Friday, August 26, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: ULTRAVIOLET (2006)

Ultraviolet
Starring
Milla Jovovich
Nick Chinlund
William Fichtner

Written and Directed by Kurt Wimmer

Ultraviolet should have been a musical. It's got the costumes, the wild set designs, and the coordinated movements of scores of performers at any given time. The coordinated movements are martial arts routines, but surely they could've worked in a dance number now and again? If this movie had been made the Bollywood way, it would've been glorious. As it stands, it's pretty interesting in its own right.

In the future, all of humanity is united as one. Individual nation states are a thing of the past, as is the lamentable phenomenon of nation-on-nation violence. So far so good. Ah, but this future utopia has a dark side: the hemophages, humans who have been infected with a blood disease that endows them with superhuman strength and speed and a reduced lifespan. They also sprout enhanced canines which gives them the appearance of olde tyme vampires. The hemophages are viewed as a threat by the human controllers of the planet, and so they are rounded up and put into concentration camps. Some of the hemophages evade capture, and form underground resistance cells. The hemophages conduct raids using ultra-technology and derring-do on government science facilities and learn about a plan to develop a virus that will wipe out the hemophages once and for all.

Milla Jovovich stars as a very pretty woman named Violet. She's the top hemophage operative whose mission it is to steal the anti-hemophage virus and save the day. She is opposed by a smarmy dude called Vice-Cardinal Ferdinand Daxus (Nick Chinlund). You know if the dude's got a name like Daxus he must be evil. Beware names with Ds and Xs in them. There is also, apparently, some kind of theocratic dictatorship in place upon the planet, although this is only minimally established (late in the movie there's a giant, sinister building that's shaped like a cross). Daxus is a guy in an expensive suit who is seemingly intensely germophobic and fears infection by the hemophage virus. He's constantly using sanitary wipes to pick things up, and he wears some surprisingly fashionable nose filters. Overall, Daxus is way uptight.

Violet is much more hip. She wears dark glasses, skintight jeans, and halter tops and sallies forth into battle against scores of enemies who wear gas masks and riot armor. One might wonder, "Why would someone go into battle with a bare midriff? A bullet in the guts is no fun at all." The answer: it looks cool. Or maybe it's like why Batman has a big old bat symbol on his chest: to distract the enemy. In Batman's case, the bat symbol is bulletproof, so he gets the bad guys shooting at the bulletproof symbol, and not shooting at the exposed lower half of his face. Perhaps Violet's midriff is bulletproof? It is an impressive midriff. She must do a lot of crunches.

Milla Jovovich obviously put a lot of time in at the gym for this role. It's too bad she isn't given any dialogue that's worth a damn. She's saddled with all-too-bland threats and imprecations, "I'm gonna kill you!" kinds of stuff. The kind of dialogue a 10 year old could have have written. Jovovich, since the advent of the Resident Evil movies, has become the go-to lady for embodying video game heroines. Now and again, you see her in something like Stone where she displays some serious acting chops, but I'll leave it to you to figure out where the big paydays come from.

Violet also has this gyroscopic device that allows her to defy gravity and also creates pocket dimensions within her body where she can store a near-unlimited supply of weaponry and ammunition. Violet is a walking, running, motorcycle riding video game avatar. She can drive her bike up the sides of skyscrapers outrunning military-grade attack helicopters, while dodging volleys of military ammunition. When she needs a weapon she just exerts her will and full-auto handguns materialize out of the palms of her hands in a flourish of sparkling light and swirling gun components. She can also manifest a sword covered in mysterious runes, but this is science fiction, not sword-and-sorcery, so the runes are purely decorative.

How about that? Sheathing your sword in another dimension. I wonder, are there other intelligent beings who exist in those dimensions? Does Violet have to lease storage space for her equipment from these extra-dimensional beings? Or are we to understand that this is some new technology that literally makes space for the exponentially increasing amounts of stuff that people of the future will own? I don't know, but it's fun to speculate.

Maybe Violet's ultimate secret is that she is actually a Lenswoman and a top operative for the Galactic Patrol. Wouldn't that be a cool movie? "Milla Jovovich is LENSWOMAN!" I would pay to see that. Of course, I don't think E.E. Doc Smith approved of women serving in the Galactic Patrol. Dr. Smith was a product of his times.

But back to Ultraviolet. The movie takes place in a futuristic city that is a mixture of real world locations and copious CG. The CG looks pretty good. At times the movie seems to be flirting with some kind of transhumanist or extropian theme. This is a world where people carve out whole other dimensions just to use them as holsters and sheaths and ammo dumps. Why can't this same technology be used to forge new communities, a new frontier, new homelands for the expansive human population? Think of it: a network of trans-dimensional gateways where you can instantaneously zip from reality to reality, sampling different cultures and lifestyles. You could have whole dimensions devoted to producing food, curing disease, expanding human lifepsans, maintaining museums, creating live action fantasy role-playing theme parks, and the design and construction of spacecraft. And if the technology is so advanced that people can manipulate space-time, surely they can also alter their bodies at will. You could remake yourself as an elf, or a centaur, or a Milla Jovovich. You could change your skin color at will. You could make your hair retract into your body, and extrude itself as wiry tentacles. You could use your hair to type and do handicrafts.

But, no, this movie's not about any of that. In this movie, people use bleeding edge technology to shoot each other, infect each other with bioweapons, and put each other in concentration camps. These people carve out dimensions in space time just to have more places to dump their shit--their weapons, for Christ's sakes! Like we don't have enough assault rifles and attack choppers and miniguns and handguns and rocket-propelled grenades, and the assholes who worship these implements on our own planet we gotta create whole new worlds to accommodate this bullshit . . . but I'm probably reading too much into this movie. It's a dumb action movie with some intriguing notions and Milla Jovovich. It has laughable dialogue, a confusing plot, some decent action sequences, and some striking set design and costumes. The look of the movie put me in mind of some of Mario Bava's movies, like Danger! Diabolik and Planet of the Vampires. In some ways, Violet is kind of like Diabolik. She's heavily armed, she kills scores of people, she's engaged in a war against the government and the law--what about "Milla Jovovich is Diabolik!" Yeah, I know, Diabolik was a dude. So what? Jovovich could be Diabolik's sister or something. There's a Batwoman, right? We can have a Lady Diabolik.

Of course, Bava's movies are actually fun to watch, and were made at a fraction of the cost of 21st century cinematic potboilers with much cruder special effects technologies. What is it that Bava got right decades ago, that early 21st century spectacle movies keep bungling again and again? I will refrain from the usual CG and Hollywood bashing, because, strictly speaking, the CG is pretty decent in this flick, and I believe that this was an international production with funding from European nations, so all the blame can't fall on the usual suspects this time around. But Ultraviolet is undeniably influenced by Hollywood styles and approaches in its slickness and lack of intellectual substance.

Luckily, I didn't pay to see this movie (a friend loaned me the DVD insisting that I would find it to be cool), but I'm still willing to pay to see Jovovich in that Lenswoman movie. In fact, I probably would've been willing to pay to see Ultraviolet back when it came out if I hadn't been so disappointed by that Underworld movie that came first. What is it about Hollywood and high concept vampire movies that end up being punishingly lame? No wonder they've turned to the tweeny-bop boredom of the Twilight flicks. Women with guns and form-fitting couture are out, teen angst and thinly veiled parables of abstinence are in. I can't decide if it's an improvement or a new degeneration.
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