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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Underworld (2003)

"Whether you like it or not, you're in the middle of a war that's been raging for the better part of a thousand years, a blood feud between vampires and lycans. Werewolves."
- Selene (Kate Beckinsale)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: January 04, 2004

Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman
Other Stars: Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, Bill Nighy, Erwin Leder, Sophia Myles, Robbie Gee, Kevin Grevioux, Wentworth Miller, Zita Görög
Director: Len Wiseman

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence/gore and some language
Run Time: 02h:01m:05s
Release Date: January 06, 2004
UPC: 043396031524
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ B-A+A- B+

DVD Review

Underworld is a wonderfully explosive and noisy comic book come to life, one that makes up for its minimalistic plot with graphic novel-induced visual richness and a seemingly endless array of nattily choreographed fight sequences. What that means is there ain't much here story-wise, but it's a real treat for the old retinal orbs. The film crosses the border back and forth between horror and action, as if it can't decide what it truly wants to be, but that matters little, because like a good comic book should, it delivers oodles of eye candy in heavy doses.

The story, as we learn through narration, centers on a centuries-old blood feud between vampires and werewolves that has morphed over the ages from hand-to-fang combat into a some sort of hi-tech gang war that employs such modern touches as ultra-violet and silver nitrate ammo, and naturally a limitless arsenal of big, loud guns. First-time director Len Wiseman dishes out the plot specifics in tiny, bite-size chunks, revealing just enough to loosely connect the frenetic action sequences together until some more traditional plot machinations eventually rise up in the third act.

The basics concern Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a member of the gothic mansion-dwelling vampire clan, and a so-called Death Dealer. She hunts the street thug lycans (fancy talk for werewolves), and is likewise hunted by them, which is showcased nicely in a manic opening sequence set in a subway station. When Selene rescues Michael (Scott Speedman), a human bitten by a lycan, she suddenly gets the warm tinglies for him and has to deal with the realization and ramifications of her actions, even if she's not sure why she's doing it. This puts her at odds, understandably, with the hulking vampire leader Kraven (Shane Brolly), whose personal agenda seems less than honorable.

Amidst some pleasing bits of horror mumbo-jumbo about "awakenings," science, hibernating vampire elders, and, of course, the good ol' mythos of an ancient legend, Underworld is like John Woo crossed with The Matrix crossed with Blade crossed with West Side Story crossed with Romeo and Juliet, and while the romance angle is understandably downplayed (I believe there was just one ever-so-brief kiss), the whole Jets/Sharks, Montague/Capulet comparisons are pretty much inevitable.

Sure, everyone dresses in stylish black leather, including an eye-popping bodysuit worn by Beckinsale, and every character has a perpetual scowl on his face, but in between all the shooting and whipping and leaping and window-shattering, it is the story of a vampire girl falling for the wrong guy, in this case a werewolf. But considering Beckinsale's Selene could probably handily kick the ass of Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft (now that's a movie I'd like to see), rest assured that Underworld is more about violent retribution than touchy-feely romance.

This is definitely a case of style over substance, and Wiseman has put together an absolutely beautiful-looking film, set in some unnamed city full of towering gothic architecture where it is always night, and, more importantly, always raining. While the story seems to get bogged down in spots, the action sequences are frequent and gloriously excessive (you have to love Beckinsale shooting the floor out around her to avoid an attack by wall-crawling lycans), but I'm not sure if this really needed to run two hours.

Perhaps a bit of trimming here and there could have tightened up the narrative a bit and made things somewhat more cohesive, but like the comic book it is so desperately trying to be, Underworld really exists solely as a feast for the eyes and ears.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Underworld sports an outstanding, incredibly sharp 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from Columbia TriStar. The moody, icy blue look of the film is reproduced perfectly in deep, vibrant hues, with natural and realistic fleshtones. Black levels are dead-on rock solid, with deep, well-defined shadows and detail. I noticed no apparent edge enhancement or compression artifacts on this gorgeous blemish-free print.

Beautiful.

Image Transfer Grade: A+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is available in English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround tracks, both of which are appropriately aggressive and exciting. This is the kind of action film that screams for active surround channels, and that's just what we get here from Columbia TriStar, and the result is truly effective. Low frequency signals will really put your sub to the test, and the constant use of the surround channels only adds to the clear, encompassing sound mix. Dialogue is blended well, and is never overpowered by the score or sound effects.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Forsaken, John Carpenter's Vampires, John Carpenter Presents Vampires: Los Muertos, Resident Evil, Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse
2 TV Spots/Teasers
4 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Len Wiseman, Danny McBride, Kevin Grevioux, Patrick Tatopoulous, James McQuade, Claude Letessier
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Music video
Extras Review: Columbia TriStar has loaded up Underworld with a fine set of extras, including a pair of better than average full-length, scene-specific commentary tracks. The first features writer/director Len Wiseman, screenwriter Danny McBride, and actor/writer Kevin Grevioux (he of the amazingly deep voice). The lively content of this track establishes the narrative and visual origins of the story, and the trio point out some fun tidbits (Kate Beckinsale doesn't drive) and how they fought to keep certain elements of the script in the slightly long-winded story, and the creation of a "living, breathing comic book." The second track is more technical in nature, and is geared towards the creation of the sound and visual effects, and features input from creature designer Patrick Tatopoulous, visual effect supervisor James McQuade and sound designer Claude Letessier. If you fancy insight into visual and aural design, and how to make wrinkle-free werewolves or create the perfect gunshot sound, you might find this one a pretty interesting listen, but it is likely less accessible for the casual fan. For what its worth, I really enjoyed both of these tracks quite a bit.

A quartet of brief featurettes are also included, consisting of The Making of Underworld (13m:01s), Creature Effects (12m:30s), Stunts (11m:42s), and Sights and Sounds (09m:06s). The first is your usual interview/clips/behind-the-scenes EPK, but the Creature Effects segment offers a terrific look at the development of the non-CG werewolves, complete with leg extension stilts. Stunts centers on the wire work and actor training, including Kate Beckinsale learning how to shoot, while Sights and Sounds is a montage of wacky clips and behind-the-scenes footage. There is also a Storyboards (06m:41s) segment, which does a side-by-side comparison of half a dozen scenes.
Worms of the Earth (02m:42s) by Finch, the disc is cut into 28 chapters, and features subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Underworld is a bit too long for its own good, but director Len Wiseman has done a pretty impressive job visually with his directing debut. Loud, violent, and alluring, this one never slows to a crawl, despite some redundant battle sequences, and watching Kate Beckinsale firing big guns in tight leather while flipping and leaping around is never a bad thing.

Recommended.

 


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