Before vampires and werewolves developed boutique haircuts and sixpack abs, a movie called Underworld was released. It set the two races against each other and over the course of several movies, weaved a fine mythology and developed some cool characters along the way. For me, the stand out entry was Rise of the Lycans, a kind of origins story for the franchise.
The movie assembled a prestigious crew to get things done; Patrick Tatapoulos directs the show, this is a guy with serious experience in VFX and creature design. Currently the production designer on Batman v Superman movie, Underworld was his first directed feature, but you wouldn’t know it. There’s plenty of big set pieces and big ideas that demonstrate how at home Tatapoulos is on a VFX driven movie. The look of the film is as much a character as any of the actors are. Cinematographer Rodd Emery creates a rich, textured look, using a mostly blue pallette to dress the story. This is a guy who also worked on The Matrix as director of photography, whatever he shoots is gonna look good.
The creature design is excellent, these are werewolves that’d make Chuck Norris sweat; big, muscular, tearing machines. There’s plenty to admire in their biggest opening scene, when they chase Sonia through the woods to her castle. The beasts use trees and rockfaces to their advantage, frantically propelling themselves towards their prey. Ultimately, Rise of the Lycans is a nice combination of CG with real world effects. There’s some cool make-up when Lucian is mid-transformation and when his back has been splayed by a whip (gross) and the integration of CG werewolves with prosthetic ones is good. However there are a few things that don’t sit comfortably with the eye, most notably the digital blood and wounds. There’s just something about digital blood that jumps out from the “in-camera” blood which sadly removes you from the movie’s reality a bit. That said, the movie is well paced and has quality performances from Michael Sheen and of course, Bill Nighy who just emanates malevolence for the duration.
The werewolf ambush during the first quarter of the movie. There’s few things as irritating in life as being ambushed by werewolves. Here an unsuspecting carriage full of people get gnawed, nipped and ripped by a hungry pack of moon-dogs. A particularly nice bit from a VFX point of view is where one beast bounds onto the carriage and hangs on to the rail. The CG werewolf interacts nicely with the environment and looks pretty mean as well.