Underworld franchise, producers Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi and Richard Wright, and franchise creator Len Wiseman have taken the extraordinary risk of reinventing and reinvigorating an already hugely successful, internationally acclaimed property. The filmmakers have transported their Vampire and Lycan characters into a contemporary, human-dominated world in which they are hunted to near extinction, adding the excitement of cutting edge 3D technology into the mix.
With other commitments pending, including helming the upcoming remake of Total Recall, franchise creator Len Wiseman chose not to direct the film, but was on hand as a producer and provided the inspiration for the extraordinary storyline. “Len imagined a scenario where Selene and Michael have created a child,” says Gary Lucchesi, president of Lakeshore Entertainment. “That was the starting point for this movie. It would have been impossible to make such a good movie without Len’s contribution. He was involved in everything from production design to writing the script and casting the film.”
“This is a continuation of the story that ended in Underworld Evolution,” says David Coatsworth, executive producer of the film. “Putting Selene into the context of a modern world and having her interact with humans is one of the two big new elements. The second is the discovery that she’s the mother of a teenage daughter. It brings a whole new twist to the evolution of Selene and sets up the possibility of continuing on into the future.”
Fans of the first two Underworld films are sure to be thrilled by the return of actress Kate Beckinsale in the role of the fearsome Vampire huntress Selene. “We really wanted to work with Kate again,” says Lucchesi. “Sometimes the stars just align themselves perfectly and this is one of those times.”
Beckinsale admits she thought twice about slipping back into the familiar skintight black latex suit before accepting the part again. “But it was a life-changing role for me, so I feel very affectionate towards it. It’s exciting to be able to follow a character over such a long period of time. It’s rare to get that chance.”
On set, it was clear she had lost none of the edge that made Selene an iconic figure in Underworld lore. “Kate can switch into Selene like that,” says Mårlind, snapping his fingers. “She can be having a laugh, but when action’s called, she has those guns up and she looks like she’s going to kill you. She has a highway into Selene that is fantastic. As a director, it’s marvelous to have someone who is so close to their character.”
With series stalwart Wiseman unavailable to direct, the filmmakers launched an extensive search for someone to take the helm of the new production. “We considered a number of young filmmakers who had demonstrated an interest in the Underworld franchise,” says Lucchesi. “That group included a team of Swedish directors, Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein . They had co-directed a really interesting film called Storm, which seemed to us to have been heavily influenced by Underworld.”
Mårlind and Stein, who have previously directed separately as well as together, have known each other since they were children. They have developed an uncanny connection that allows them to work most effectively in tandem, with each directing on alternate days. “We flip a coin the day before the shoot, says Stein. “Usually Måns wins, which is not necessarily a win. If you win the coin toss, you have to direct the first day, and first day is always chaos.
As unorthodox as their method sounds, the film’s actors and producers solidly endorse the result. “I don’t know how I’m going to go back to having one director,” says Beckinsale. “By trading off, they are able to stay incredibly excited to have their turn. They never get burned out. I’m married to a director, so I realize that it’s such a miserably nonstop job. There are always 50 people asking you questions. With a partner to answer those questions, the one who’s directing can stay focused on the actors and the shot at hand.”
Newcomer India Eisley plays the now teenaged Eve, whose life has been lived as a test subject for the biotech conglomerate that imprisoned her mother. Eisley, who takes on her first major film role in Underworld Awakening, captivated the filmmakers with her solemn precocity and otherworldly beauty. “India has an exotic quality to her,” says Lucchesi. “She’s also completely believable as Kate’s daughter. She tested the first day of casting and we never topped her.
As a longtime fan of the franchise, Eisley applauds the changes that Underworld Awakening brings to the story. “It is really great how they’re re-introducing Kate and at the same time introducing new characters,” she notes. “They’ve interwoven all of the storylines seamlessly. Kate’s one of my favorite actresses and she’s just as lovely as I thought she would be. I just feel lucky to be working with her.”
Also new to the franchise is the Vampire David, played by Theo James. David has been searching for Selene, whose reputation has inspired him to want to fight back against human aggression. “For David, Selene’s a kind of legend,” says James. “She’s this super hot Vampire, but also hard as nails. When David hears she may be alive, nothing can stop him from trying to find her.”
The changes have opened up the movie and brought it out of the Underworld, according to Beckinsale. “There are some really great new characters played by some really great actors,” she says. “India’s fantastically talented and Theo’s a real find. Stephen and Charles bring something new to it, but with a very familiar vibe. They have some of the same gravitas that Bill Nighy, who played Viktor, the Vampire Elder in the earlier films, had. It all adds yet another layer of intrigue and danger.”
A new vision
With Underworld Awakening bringing Vampires and Lycans into the cold light of the human world, the filmmakers strove to differentiate the Old World fantasy-based Underworld from the modern urbanity in which Selene finds herself. Shooting in Vancouver B.C., they found much they could take advantage of: the city’s modern skyline, the outlying wilderness and the moody atmosphere. “Vancouver is one of the great filmmaking cities,” says Coatsworth. “We embraced both the contemporary and the older aspects of the city to try to create an extension of our European city, while subtly bringing it into the future.”
The damp, overcast streets of Vancouver provided the dark, wet mood the filmmakers sought for their dystopian future, while the modernist architecture provided inspiration for the vast unnamed city.” Underworld is not our world,” says Mårlind. “You can’t say it’s Moscow or New York or Rome. It’s Underworld. This was what was very attractive to us, because we were able to explore new ideas.
The filmmakers gave the fictional city a skyline inspired by the buildings of Soviet-era Eastern Europe. “We went with a very specific look, the architectural style known as brutalism,” says production designer Claude Paré. “Brutalism was the predominant style of the Communist era. It is functional, unadorned and rectilinear. Typically it’s built from stark, grey slabs of poured concrete in bold symmetrical forms. In Vancouver, there are many buildings designed by the architect Arthur Erickson that fit the profile and we were fortunate to be able use of some of these buildings, including Simon Fraser University, which we made our key location, the headquarters of Antigen.”
With a laser technology called LIDAR, the filmmakers were able to reshape the Vancouver skyline based on the specifications of the directors, in essence building an entirely new city for Underworld Awakening’s human world. James McQuaide, the film’s executive producer and visual effects supervisor used LIDAR’s ability to capture the geometry of volume to custom build a completely original skyline for a modern city that isn’t geographically recognizable, because it doesn’t really exist.
Underworld Awakening opens in cinemas 2 Feb
Images and featurette courtesy of Sony Pictures Singapore
©POPCulture Online 2012, All Rights Reserved