I finally got around to watching Underworld recently after a recommendation from Graculus at the forum, and now I’m finally getting around to making some notes about it.

Whatever you think of this movie on the whole – and opinions do seem to span the range from “It’s quite underrated” to “I projectile vomited” – you could have gender-reversed all the roles in the movie, and both the story and relationship dynamics would have remained the same. That’s pretty unusual, and deserves a bit of a write-up. (May contain mild spoilers.)

The lead character is Kate Beckinsale’s Selene, a vampire who hunts and kills lycans (werewolves). The leader of the vampire (Kraven) clan wants her for his queen, and she couldn’t be less interested. There’s another girl (Erika) who wants to be Kraven’s queen, and may be willing to do anything to get what she wants. There’s a mentor (Viktor – former leader of the vampires) upon whom Selene relies heavily. And finally, there’s a “chosen one”, a total innocent who finds himself being hunted by both sides (Michael Corvin) because of his special genes. There are other important roles, but those are the ones I want to compare in terms of gender.

To show you how well the reversal works, I’m going to tell the story with the genders of those four switched.

Our leading guy is a vampire who hunts and kills werewolves. The queen of his vampire clan wants him for her mate, and he’s not interested. There’s another guy who wants to be the queen’s mate, and may well do anything necessary to become that. There’s a mentor, a former queen upon whom our hero relies on heavily. And finally, there’s a “chosen one”, a total innocent being hunted by both sides for her special genes.

At no point do any of the characters behave in a way you can’t imagine the opposite gender behaving.

One of the most striking sequences in this regard is when Selene finally captures Michael from the lycans and drives him at breakneck speed to safety, all the while asking him why he’s being hunted and eventually telling him a really wacko story about what’s really going on. This part was so reminiscent of Kyle Reese rescuing Sarah Connor from The Terminator while acting pretty insane himself (to her perspective anyway) that I found myself chuckling. The poor guy’s out of his element and unable to save himself. Selene’s yelling at him and making demands he doesn’t understand, and telling him things he’d never have believed two hours ago. (The fact that there’s an earlier scene in which someone marks one “Corvin” off a list, and Michael’s name is next – a la the Terminator going through the phone book for women named Sarah Connor – makes me think it was a deliberate role-reversal homage to The Terminator.)

There’s a sort of tentative love story between Selene and Michael. It’s beyond understated, and it actually has somewhat of a point: Michael presents an alternate view of things Selene thinks she knows, and when she realizes she’s been lied to, he represents a solution to the sort of changes that need to happen. In bonding to him, she’s bonding to a new way of life.

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