Palm Pictures // 1998 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // July 10th, 2001
Our free range days are over.
British science fiction has long suffered from low budgets and often cheesy storylines, but our friends across the Atlantic really got it right when they made Ultraviolet, a stylish and compelling television mini-series about vampires in the modern day world. Its dark and menacing world works much like a season of "X-Files" packed into a six-hour mini-series. Palm Video has captured the story on DVD so we can enjoy it here at home.
Michael Colefield (Jack Davenport) is a police investigator in London suddenly thrown into events beyond his control. First is the disappearance of his partner Jack, and the subsequent investigation that turns up his too-large bank account and his association with powerful people who only seem to come out at night. He and Jack's fiancée Kirstie (Colette Brown) seek to unravel the disappearance, but people seemingly involved with the government seek to stop them. Finally, Jack has to make a choice of sides, as it seems he has stepped into a secret bloody war between humanity and those who feed on them in the night.
I had never heard of Ultraviolet before seeing this DVD, but I'm glad I did. Considering the low-budget origins of this and virtually all British science fiction, it's amazingly well done. Character study and suspense take the place of flashy effects for the most part, and the story is taut and involving almost from the beginning. It has a great sense of realism, easily creating the setting required to let you suspend disbelief. The vampires are much like myth tells of them, but with a twist: they are created through a viral infection, and even when they are turned into a reddish-brown dust from a wooden stake, they can still regenerate. This results in the cavernous freeze room where vials of the stuff are kept on ice to keep them from coming back yet again. Vampires also cannot be seen or heard through electronic devices or show a reflection, which makes for some nice visual scenes.
As impressed as I was with the dark and somewhat somber world created, I was even more so with the well-defined characters. The good guys are seemingly all fighting for human survival, but the lines often don't appear so black-and-white when it is someone they know who has become a vampire, and still acts like the person they knew. The characters, especially Jack, have to deal with that ambiguity throughout the series. Performances were first rate all around, and the direction and camera work were stylish yet lacking in any sense of flash for its own sake. From beginning to end (though the end seems like a prelude to what could have become a regular series) it remains involving as the story progresses.
The only complaints to mar the fine series come when they resort to special effects. When a vampire is staked he "emanates" or blows up, and the effects are not very good. Whenever those effects come into play, it cheapens the otherwise high production values. Fortunately, they don't rely too much on them. I would also caution the reader that this is a very British production, and the accents take time to get used to and even then can be hard to understand. Subtitles are grievously missing from the DVD.
The DVD presentation is a mixed bag that disappoints as often as it pleases. The picture quality is generally decent, with the somber and muted color palette rendered well enough. Detail is a bit lacking, and there were several instances of artifacting such as pixelization cropping up its ugly head. The frame is a 1.66:1 and is non-anamorphic. I would have much rather gotten a widescreen enhanced transfer. It is still a very watchable picture, but will never be confused with the quality of feature films now being produced in the format. The sound is better, with both Dolby Surround and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks offered. The mix isn't especially aggressive, but there are times when the surrounds kick in to create a whole spherical soundfield. Dialogue is clear (though said accents are still sometimes difficult to decipher) and the overall effect of the sound leaves a favorable impression. Extras are a bit light, but what is there is fine: summaries of the six episodes, personnel files for the main characters, a dictionary of UV terms (such as the fact that ultraviolet light is used to see marks otherwise invisible left by vampiric infection), weblinks, and a two-part audio interview of series creator Joe Ahearne is spread across the two discs.
Despite a few technical hitches, I'm very enthusiastic about this DVD set, as it presents what I see as the best of British science fiction to a new audience. The excellent story and fine performances make for an enjoyable and intriguing viewing experience. If vampires really were still walking the earth, I could see things shaping up much like they do here.
Everyone involved is acquitted, though Palm Pictures would be well advised to start including subtitles on their discs, particularly those with hard to understand accents for the American audience they are trying to reach.
Review content copyright © 2001 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Palm Pictures
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Summaries
* Personnel Files
* Dictionary of Terms
* Audio interview