Underworld: History of Popular Franchise

When “Underworld” debuted in 2003, its richly imagined telling of a centuries-long war between two immortal races wowed audiences across the globe. Ruthless Vampires and savage werewolves returned in its sequel Underworld: Evolution, and a worldwide audience devoured its elegant visual aesthetic, eerie characters and compelling action.


Now “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” takes fans back almost a millennium to the beginning of an epic conflict. Created by Len Wiseman and Kevin Grevioux, the film reveals the secrets at the heart of the Underworld saga’s eternal battle.

Len Wiseman, who directed the first two films, has taken on the duties of producer for this installment, while Grevioux returns for the third time in the role of Lycan enforcer Raze. “The history has always been a driving force for Underworld,” says Wiseman. “In the past, we’ve had glimpses of how it all started. Now we’re finally able to play it out with the Death Dealers and their armor and the horses and masses of werewolves.”


Even before the first film was shot, the pair created a complex mythology for their Vampire and werewolf antiheroes. “Kevin and I always intended this to be a trilogy,” says Wiseman, now a sought-after director of films including Live Free or Die Hard. “It was decided at the time to start with the middle story in the timeline, and it is pretty cool now to be doing the prequel that we talked about so long ago.”


“A big part of the whole Underworld series is that the events that have taken place over the last eight centuries determine what’s happening in the present,” says producer Richard Wright. “There are whole sequences in the first film that are devoted to back story. And in the second film, the whole visit to the Tannis character’s lair is eight minutes of back story.”


Grevioux wrote the original screenplay with Danny McBride. “Len wanted to do a werewolf movie and asked me if I had any ideas,” he says. “When we started hashing out characters and the overall structure, we thought: ‘What if we did a Romeo and Juliet story, with werewolves on one side and Vampires on the other and make it a cool, surrealistic modern-day love story’ We also decided to change the way werewolves and Vampires have traditionally been looked at and go more for a scientific basis for their existence, rather than the traditional mysticism.”


“Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” traces the origin of the age-old rivalry between the Lycans and the Vampires to its ancient beginnings in a forbidden relationship. Lucian (Michael Sheen) is the first Lycan, a creature able to transform from werewolf to human and back again at will. Sonja (Rhona Mitra) is a Death Dealer and the daughter of Viktor (Bill Nighy), a powerful Vampire Elder. “Their relationship actually leads directly to the Lycans’ revolt against the Vampires,” explains Grevioux. “Everything revolves around the fact that Sonja and Lucian are in love with each other. Even though Sonja is Viktor’s daughter, there is an uncontrollable bond that grows between them. That already makes it a different kind of story from the first two stories.”


For the first time in the franchise’s history, Wiseman has turned over the director’s reins to someone else. Patrick Tatopoulos, creator of the first film’s fantastical and frightening creatures, as well as the production designer of the second, was selected to succeed him. Although he says he was happy to pass the torch to someone who has been integral to creating the franchise, Wiseman admits that it was strange at first to see someone else in the director’s chair. “I am seeing it happen from a different seat, but because Patrick and I have a relationship and we’ve built this thing together, it is a very easy atmosphere with us.”


Tatopoulos sees a certain logic in the fact that he makes his directing debut on Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. It is the first of the films to be told primarily from Lucian’s perspective. “I created the werewolf on the first and second films,” says the director. “So I think for the story to be told by the werewolf was a great thing for me. In the past, we’ve seen werewolves, but their presence is never overwhelming. In this case, we have an all-out war with hordes of them. This movie brings a new edge to the story, which helped me to create a different texture for the movie.”


Bill Nighy, who plays the Vampire Elder Viktor, credits the filmmakers’ faith in the franchise for making Underworld: Rise of the Lycans more than just another vampire action movie. “Len Wiseman, Danny McBride and Richard Wright are more than just enthusiasts,” he says. “They’re believers. They’re not winking at the audience. You can cynically build a vampire movie, but I don’t think you’ll have the same kind of success that a believer would.


“They love the vampire myth and they know their vampire law,” he adds. “I love it when it gets Vampire technical. I love to see a Vampire sipping blood in a sophisticated manner. The moral equations are treated with as much respect as they would be in any kind of story.”