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Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/12/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/11/2009

Movie series', no matter how entertaining or lucrative, can often run out of steam creatively. (I mean, I realize that no one has told the Friday the 13th people this, but it's still a fact.) When this happens, a change of scenery can inject some energy into the films. In some cases, this means a prequel. Underworld and Underworld: Evolution were both fairly successful films which blended action and horror elements, but things were pretty much wrapped up with the second move. So, for the third, the powers that be behind the franchise have decided to go back in time with Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.

While the first two Underworld films were set in modern-day London (as well as other parts of Europe), Underworld: Rise of the Lycans goes back to the middle ages to trace the history of the feud between vampires and werewolves. Viktor (Bill Nighy) rules over the vampires, who live in a large and well-fortified castle. The vampires protect humans from werewolves, and the humans pay handsomely for this service. The werewolves, who are hulking beasts who are always in wolf form, never becoming human, often attack the castle. One day, a wolf gives birth to a human baby, the first lycan -- a creature which can turn from human into werewolf and back again. Viktor names the child Lucian and decides to let him live. Years later, Lucian (Michael Sheen) and other lycans work as slaves in the castle. Lucian is a blacksmith and despite the fact that he's a slave, is treated fairly well by Viktor. Lucian is in love with Viktor's daughter, Sonja (Rhona Mitra), and the two conceal their torrid love affair from the world. However, nothing can last forever. When Lucian disobeys Viktor, he suddenly falls from grace, opening his eyes to the injustices which befall the lycans. Soon a revolt begins, as does a bloody war.

While so many sequels and remakes are far too samey-samey these days, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans seems to be going out of its way to be different from its predecessors. However, as we all know, change is never easy. The change of setting and time must have seemed like a good idea at the time, as we get more than a few glimpses of the past in Underworld: Evolution. However, spending the entire movie in the past backfires. The cool thing about the first two Underworld movies was that we were watching these classic horror movie characters fighting it out in a modern setting. Watching heavily armed vampires fight snarling werewolves on the streets of London was decidedly cool. In Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, everyone feels too much at home. The dank castle setting is like something out of a Hammer film, and of course we expect to see vampires and werewolves here. The movie plays like a cross between an Underworld movie and Army of Darkness, but it's nowhere near as cool as that sounds.

The other big change here is the depth of the story. Those who would accuse the Underworld series of being mindless clearly haven't seen the movies. With the first two movies, writer Danny McBride and director Len Wiseman created a mythology which had many characters and could become very confusing. One is best served by watching those two movies back-to-back so that one can keep all of the players in check. Underworld: Rise of the Lycans opens in a similar vein, as it assumes that you remember who Viktor, Lucian, and William (the first werewolf) are. But, then the story goes nowhere. While Underworld and Underworld: Evolution weren't necessarily the most original movies ever made, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is simply a Romeo and Juilet tale of forbidden love which we've seen many times before. The story of a princess who falls in love with a slave would have seemed cliched in the time in which this story is set, and little is done to spice it up here. Sure, she's a vampire and he's a werewolf-thingy, but, honestly, this rarely enters the picture. The lycan revolt and the finale hold no surprises and the whole thing feels very trite.

I can't say that I loved the first two Underworld films, but I do think that they are exciting and I've never understood why horror fans seem to hate them. Now, if they want to hate this movie, I'll understand. Underworld: Rise of the Lycans contains a few good action scenes, but the story is weak and there's no character with which the audience can relate. Actually, the most interesting part of the film was how weird it was to watch Michael Sheen become a werewolf after having just seen him in Frost/Nixon. Now, if Lucian got to interview Nixon, that'd be a good movie!

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans howls at the moon on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source material. However, the process used to give the movie its blue look has left grain in most shots. Because of this process, the colors aren't very striking, as we are essentially left with a black and blue movie. The dark tones are rich and true. The image has a very nice depth to it and characters often stand out from the background. The level of detail is good as well, revealing intricacies in faces and sets. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. Sony has never disappointed with an Underworld film and this is no exception. The track is very muscular and borders on being a demo track. The stereo effects are very detailed and show good side-to-side separation. The surround effects are good as well, and we get a great deal of action from the rear speakers during the action scenes. These scenes provide a satisfying amount of bass, and certain werewolf attacks made the walls shake.

The Underworld: Rise of the Lycans Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Patrick Tatopoulos, Producers Len Wiseman, Gary Lucchesi, & Richard Wright, and Visual Effects Supervisor James McQuaide. The movie can also be viewed with "Behind the Castle Walls: Picture-in-Picture" which offers filmmakers interviews and detailed information about the making of the film. "Lycanthropes Around the World Interactive Map" allows the viewer to choose a continent and learn more aobut the werewolves there. "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans: From Script to Screen" (9 minutes) contains interviews with the filmmakers who discuss the directions of the story and whay Tatopoulos was chosen for the job. "The Origin of the Feud" (20 minutes) is an in-depth look at the film's story, including profiles of each of the main characters. The cast and filmmakers gives us a detailed account of the story and how it relates to the other films. We get comments from Tatopoulos and Production Designer Dan Hennah along with some concept art and on-set footage in "Re-creating the Dark Ages - The Look of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" (13 minutes). The final extra is the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Deathclub (Wes Borland/Renholder Remix)" by William Control Feat. Matt Skiba.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is also releasing the Underworld Trilogy, which contains all three films, on Blu-ray Disc and DVD.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long