This Film is NOT a Future Release.
The Following Preview has been Archived.
November 24th, 2008:
The prequel story traces the origins of the centuries-old blood feud between the aristocratic vampires known as Death Dealers and their onetime slaves, the Lycans. In the Dark Ages, a young Lycan named Lucian (Sheen) emerges as a powerful leader who rallies the werewolves to rise up against Viktor (Nighy), the cruel vampire king who has enslaved them. Lucian is joined by his secret lover, Sonja (Mitra), in his battle against the Death Dealer army and his struggle for Lycan freedom.What to Expect:
In this business we call show, you just can't get away from sequels. They're a can't-live-with, can't-live-without proposition. On one hand, if a film is successful and popular, audiences want to see more of the characters that appealed to them the first time around, and a sequel can be an important financial move for studios who are more hesitant to pay for films without a built-in audience. On the other hand, sequels are so often dim shadows of the films that spawned them, many of which weren't that great to start with. It's noteworthy and rare that a sequel surpasses its predecessor in quality, although they often make more money, because the original film has had time to amass viewers since the end of its theatrical run via home video or cable airings. A prequel is an even trickier piece of business. To make one, you have to have a lot of faith in the audience's desire to see stories that often don't involve the characters and storyline that they first found appealing in the original film. The risk in making a prequel is evident in how few of them have been made, and how many fewer of those have been successful. For the most successful prequel, we need look no further than "Godfather Part II." Other prequels of note include "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," "Red Dragon," and the Star Wars prequel trilogy. And...uh...yeah, that's about it for successful prequels. Article continues below
What do these films have in common? All were based upon hugely successful films that generated enough moviegoer interest to sustain another film (or films) featuring different characters (or, in the case of "Godfather II," the same characters played by different actors). "Temple of Doom" almost doesn't need to be on the list; each of the Indiana Jones films very nearly stands on its own.
This brings me to "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans." I recall seeing the original "Underworld" when it was released in 2003. I thought it was an okay film, more style than substance, but what struck me the most about it was that it was very clear that the writers, Len Wiseman
, Danny McBride
and Kevin Grevioux, had created a complex, fleshed-out backstory for these characters and the supernatural world they inhabit. That level of world-building isn't the norm for a mid-level action/horror flick, and it left an impression on me. What I was seeing onscreen was clearly just the tip of the iceberg concerning the stories they had to tell about this universe.
Len Wiseman and Danny McBride were both first-timers on "Underworld," and the studio must have been impressed with their passion to hand them the reins of a complex shoot like that one. The film was moderately successful, pulling in $52 million off a $22 million budget. This brings me to yet another cinema trend that's somewhat puzzling, but represented well by this series: sequels to only mildly successful films. Audiences are often puzzled when a sequel is greenlit to a film that, in their minds, didn't make much of a splash. "They made a sequel to that?" is a frequent refrain on message boards. What's important to keep in mind is that a film doesn't have to make $200 million to be financially successful, in fact, studios would often prefer to make five films that cost $20 million and pull in $80 million at the box office than make one single film that costs $150 million and pulls in $300 million. The profit-margin is higher on less expensive films, plus they usually cost less in ancillary expenses such as marketing and publicity. A sequel to a film like that is a safe, if unsexy, bet for a studio. If the first film quadrupled its modest budget, a sequel is likely to perform to the studio's benefit.
In the case of "Underworld: Evolution," the 2006 sequel to "Underworld," its budget was greater than its predecessor's and it made $62 million, a modest bump from "Underworld," but the fact that there was a bump at all is significant. Most sequels make less money, especially when the first film didn't exactly burn up the screens with its blazing success. What this indicates is that a lot of people had discovered "Underworld" on video, and the fan base for this universe had grown enough to support that sequel.
Wiseman and McBride had always conceived of this story as a series, that much is clear. You don't build that much detail into your universe's backstory for a one-shot film. "Underworld: Evolution" only expanded on the world they'd created, and its success paved the road for "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans," a prequel that will tell some of this backstory onscreen.
This is a very risky film. They are gambling that people are invested in the universe, instead of the characters, and that is never a safe assumption. A very casual perusal of online chatter about this film will quickly reveal a fixation upon one thing, or rather one person: Kate Beckinsale
. The British actress, clad in tight shiny leather from the Trinity Collection, was a huge draw for both the previous films, and along with love interest Scott Speedman
(not so hard on the eyes himself), provided the emotional core for the storylines. So the filmmakers, in a head-scratching move, have chosen to make another film that features neither of them.
"Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" takes place hundreds of years before the events of the first two Underworld films, and details the origin of the whole vampires vs. werewolves blood feud that fueled the previous storylines. We might as well title it "Underworld: Rise of the Secondary Characters," because those are the only familiar faces we're going to see. Returning for this film are Bill Nighy
as vampire overlord Viktor, and Michael Sheen
as Lycan leader Lucian. Now, don't get me wrong. Bill Nighy is ten kinds of awesome, but he wasn't the draw for the Underworld films. Making this film is a bit like making a new "Pirates of the Caribbean" film starring only Geoffrey Rush and Jonathan Pryce. Nothing against either of them, but we go to Pirates films to see Johnny Depp.
The decision to make a prequel, instead of another sequel that would follow after the open-ended "Underworld: Evolution," precludes the inclusion of their most popular character. To fill out the winsome-lass quotient, "Nip/Tuck" star Rhona Mitra
(who, it must be pointed out, bears more than a passing resemblance to Kate Beckinsale) has been cast as Viktor's daughter Sonja, who is Lucian's lover, making this whole vampires/werewolf feud yet another fight over a woman.
In another interesting turn of events, Len Wiseman is not directing this film. After directing the first two Underworld films, as well as "Live Free or Die Hard
," Wiseman has handed over the creative reins to first-time helmer Patrick Tatopolous, a visual effects veteran who worked on both previous Underworld films as well as "I, Robot," "Independence Day," "The Ruins
" and "I Am Legend." Information on why Wiseman passed on directing this installment of what must be regarded as at least partially his creation, although he retains a producer credit and a writer credit, is sketchy. The absence of Beckinsale might provide a clue; he is married to her, and her reported disinclination to be involved in any further films in the series may have driven him away as well.
If, as has been rumored, Beckinsale's absence is less about the filmmaker's intentions and more about her refusal to star in another installment, one wonders at the decision to proceed with production without her. I am very dubious about this film's appeal to wide audiences. I'm sure they've taken pains to make it accessible by providing anyone who hasn't seen the first two films with sufficient exposition to be able to follow the plot, but a prequel consisting only of backstory is a hard sell. It seems that the studio is counting on the merits of the film itself to sell it, as opposed to its connection to the first two Underworld films. The action has been amped up, the scale has been expanded, but I have to wonder if they learned nothing from the Star Wars prequels. Bigger doesn't mean better. Then again, even with their chilly reception by critics and fans alike, the Star Wars prequels made money, and in the end, that may be the deciding factor.In Conclusion:
You don't even need both hands to count the number of successful prequel films, and this one doesn't even feature the popular star that was such a draw to its predecessors. Will anyone care enough about the history of a feud between a bunch of supporting actors to go see this film? No doubt die-hard fans of this universe will be queuing up, but I seriously doubt anyone else will give two straws about it. If anything, they'll wait for video.Similar Titles: Underworld
, Resident Evil: Extinction