Sunday, July 30, 2006

Ultraviolet

I think Ultraviolet got a bit of a bum rap. It's not completely worthless. Okay, so the story is nothing special, the dialogue is clumsy, stilted and frequently repetitive, and a streak of scenes in the middle are deathly, almost nauseatingly boring.

But the movie does have a couple of things going for it. Some of the action conceits are reasonably inventive: weaponry that's somehow digitized into Violet's suit, the flaming swords bit at the end, the guns with knives sticking out from the magazines.

Mainly, though, the thing that's of note here is that the movie has a striking visual style. At first glance it seems like a generic future, but it's realized with flair. It's a stylized world, often streamlined and oversimplified, assembled from odd shapes. The scenery is generally in blue or orange tones, but with splashes of super-saturated color that throw sharp contrasts into the palette.

Many have said the special effects look cheap and terrible. I found them oddly impressive. Are they realistic? No, and they were probably cheaper than if they were realistic. But the movie uses the artificial effects to its advantage. Their fakeness blends right into a universe that feels intentionally surreal. As the opening credits suggest, with their many covers of the non-existent Ultraviolet comic, Ultraviolet is meant to be a heightened comic book world. With its bursts of color and thoughtfully composed frames, Ultraviolet gets the look right, and if you're willing to go with it, it's fascinating and sumptuous in its own way.

William Fichtner, for once, plays a nice guy instead of a creepy one, and it's a pleasant surprise. Cameron Bright apparently plays exactly the same part he does in X3--the kid whose body may or may not hold the secret to curing the world's ostracized mutants. Milla Jovovich is fine. She looks good in action, and if the acting fails and the character never connects, well, with writing like this, it's not her fault.

I saw the Unrated Extended Cut, which is seven minutes longer than the Theatrical Cut, which many called confusing and incoherent and which Kurt Wimmer fans called a studio hack job that butchered the film. I thought the version I saw made about as much sense as I would ask for from a movie like this one. I can't think of anything that cries out to be explained. However, director Wimmer's own cut (unavailable) is supposedly two hours, which must be excruciating. As much as I enjoyed looking at this movie, by the one-hour mark I badly wanted it to be over.

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