Ultraviolet which should not be confused with the excellent British vampire-hunting tv mini-series Ultraviolet (1998) falls into the post-millennial fad for films that might be best termed the cinematic equivalent of graphic novels. The Matrix (1999), with its stylish poses and the sublime cool of its Bullet Time moves, led the way. Indeed, The Matrix seems to have large influence over Kurt Wimmer who has appropriated Bullet Time moves for his own action style that he calls Gun Kata, which appears both here and in Equilibrium the rather absurd notion that specially trained fighters can move in mathematically acute ways that will avoid bullets and allow multiple people shooting at them to hit each other instead.
Ultraviolet shares much, if not borrows outrightly, from a host of other films amid this Cinematic Graphic Novel fad. The film openly signals its lineage in the opening credits sequence, which mock Violets adventures up as a series of comic-book panels. The casting of Milla Jovovich also taps into the cult action heroine status that she has developed in films like The Fifth Element (1997) and Resident Evil (2002) and sequels. Millas abrupt changes of costume and hair colour remind something of the outlandish disguises adopted by Jennifer Garner in tvs Alias (2001-6). Indeed, you could see Ultraviolet as being a combination of The Matrix and Alias with vampires. You could also point to Aeon Flux (2005), which came out only three months before Ultraviolet. Aeon Flux and Ultraviolet have very similar plots concerning a lithe, sexy and ultra-tough heroine fighting on behalf of a rebel faction in a stylishly designed dystopian future where she also has a complex personal relationship with the dictator of the future. The Cinematic Graphic Novel fad has also been at the forefront of the new breed of Digital Backlot science-fiction films that create visions of the future entirely inside the computer see other efforts like Casshern (2004), Immortal (ad vitam) (2004), Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) and Renaissance (2006).
Kurt Wimmer loves action movie poses and invents an entire book of his own in Ultraviolet. His various Bullet Time-inspired and Gun Kata action sequences sing with an exhilarating visual kinesis. The results are undeniably spectacular, although at the same time are so preposterous as action sequences go as to enter into the realms of total fantasy. The most notable of these is a sequence where Milla Jovovich is engaged in heavy pursuit on a motorcycle and operates an anti-gravity device that allows her to race horizontally along the side of a building at a 90 degree angle to the street, before zooming vertically up the side of the building to the roof, smashing through a helicopter that tries to attack in mid-air and across through the windows of the building opposite, skidding through several offices before coming to a halt. Some of the action sequences, while undeniably impressive in the moves that Kurt Wimmer and his fight choreographers coordinate, strain (if not completely rupture) the limit of the envelope in terms of heroic credibility like having Milla Jovovich standing in the midst of gunfire and remaining untouched while she shoots down her opponents by the dozens as they seem to stand still to be attacked.
If nothing else, Ultraviolet is a marvel of design elements. Kurt Wimmer fills his sets with bold primary colours, clean antiseptic spaces and strong geometric patterns. Visually, the film has a unique colour scheme where even the faces of the protagonists have been washed out to the extent that they look airbrushed or like characters in a high-resolution videogame. There is something here akin to the remarkable Avalon (2001), which turned live-action actors into anime figures. The entire production crew went to Shanghai to shoot, taking advantage of the citys natural futuristic architecture to achieve much of the films look. The visual effects, which come from Hong Kong based Menford Electronic Art & Computer Design, are on the weak side and make many of the action sequences look for all the world like the visuals for a computer game. On the plus side, they are placed in the service of such a vibrant visual energy that one tends not to notice too much.
What one also liked about Kurt Wimmers design scheme is the amazing pieces of throwaway advanced technology he casually creates in a step beyond the secretarys nail changes we saw in Total Recall (1990), we get instant costume and hair changes; Milla Jovovich buys a disposable paper cellphone from a dispensing machine; and there is flat technology that allows weaponry to be compressed to a two-dimensional plane, even Cameron Bright to be compacted into a valise.
Visually, Ultraviolet is a totally unique film. It is also a comic-book of a film where Kurt Wimmer has made with no particular pretensions to intellectual profundity. Perhaps Ultraviolets conceptual failing is that Kurt Wimmer only sees style, moves and exotic futuristic architecture as the sum of science-fiction. He makes a good case but having it all at the service of a strong story would have helped no end too.
This is perhaps not entirely Kurt Wimmers fault. Against Wimmers wishes, the distributors reportedly hacked something like twenty minutes of footage out of Ultraviolet although only around five minutes of this missing footage appears in the dvds extras package. Most notable among the restored scenes is Wimmers longer opening scene that explains the background of the future and how the Hemophages were created from a virus and developed symptoms that resemble vampires. Contrasting the two openings, it becomes apparent that the distributors seem to have wilfully eliminated any reference to vampires from the film for some reason.
(Winner for Best Production Design at this sites Best of 2006 Awards).