In 2002, novice filmmaker Kurt Wimmer created quite a fanboy stir with his makeshift Matrix homage Equilibrium. Introducing yet another vision of the future bathed in pessimism and bleakness, this director imagined the oppression of emotion as the greatest sin against society, and developed a hopeful hero in Cleric John Preston to fight the formidable power. Using a revolutionary bit of stunt work known as gunkatta, Wimmer won over many a skeptical sci-fi fan by mixing martial arts and firearms. Indeed, this fluid fighting style gave an otherwise pedestrian entertainment a core of mythic obsession. No matter how mundane the plot, nerds could still fixate on all that bullet ballet. The director's latest ambitious offering, Ultraviolet, has no such arsenal of acrobatics to fuel the messageboard debates. Yet it has something that Equilibrium failed to deliver – a fun if frantic 90 minutes of pure escapism.
Before her "death" Violet Song jat Shariff was a nurse, happily married to her doctor husband and pregnant with their first child. All that changed the day she was infected with HGV, a highly contagious virus genetically jerryrigged by the totalitarian government for the production of super soldiers. Unfortunately, the germ escaped the lab and devastated the world. Now there are two types of people on the planet – hemophages (vampire like individuals with long incisors, super strength, an aversion to light and a need for daily transfusions) and everyone else. As in the days of Nazi Germany, the infected have been rounded up in quarantine camps and "treated", never to be heard from again. In response to this obvious, overt genocide, a hemophage underground has sprung up. Thanks to the efforts of an infected scientist named Garth, Violet has been "reborn" and is now a warrior for the resistance. When government heavy Vicecardinum Ferdinand Daxus announces a "cure" for the disease, the hemophages sense a true "final solution" to their ongoing existence, and send Violet out to stop the plan. Turns out the treatment is a kid named Six, a biological time bomb that may or may not hold the key to hemophagic extinction. It is up to Violet to protect the child until she can find out "what" he is – that is, if the ever-present soldiers of the social order don't stop her first.
Good Lord is Ultraviolet cheesy! It's nonstop narrative barrels forward on waves of wasted ideas and underdeveloped concepts. In their place are loads of speculative fiction falderal and low rent CGI-candy. Mostly interested in exploring the ways one human (or half-human) being can fold, spindle and mutilate the other with guns, swords and fisticuffs, it is the anti-Matrix of modern movies. Sure, it provides intriguing examples of kung fu martial arts wirework, but the end result is something all too familiar, not awe-inspiring or original. For writer/director Kurt Wimmer, this is a recognizable repeat of his previous sci-fi effort, the unswerving Wachowski's rip-off Equilibrium. In that film, future Batman Christian Bale played a gun-toting messiah out to save a futuristic fascist state from its ban on emotional interaction. Here, high cheek-boned fashionistas infected with a vampiric virus that turns its victims into super human short timers battle a demagogic social order Hellbent on wiping out their ultra-contagious couture existence. Yet in place of a dour man in a dark overcoat, Wimmer gives us Violet, a Kill Bill vixen with a proficiency at swordplay, and a worldview awash in cynicism.
Maybe it's the change in gender, or the overall atmosphere of hyperbolic action, but this slice of psycho-stylized cheddar is one undeniably guilty pleasure. Unlike Wimmer's previous effort, which required a great deal of audience attention, Ultraviolet breezes by on bullets, beatings and bodies. Once lead Milla Jovovich finishes with her introductory narrative, explaining the disease and her connection to the circumstances, the movie cuts to the chase, literally. For anyone who thought that their futuristic action film had way too much plot, Ultraviolet is the answer to your dreams of narrative simplification. This post post-modern take on John Cassavetes' Gloria (hardened femme takes on job of protecting little squirt) simply offers it's premise, illustrates its goal, and then throws the cinematic throttle into "DRIVE!" Like a vaunted video game, where every step is a mêlée to the next levels more-difficult-to-beat boss, Ultraviolet gives us a hi-tech cityscape filled with multileveled architectural wonders, and then let's its plot-driven players shoot, slash and slay each other.
Wisely, Wimmer makes his characters simple, black hat/white hat pawns. We are not supposed to see subtle shifts in personality, or hidden depths or dimensions. Violet is a supermodel shark, well-tailored outfits accenting her undeniable killing skills. Chief villain Vicecardinum Ferdinand Daxus is all grimace and grins, his germophobia the only outward nod to any inner element. The genial Garth, Violet's semi-soul mate and savior is the expositional link between stand-offs, and Six, the child at the center of the story, is all wide-eyed and vacant. With the sides clearly set and the mission mapped out, all Wimmer has to do is turn on the cartoon violence and your average film fan will be thoroughly engaged. Amazingly, this stratagem works, as Ultraviolet careens along without nary a personality pit stop. Even when Violet's sappy backstory is explored, Wimmer uses it as a breather between battles. He is not focusing on it so much as providing the audience with a momentary lapse from his breakneck push toward the finale. And it's perhaps Wimmer's wisest move. By downplaying his implausible premise (the whole vampire angle is scuttled so quickly you wonder why it was ever part of the plot to begin with) he removes barriers of non-believability. All we are left with are glorified gunplay and lots of gymnastic brawls.
For some, this won't be enough. These devotees to Asimov and Clarke, Ellison and Dick will see the slim social commentary at the core of Ultraviolet and giggle all the way to the comics store. They will sense the characters' single aspect personas and lament the lack of hardened human emotional truth. In fact, most movie fans will dismiss this film as a flimsy, failed spectacle and avoid it all together. But they do so at their own entertainment peril. Sometimes, a cinephile needs a good aesthetic purgative. From the most casual fan to the fiercest defender of motion picture artistry, every movie lover enjoys a basic brainless experience now and then. When one is bombarded by complex interpersonal dramatics, high concept comedies, unrelenting horrors and/or comprehensive character studies, it's nice to have an icy cold brewski of a film once in a while. It lifts the spirits and resets the internal tenets. Ultraviolet fills this niche nicely. It's 90 minutes of unrelenting action, striving to be nothing more than a mindless sci-fi spectacle. If there was any meaning or missive, it's been buried in a blur of ammunition. This is the equivalent of comfort food, something you know is not very good for you, but goes down so easily that you have a hard time denying its determined delights. Ultra-lame, Ultraviolet is still a nice respite from the overdone gravitas of most fantasy adventures.
Filmed in Shanghai and utilizing the city's amazing skyline to sell its futurism, Ultraviolet initially looks pretty impressive – especially when the camera focuses on the fetching Milla Jovovich in a series of skintight outfits. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is a colorful, distinctive offering with more than its share of epic vistas. Perhaps the sole visual setback though is the less than stellar F/X work, overall. The CGI helicopters look boxy and basic, and some of the action scenes have the undeniable element of computer enhancement messing with their clarity. It is most noticeable in a motorcycle chase where Jovovich's head appears haphazardly attached to a stuntwoman's body. Otherwise, this is a proficient technical treat.
On the sound side, Wimmer doesn't believe in cinematic silence. From the opening voice over narration to the fire-enhanced finale, there is an obvious techno underscoring present as part of the overall mix. Crafted by Klaus Badelt, famous for his work on Constantine, Equilibrium and Pirates of the Caribbean, these rave-like sonics bubble and squeak all throughout the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround presentation. Yet they don't overpower the minimal dialogue or occasional plot pauses. The multi-channel offering does make good use of directional cues and spatial relationships, but like the rest of Ultraviolet, it's not an overly complex aural creation.
From the less than stellar bonus features offered here, it is fairly obvious that Sony will be double dipping this particular title sometime in the near future. Kurt Wimmer is nowhere to be found in any of the added content. He is absent for the full length audio commentary (leaving Milla Jovovich to go it alone) and viewed, but not vocal, as part of the minor Making-Of featurette. With previews being the only other extras offered, this is a fairly weak selection of supplements. Jovovich's alternate narrative track is terrible, a complete waste of time unless you're curious to hear how she fears motorcycles and loves her co-stars. The Behind the Scenes footage does walk us through most phases of the production, but without insight from the film's writer/director, it's hard to get a handle on many of the outlying logistics. In essence, this is Sony's way of gauging product popularity. If Ultraviolet sells well, the Special Edition will come close behind. And don't let the "Unrated, Extended" cut come-on confuse you. The only additional material provided is some unnecessary exposition and a few more shots of bodies being blasted. In fact, it's probably a safe bet to suggest that the "Unrated" tag is only present because, like any NEW cut of an already premiered movie, it reflects a lack of additional MPAA input. One thing's for sure: this DVD is not a gore-drenched reinvention of the theatrical release, so caveat emptor.
It is hopefully obvious from the aforementioned review that Ultraviolet is far from perfect. Indeed, the light from flawlessness would take several billion cosmic clicks to reach the outer edges of this film's sloppy speculative fiction. Still, if you're willing to turn off your higher brain functions and simply go with writer/director Kurt Wimmer's imaginative flow, you'll have a fairly enjoyable time. Since the DVD presentation is perfunctory at best, delivering little in the way of complementary content, a higher score is impossible to award. Yet a hearty Recommendation is achieved in conjunction with an acknowledgement that Ultraviolet is definitely no masterpiece. Instead, it's like that groan-inducing guilty pleasure you come across while channel surfing, the flimsy, fault-laden film you don't want anyone seeing you instantly enjoying. Fans of Wimmer's earlier effort may scoff at such a sentiment, but Ultraviolet is infinitely more fun than the creaky, self-righteous Equilibrium. Apparently, somewhere along the line, this director rediscovered the ability to entertain. This pseudo-vampire vs. victim genre effort may be superficial, but it's a fast paced, funky kind of phoniness. Ultraviolet is the perfect cure for cinephile smugness.
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