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Underworld (2003)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/25/2007

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/13/2007

One has only to take a brief glimpse at the history of early cinema to see that monster movies have been popular from the get-go. Movies like Frankenstein and Dracula were huge in the 1930s and the genre has rarely slowed. Once producers realized that monsters were popular, the next step was to make movie which contained multiple monsters, and thus "monster mash" films were born. This trend continues to this day with the vampires vs. werewolves saga Underworld.

Underworld is set in an undisclosed European city (it looks like London). Here, a war is raging between the Vampires and the Lycans (werewolves). Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a vampire warrior known as a "Death Dealer" (she is basically an assassin). As the film opens, she witnesses a group of Lycans exhibiting very odd behavior, as they pursue a human, Michael (Scott Speedman, who looks just like that guy from Creed). She reports this to her superior, Kraven (Shane Brolly), but he is not interested, being pre-occupied with an impending visit from Vampire dignitaries. Meanwhile, the Lycans, led by Lucian (Michael Sheen), are performing a series of mysterious experiments in order to create a new strain of werewolf. When Selene is able to track down Michael, she triggers a chain of events which take the war in a new direction, not the least of which are her romantic feelings for this human.

Like the vampires themselves, vampire movies never seem to die. Fortunately, Underworld offers some new takes on the already familiar vampire mythos. The clash between vampires and werewolves isn't necessarily new (in fact, the makers of Underworld were sued by White Wolf Publishing for copyright infringement), but this film offers a new explanation for the origins of vampirism and lycanthropy and creates an interesting rivalry between the two factions. While the story may offer some new twists, the look of the film does not. The vampire are the same Euro-goth creatures that we've seen dozens of times before and the werewolves have a rougher, urban look. (Where does the assumption that vampires would dress like this come from? Can't a vampire own a pair of jeans?) Also, the film's dark photography, combined with its overall blue lighting scheme make it look like James Cameron's interpretation of The Crow.

But, these complaints shouldn't imply that Underworld is a bad movie. The film has some good ideas and the action scenes are very well done. The film's biggest problem is that it's simply too long. Director Len Wiseman worked with the creators of Independence Day and Godzilla in the past and there lack of editing vision has apparently rubbed off on him. At 134-minutes, Underworld overstays its welcome by at least half-an-hour. The last act contains many creative plot twists, most involving the moral decisions made by the characters, but many viewers will have given up hope by then. Yes, the film does attempt to fully flesh out the stories and characters, something which is a true rarity in the horror genre, but it goes too far, seemingly forgetting that we are here to see vampires and werewolves fight. And I'm not even going to get into the film's plot-holes. Despite its shortcomings, Underworld is still worth recommending, as it's a well-made action-horror hybrid that presents an interesting story (which has an obvious sub-text concerning racism and class) that doesn't talk down to its audience.

Underworld makes a very long leap onto Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. It should be noted that this release contains the 134-minute unrated cut of the film. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is full HD 1080p. In my recent review for the Blu-ray release of A Few Good Men, I mentioned that when I think of Blu-ray, I think of big movies, and Underworld certainly fits the bill. This transfer looks very good, as it's extremely sharp and clear. The image is free from any overt grain and there are no defects from the source material. Given the dark look of the film, it's impossible to say that this transfer is perfect (I need a nice bright scene to accurately judge that), but it's very impressive. The blues and blacks which dominate the movie look great and the picture is very well-balanced, showing no video noise. The disc offers an uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio track which truly rocks. The gunfights in the movie sound incredible, as the bullets ricochet from every speaker. No longer content to just occasionally feature some stereo effects, the front channels truly come into play here and add a much needed dimension to the audio. The dialogue is always clear and the surround and subwoofer effects are top-notch.

The Underworld Blu-ray contains an assortment of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from director Len Wiseman and stars Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman. They do a fine job of talking about the making of the film, but at over 2 hours, their discussion wears thin at times. This Blu-ray Disc contains eight featurettes concerning Underworld. "The Making of Underworld" (13 minutes) contains lots of clips and lots of spoilers, so make sure you watch the movie first. There are comments from the cast and crew, loads of behind-the-scenes footage as this segments examines the film's production, special FX and stunts. These elements are furthers explored in "Creature Effects" (12 minutes), which reveals why costumes, as opposed to CGI, were used, and "Stunts" (12 minutes) where we get to see Beckinsale training for the film. "Sights and Sounds" (9 minutes) isn't about sound design, but is actually just behind-the-scenes video taken from multiple sets and locations. "Fang vs. Fiction" is a 43-minute documentary which explores historical myths and legends concerning vampires and werewolves. Through interviews with historians, we learn how these legends arose and we meet modern people who live amongst vampire or werewolf culture. Visual Effects Supervisor James McQuaide discusses "The Visual Effects of Underworld" (10 minutes), where he points out the obvious and more subtle use of CGI in the film. "Designing Underworld" (11 minutes) offers comments from production designer Bruton Jones who talks about the sets, the props, and the costumes in the film, and how each was given a distinct look. "The Look of Underworld" (20 minutes) explores the approach to shooting the film. Wiseman talks about the importance of storyboarding and cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts explains the process used to give the film it's blue look. (There are some nice examples here.) The band Finch provides a music video for the hard-driving song "Worms of the Earth". There are storyboard comparisons for 5 scenes. Lastly, we get 4 minutes of OUTTAKES.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long