By Peter Debruge | September 18, 2003

It’s a showdown that has been brewing for centuries, unbeknownst to man. No, we’re not talking about Freddy vs. Jason, “Alien vs. Predator” or even “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” In his debut feature, director Len Wiseman orchestrates a cosmic feud between opponents so obvious, it’s a wonder no one’s proposed it before. “Underworld” pits Vampires against Lycans. The only problem: these days, most vampire stories suck, while recent werewolf movies have completely lost their bite.

The solution? Do away with all that sucking and biting altogether — in “Underworld,” the audience witnesses only two bites, and both occur to the same victim. The rest of the carnage (between wolf-stalking “Death Dealers” like Kate Beckinsale and their rabid prey) erupts from heavy-duty semi-automatic weapons as the opposing forces fire silver nitrate rounds and daylight-harnessed UV bullets at one another. On this turf, visual logic trumps physical plausibility every time, and every decision Wiseman makes is in the service of the film’s look. That would explain all the black leather-and-latex creature couture and bullet time-style camera and motion effects.

Forget The Matrix. The revolution begins with “Underworld.” There’s no question this debut matches much of the Wachowski brothers’ “patented” approach, but it’s a style Wiseman has been quietly developing for years. The first-time director got his start in Hollywood working for the art department on the Roland Emmerich-Dean Devlin films “Stargate” and “Independence Day,” then went on to helm music videos for everything from Megadeth (“Crush ’em”) to En Vogue (“Riddle”), as well as commercials for PlayStation.

That production design experience pays off here, giving Wiseman the training to create an entirely self-sustaining alternate reality where it somehow doesn’t seem so implausible that vampires and werewolves might be waging a bloody duel to the death. And while “Underworld” brings us the end of a particularly nasty blood feud, it also heralds the birth of a formidable new action director. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Len Wiseman.

Get the interview in part two of LEN WISEMAN EXPOSES “UNDERWORLD”>>>

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