A review of composer Michael Wandmacher’s Underworld Blood Wars soundtrack album
Another year, another installment in the unyielding Underworld film series. The fifth entry in the blockbuster horror-influenced franchise (directed by TV vet Anna Foerster) once more drags the immaculate Kate Beckinsale as the vampire “death dealer” Selene and once more pours her into that PVC body suit that she pointlessly — but thankfully — always wears. This round, our lethal and heroic ghoul fends off brutal attacks from both the Lycan (that’s werewolf for the uninitiated) clan and the Vampire faction that betrayed her. With her only allies, David (Theo James) and his father Thomas (Charles Dance, who we would watch eat a sandwich on screen and be happy), she must stop the eternal war between Lycans and Vampires, even if it means she has to make the ultimate sacrifice.
In other words, 5th verse… same as the first! A little bit louder and… well, in respect to the volume of the thing, we can say with authority, a littler bit... exactly the same.
First of all, reviewing a soundtrack album before actually seeing the motion picture it was designed for can be, on one hand, problematic. Especially if the film in question is an action-oriented fantasy like the next Underworld film most assuredly is. On the other hand, a great soundtrack is a character unto itself and can most assuredly stand alone devoid of its visual. In the case of Michael Wandmacher’s music for Underworld: Blood Wars, it exists just fine on its own, especially if you’re familiar with the palette of the Underworld films and thrill to the wash of flavorless noise they trot out. This album sounds dark, blue/black, shiny and serious and it’s well-produced and slick.
The disc opens with the track “What Came Before”, and the music initially hints at something almost post-industrial, with crackling electronic noise and a thick drone. But that gives way to the usual blaring horn section, tribal drums and ascending orchestral swell that screams to the listener that this movie is “Epic” with a capita ‘E’; standard fare for this sort of outing.
And on it goes.
Wandmacher (replacing series regular Paul Haslinger) does what Hans Zimmer does on autopilot, piling busy, urgent notes on top of each other (as in the track “Marius”) without genuine emotion or wit or any sort of eccentricity. Sort of like the movies themselves, which (and apologies to the legion of hardcore fans who love them) are pretty somber and soulless and joyless affairs, with overly-digitally tinkered visuals barely kept afloat by the glories of Beckinsale in that catsuit.
Wandmacher is no stranger to horror and dark fantasy having scored the My Bloody Valentine remake and the uber-mental Punisher: War Zone. But he’s also a composer for video games and that’s what the Underworld Blood Wars soundtrack feels like, with its big, empty cues that are designed to simply propel us to the next level. Which is not to say that there aren’t a few bright spots and moments of beauty. The track “Sunlight” is splendid, aided by a Lisa Gerrard-esqe female vocal arrangement that stirs and chills. One wishes there were much more of this sort of vocal on the score as it no doubt echoes Selene’s plight and would add considerable emotional gravitas.
This is not a bad score. It’s just completely generic, which is probably exactly the sort of score the producers wanted. We’ll circle back with a full review for Underworld: Blood Wars soon and report if we even notice Wandmacher’s sounds on screen at all…
You can get the full soundtrack now from Lakeshore Records and sample select cues below. Underworld: Blood Wars is in theaters on January 6th.