When word first broke writer/director Kurt Wimmer would release another sci-fi action flick in the same vein as his cult hit Equilibrium, my anticipation passed the launch sequence and went straight to liftoff. The man somehow pieced together a near-perfect partnership between creative, original fight styles and an emotionally charged story on a minimal budget with maximum style. The same should have held true for Ultraviolet, another near-future struggle between an oppressive regime and a genetically different underground movement. Then word broke of massive 30 plus minute studio edits to get the runtime down around an hour and a half. Style took precedence over substance leaving behind the equivalent of a pretty blonde with nothing between her ears.
In Ultraviolet’s world an infected race called Hemophages is being driven to extinction by hygiene-obsessed natural human beings, thus forced to live in hiding while plotting the next step towards their survival. These Hemophages are referred to as Vampires, though the only trait shared with the mythical beasts are pointy teeth and super-human fighting abilities. When Milla discovers she’s acquired a weapon hidden within a boy that can wipe out the Hemophages with one swift stroke, the story is tossed aside in favor of one long staged action sequence after another until it’s impossible to believe this woman is still alive.
If “Ultraviolet” sounds familiar it should given the recent release of “Aeon Flux.” The similarities between the two stories are startling to say the least, from the gung-ho lets go solo female lead characters down to the overseas on-location quasi futuristic architectural sets and design. Ultraviolet gets a slight edge for the sometimes rousing Gun Kata-inspired fight sequences, but there’s no comparing Charlize to Milla’s sleepwalked acting effort, photorealistic CGI to video game quality CGI; nor any reason to care about the fate of Milla, the boy or whether the Hemophages live or die.
Gunfire and explosions aplenty amount to a thunderous soundtrack that excels in lossless PCM 5.1 audio. The usual circular surrounds and bass are utilized effectively during all action and fight sequences. These sequences do suffer a minor aural blow in favor of the Euro-soundtrack that has been mixed a couple notches too loud. Perhaps in future next-generation home video formats we’ll be able to access an audio mix menu and adjust the soundtrack for our own personal tastes much like sliders allow commentary and soundtrack modification in video games. Directors wouldn’t mind, right?
Poor MPEG-2 video compression and HDMI performance found in the first wave of Blu-ray Discs left a sour taste in the mouth of anyone who shelled out over a cool grand for a Samsung player. If any release holds the potential to silence harsh Sony critics it is “Ultraviolet” which was filmed with high definition presentation in mind. The opening sequence is often a tell-tale sign and here it explodes with an array of deep colors presented through flashy comic book pages. Contrast and sharpness are spot-on and indicative of the quality we’ve all come to expect from next generation home video product.
The feature presentation itself is, for the most part, the first home run for Blu-ray’s video, continuing the deep color palette trend throughout and proving MPEG-2 won’t kill the format until 50GB discs find their way to market. The only distraction I noticed comes from a creative decision to blur many character close-ups. Skin takes on a monochromatic tone and sharpness and detail are replaced by a stylized glow. At times Milla’s face is a mess of blurred white while computer panels behind her are crystal clear.
A pair of extra features begins with UV Protection: The Making of Ultraviolet. There’s a good deal of informative behind-the-scenes stuff here but to access it requires sitting through what seems like half the final film worth of clips. Also included is an awkward Commentary with Milla Jovovich. Not only does she talk like a California surfer girl with “like” and “so cool” in every other sentence, she goes silent for long stretches of time then jumps back in with pointless factoids like her disagreement with the Chinese treatment of monkeys. Were all for monkeys here but there’s so much more she could have discussed with either a partner or a few shots of hard liquor.
This studio-trimmed version of Ultraviolet may be the mentally-challenged offspring of Aeon Flux and Equilibrium, but it’s mildly enjoyable for the right side of the brain and should effectively cure the Blu-ray video blues for all you brave early. Let’s face it; anyone willingly going in is all about witnessing Milla in tight outfits dual-wielding swords and guns.
– Dan Bradley