Sunday, October 14, 2012


Director Kurt Wimmer quickly appeared on my list of "Directors To Watch" when his criminally under-hyped sci-fi action flick Equilibrium was released in 2002. It came out of nowhere, knocked me on my ass and instantly became one of my all time favorite films. Not only did it have great action and that awesome gun-kata stuff, but it also was a cautionary tale that struck all the right chords at all the right times.

His sophomore directorial effort, Ultraviolet, benefits from a bigger budget as well as a better advertising scheme. The only problem is that the film was taken out of the director's hands and although it features all the same actions stylings, only amped up to the Nth degree, it has no concrete story to back them up which is a damn shame.

The thin plot involves a virus that causes vampirism which the government modified to create super soldiers. The only problem was that the virus spread out of control and when the government tried to contain the infection it triggered a war between the two factions. The vamps, called Hemophages, were nearly wiped out and are on the run. One of them, Violet (Milla Jovovich), works for an underground resistance movement that is trying to find a cure. When she intercepts a government package containing a child who could possibly hold the key to a cure or a weapon that could wipe her kind out forever, she puts her life on the line to keep him safe.
First and foremost this is a comic book movie. The opening credits are a series of comic book covers that feature the names of the cast and crew members and it truly sets you up for what is to follow. After that we're quickly brought up to speed on the history of the world in which the movie takes place. Maybe a little too quickly because things aren't fully explained and for the rest of the movie we're left scratching our heads as to how certain things work. Namely the whole alternate dimension where all the weapons Violet uses are stored and she can call into existence at any given time. It's a cool idea, but it's glossed over and when it's something that's used so much throughout the movie it helps to know exactly what it's all about.

Then there's the action. It's a beautiful thing. Even though it's completely ridiculous and off-the-wall (even more so than Transporter 2), it works in the comic book context and it's amazingly fun to watch play out. Some of the best parts involve the multiple fights that Violet shares with numerous villains that come in groups of 30 or more (think the gun-kata from Equilibrium, but faster and more violent), especially the one on the rooftop with the Asian gangsters and the sweet ass bullet time FX where she takes out everyone by having them shoot each other. Another quality action scene is the motorcycle chase. The twist here is that Violet's cycle has the ability to change gravity so she can drive on walls and the like, but when she drives up a building while outrunning the rising propellers of a helicopter it’s boner time. Basically the first 30 minutes is a non-stop action showcase that never stops. It's entertaining as hell and never boring. It also helps to accustom the audience to the bizarre world by showing just how much fucked up stuff the main characters can do. This stuff is definitely the highlight of the flick.
The acting is decent. Too bad the dialogue the actors are given either consist of philosophical Matrix speak or cliched one-liners. At one point Violet is telling her ward, Six (played by that freakishly vacant looking child actor Cameron Bright), about what the tattoos on her fingers symbolize, each meaning something spiritual in a way, then next she starts spouting out crap like "Come and get it" or "You are all dead".

The look of the film is amazing. For such a small budget (this film had $10m less than Serenity and it has 5 times the amount of CGI FX) Wimmer was able to pull all kinds of creative crap out of his ass and put it up on the screen. Everything from the buildings, to the interior set designs to the costumes and special FX (some of which looks too fake) is detailed and interesting to look at. My only gripe was that some of the structure designs were hokey, like one building that's shaped like the bio-hazard symbol and another that's in the shape of a crucifix.

The cinematography is good, even though it's kinda fuzzy looking. The trailers made it look like the entire film was made with the "soft focus" look from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. That's not true. The movie wasn't shot on film, it was shot on HD video and transferred to film. This process makes every image kind of hazy and blurred, and since they really didn't have the budget to make the transfer as good as it could be (like in the Star Wars prequels which were shot the same way) it looks like you're watching a movie that was shot with a home video camera (which was amplified on the IMAX screen I saw the flick on). When the film comes to DVD you’ll get to see just how good this stuff looks since movies shot on video look 10x better on a television than they do on film (just look at Time Code).
The big problem is that there are way too many parts that seemed to have been cut short, or entire scenes that were deleted for the sake of pacing or just that the production company thinks the masses can't handle a complex storyline. Seriously, there are some huge gaps in the flick that are so abrupt that it's jarring. There's a massive build-up to an action scene between Violet and her nemesis, then we jump cut to her and Six at a playground spinning on a carousel. WTF?! It just didn't fit! It's like all the stuff that was supposed to be in between those two scenes was taken out because it might have slowed down the pacing. In reality it might have given some valuable insight into the plot/character, but we'll never know now, will we? The entire movie is like that. Plot points are introduced, then abandoned (the 'Violet is slowly dying' thing, and the abortion angle), characters do and say things that make little sense and the movie just keeps building momentum until it's ready to snap. It's almost headache inducing if you're really trying to take what you're seeing seriously.

The violence was obviously trimmed out to get the film a PG-13 rating. People are stabbed, sliced in half vertically, shot multiple times and not one single drop of blood is spilled unless it's a plot point (what exactly was the reason that Violet cut her hand and left that trail of blood?).
When you get down to it the film was sabotaged by the production company. The movie had completed shooting more than a year before it was released theatrically, and in that time director Wimmer had his cut put together, taken away from him, re-edited multiple times and thrown out there for mass consumption. I even heard a rumor that Wimmer wanted his name taken off the film because he despised the cut that was going to get released. It's sad because this movie screams that it wants to be about something. We'd be in the middle of a scene where you just know the characters are going to divulge some important information that the audience wants/needs to decipher the plot, but instead it cuts away to another action scene. When will the suits realize that in order to get the audience involved in an action scene on more than one level we first and foremost have to give a shit about the characters! But that part was cut out. Why? Because we are apparently too stupid to realize that we want that in a movie.

When the movie was over, my friend and I walked out of the theater in silence, and about halfway through the parking lot I said, "That was really cool, but really friggin’ stupid". My friend agreed. I can only hope that when the flick is released on DVD it will be in a director's cut version that will clear up all the confusion and show us what this movie was really supposed to be about.

2 out of 5

p.s. Yes, when the movie was released on home video there was an extended cut. While it doesn’t fix all the problems in the film, it does clear up a lot of major plot points and expands the story and characters. There’s new insight into the life of Violet and her sordid past, some of the ideas introduced are given more detail and the pace is for the most part evened out. The movie is still broken in many spots, but this cut is the better of the two available.

3.5 out of 5

*written 3/4/06

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