The third film in the Underworld series, Rise of the Lycans features a new actress in the lead role (Rhona Mitra instead of Kate Beckinsale), and is effectively a prequel to the original two films, charting the events leading up to the vampire-werewolf war which dominates the first two installments. Essentially a Romeo and Juliet variation, the film tells the story of enslaved werewolf Lucian (Michael Sheen), who has been the property of vampire elder Viktor (Bill Nighy) since birth, and who falls in love with Viktor's daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra). Their love, Viktor's betrayal by his daughter, Lucien's escape from captivity, and the subsequent execution of Sonja by the vampire lords, sets in motion the centuries-long battle for supremacy between vampire and Lycans.
The film is directed by Patrick Tatopoulos and has an original score by former Tangerine Dream member Paul Haslinger, who also wrote the score for the first film. Haslinger's music, while firmly rooted in the progressive synth style of his work with Tangerine Dream and his own earlier scores, contains an unexpectedly broad and engaging symphonic element; the opening "The Rise of the Lycans", for example, combines the orchestral and electronic elements well, and despite the still frustrating reliance on synth percussion and harsh, but simple industrial rhythms in the second half of the cue, is much more impressive than one might have expected. Similarly, the central action sequences - "The Arrow Attack", "Court Battle Suite", "Storming the Castle" and the conclusive "Per Aspera Ad Astra" - contain much more organic material in terms of orchestral performance than his Underworld predecessor score would suggest, and even work in some sampled choral elements once in a while. It would be interesting to hear what kind of sound Haslinger could create if he left his sequencers at home.
That's the most frustrating thing about Rise of the Lycans: the makings of a pretty decent orchestral action/horror score are all here, but you can't hear them properly for all the synthetic elements obscuring them. "Lucian and Sonja's Love Theme" and "The Most Precious Thing to My Heart" have a twisted, tortured quality to it, pitting booming solo piano chords against a grungy metallic background, and although they by no means conventionally romantic, they will surely appeal to the Goth/Emo/Vampire youngsters at whom this franchise is aimed. Overall, this one should be in the `better than you might think' pile, considering Haslinger's reputation, but it still comes across as a missed opportunity, and could have been so much more satisfying had they gone for a composer with a more traditional Gothic sound.