Minimalism is treated by the public in different ways, depending on the subject matter. With Phillip Glass, his music has been little more than a variation on the same theme for nearly thirty years, and yet is cited as a genius. With Jim Jarmusch, his spare, droll films, such as Stranger than Paradise and Down By Law are heralded for their focus on the minutia and for their perceptive study of those who live their lives for the mundane. But minimalism would seem to be at odds with the action/sci-fi genre, and no doubt why Kurt Wimmer’s Ultraviolet was met with confusion, boredom, and derision, as well as a huge amount of studio interference.
Casting Milla Jovovich in the lead as a renegade vampire, on a mission to find a cure for her and her brethren, was clearly not about just replicating her identity as the dainty tough girl in the Resident Evil series, it relies on it to do most of the early character development for the film, so it doesn’t have to stop and explain who she is (whether the opening voiceover was a studio mandate to cut down the film but still retain important exposition is irrelevant, it actually works in the movie’s favor). Ultraviolet maintains a blissful, kinetic energy for the first half, as Jovovich kills as many anonymous foes in brightly colored uniforms and barely explained camouflaging gadgets are used to get her in and out of trouble. That her hair changes color from shot to shot is not a matter of continuity, it is just as random as anything else that occurs. All of the fights have a visual and choreographed sameness to them; Jovovich stands in the middle, and her enemies circle her, as if she was the sun, and the henchmen the nine planets (though honestly, it all looks she’s at the center of Saturn’s rings). The action’s repetition plays like an avant-garde joke about the indistinguishable nature of Hollywood fight scenes (think Warhol’s soup cans, only with actors posing with swords). This is further enhanced by the intensely bright color scheme and juxtaposition of the sharply contrasting colored costumes. The movie plays like the longest Hype Williams video he never got to make (Williams’ feature film Belly only has a minute or two of his classic style, so perfectly exemplified in his Busta Rhymes and Notorious B.I.G. videos).
Does this ravaging assault on the eyes make up for a complete lack of clarity and story coherence, or is it a byproduct of Wimmer’s film being taken away from him in the editing room and chopping out thirty minutes of relative logic? Having seen Wimmer’s first film, Equilibrium, the “Christian Bale does a third rate version of 1984,” taken so seriously that the movie pushes past camp and into blissful idiocy, it appears that his skills and originality are very limited, so the editing of Ultraviolet has actually helped him, as the audience would have been subjected to a ½ hour of shallow maudlin nonsense, killing the reckless pace established early on.
That Ultraviolet falters in the second half, with the introduction of a kid, a romance, and a muddled explanation of the villain’s intentions, is not a surprise. It isn’t all that welcome either, but to continue in the same vein for the entire running time would have exhausted the audience and reduced the pleasure exhibited in the first two acts. Wimmer should have known better than to worry about plot, dialogue, and structure in a movie so limited in scope that perhaps he should have simply made the whole thing into an endless loop, earmarked for a museum exhibit.
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