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Underworld, a 2003 film pitting vampires against werewolves, introduced an original epic story concerning the origin and history of vampires and their relation to werewolves and humanity in general. The story begins at an indefinite point in the early Middle Ages and subsequently passed through two decisive events in 1210 and 1409 C.E. that brought it to the present. The events of the original movie continued in its sequel Underworld Evolution (2006), while a third movie, a prequel, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009), filled out the medieval background. Underworld originated with a story by Kevin Grevioux and Len Wiseman and a screenplay written by Danny McBride.
At some point in the early Middle Ages, Alexander Corvinus survived a plague as a result of his body mutating the plague virus thus allowing him to emerge as the first Immortal. He subsequently fathered three sons—Markus, William, and a third unnamed son. Markus was bitten by a bat and became the first vampire. He would in turn create several other vampires including Viktor and Amelia, who would constitute a triad of Elders that ruled the emerging vampire community. The three worked out an arrangement by which each ruled for a century while the other two slept. Meanwhile, William Corvinus was bitten by a wolf and became a werewolf. Unfortunately, the first generation of werewolves, as created by William, was hampered by the fact that the individual wolves could not turn back into their human form. Then, in the thirteenth century, a second generation of werewolves appeared in the person of Lucian, who could move back and forth from human to wolf form. The third son continued as human, but unknowingly passed the Corvinus blood to his descendents. That blood had the potential of creating a hybrid that possessed the strengths of both werewolves and vampires.
In the thirteenth century, the vampire community was focused on a European castle/fortress from which Viktor, the vampire elder, operated as a feudal lord. He ruled over the local human population whom he agreed to protect from the wild wolves in the surrounding forests. The wolves residing in the castle provided the manual labor necessary to maintain the castle and protected the vampire residents during the daylight hours. Along the way, Viktor discovered the young Lucian killed his mother, took him to the castle, and raised the unique young werewolf as a privileged leader of the castle’s werewolf community. Lucian had hopes beyond his station, however, and falls in love with Sonja, Viktor’s daughter.
In 1202, Lucian led a revolution by organizing the wolves throughout the land, and overran Viktor’s castle. Only Viktor, the hastily awakened Markus and Amelia, and their assistant Andreas Tanis escaped what became a slaughter. Two hundred years later, in 1409, a group of vampire warriors, called Death Dealers, attacked Viktor’s former castle. They underestimated the number of the werewolves and were all killed, save one, a cowardly vampire named Kraven. Capturing Kraven, Lucian offered him a deal in return for his life (and some future rewards). Kraven agreed to tell of a limited victory in which Lucian died along with all of Kraven’s cohorts. As Kraven fled back to the vampires, Lucian burned the castle and escaped into the night, and everyone believed him dead.
Lucian was in fact the first of a new race of werewolves, the Lycans, distinguished by their ability to morph between human and wolf form. Over the next centuries, the vampires and Lycans would fight a continuing war that in the nineteenth and twentieth century would become technologically sophisticated. Vampires would be armed with bullets that contained silver nitrate and the Lycans with bullets that projected ultraviolet rays (that had the effect of killing the vampires with sunlight). A crisis would develop in the contemporary world as Amelia, the present waking elder, was about to transfer power to Markus, and begin her century of sleep.
In the modern world, Selene, a Death Dealer, fought Lycans as she believed that they killed her family back in the thirteenth century. She also believed that the Death Dealers were essentially wiping out a remnant community that had survived the 1409 debacle. Her world began to unravel after she rescued a human, Michael Corvinus, from the Lycans, but not before he was bitten and began the transformation into a werewolf. She also became attracted to him. Simultaneously, she came to distrust Kraven. Step by step she uncovered two main lies. First, she discovered that Viktor, with whom she has a father-daughter relationship, had executed his daughter Sonja because of her affair with Lucian, and subsequently executed Selene’s family for their knowledge of his actions against his brother William Corvinus. He had spared Selene and raised her because she reminded him of Sonja. Second, she discovered Kraven’s lie about the events of 1409, most notably his report of Lucian’s death.
As these secrets undergirded the continuous war between vampires and Lycans, Selene was now questioning her whole existence, in light of her falling in love with Michael. She ended up killing Viktor because of his lies and because he was trying to kill Michael. Eventually they would uncover further secrets held by Markus, the surviving vampire elder, and Alexander Corvinus, the still living first Immortal.
The vampires of Underworld are rather traditional in that blood is the major issue of their existence. They are nocturnal creatures and are killed by sunlight. They are also contemporary in that they live together in a community that has adapted some modern technology and that is ruled by a vampire moral code. They keep their identity (and the location of their centers) from the larger human world and secure from their werewolf enemies. They appear as normal humans and do not shift into animal forms.
Amid mixed critical reviews, each of the three Underworld movies would by 2009 appear on the list of the ten highest grossing vampire movies of all time, with Vampire Evolution slightly ahead of the other two. Of the cast, actress Kate Beckinsale (1973–) would attain the most acclaim for her portrayal of Selene. In the midst of the making of the Underworld movies, she also appeared in Van Helsing, also a popular vampire movie. Other important Underworld roles were filled by Scott Speedman (Michael Corvin), Tony Curran (Markus Corvinus), Derek Jacobi (Alexander Corvinus), Bill Nighy (Viktor), Shane Brolly (Kraven), Michael Sheen (Lucian), and Zita Görög (Amelia).
IDW, a San Diego-based comic book publisher, issued comic adaptations of the movies, and Greg Cox produced novelizations of them.
After Underworld appeared, White Wolf Inc., which publishes the Vampire: the Masquerade game (and the associated Werewolf: the Apocalypse game), joined with author Nancy Collins in filing a lawsuit against Sony Entertainment, which claimed that the movie infringed upon their copyrights and plagiarized from a short story written by Collins that focused upon a Romeo and Juliet-type relationship between a vampire and werewolf. In their major brief, they claimed that the first Underworld movie copied the plot of Collins’s story and borrowed some seventy characteristics of White Wolf’s World of Darkness universe shared by its two games. Sony countered by noting that neither the plot of the Collins story nor the overwhelming majority of the cited characteristics shared by the movie and the World of Darkness were original to the World of Darkness. Rather, claimed Sony, almost all of the characteristics had appeared in the previous fifty years of vampire movies and literature, most on multiple occasions. A story very similar to Collins’s story had, for example, appeared in a 1950s horror comic book. The court case was settled prior to its scheduled court date, with both sides agreeing not to discuss the elements of the settlement.