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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Underworld (Unrated Extended Cut) (2003)

"I am a Death Dealer, sworn to destroy those known as the Lycans. Our war has waged for centuries, unseen by human eyes. But all that is about to change."
- Selene (Kate Beckinsale)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: May 26, 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: Not Rated for (strong violence/gore and some language)
Run Time: 02h:13m:24s
Release Date: May 25, 2004
UPC: 043396051942
Genre: horror


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

DVD Review

It's hard to not consider Len Wiseman's Underworld as anything but the equivalent of a cinematic comic book—visually rich and meaty, full of endless action sequences. I guess it doesn't surprise me at all that, as part of this new 2-disc unrated extended cut, a 48-page Underworld comic book has been included as a bonus. Seems fitting, if you ask me. In January of 2004, a well-stocked single-disc theatrical cut was released on DVD, and it clocked in at a healthy 02h:01m:05s, which is not exactly skimpy in the runtime department. With the release of this extended cut (running about thirteen minutes longer), the question is raised whether or not it was completely necessary.

The horror/action story seems like perfect fodder for a graphic novel because, as we learn in voice-over narration, a centuries old blood feud between vampires and werewolves 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.

Even with this recut edition, the overall story hasn't changed significantly. 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. Her plight 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.

After watching the theatrical version, I was immediately won over by the look of Underworld, and its undeniable roots in the aestethics and moodiness of a graphic novel. I'm an old comic book nerd from way back, but even I thought the original film meandered a bit in spots, and could have benefited from having had a little taken off the top. Logic would seem to dictate that adding footage could only serve to aggravate the situation, but at the same time we're talking about less than fourteen minutes of footage, some of which Wiseman readily admits is simply "a few shots here and there".

If you're keeping score, we do get a quick bit of vampiric lust between fanged leader Kraven (Shane Brolly) and bad girl Erika (Sophia Myles), as well as extended bits like Viktor (Bill Nighy) pulling an assortment of implanted wires from his body. Likewise, there are a few additional moments tacked onto the big fight sequence near the end of the film, none of which seemed to alter the flow of the narrative enough to make this latest rendition of Underworld substantially better or worse.

The film remains a case of graphic novel style over and storytelling substance, and to his credit, Wiseman has put together an absolutely beautiful film, set in an unnamed city full of towering gothic architecture, where it is always night and, more importantly, always raining. The extended cut of The Fellowship Of The Ring made that seem like an entirely new film. This new cut doesn't dramatically change the way the story is told, though for a film so layered in visual excess, I suppose I wasn't really expecting any serious enhancements in just thirteen minutes.

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

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: This appears to be the same transfer from the previous release, but that is by no means a bad thing. Columbia TriStar has a near-reference quality disc here, and the sharp 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is about as close to perfect as it gets. As with the earlier release, the moody, icy blue look of the film is reproduced spotlessly 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.

Image Transfer Grade: A+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: As with the single disc release, audio is available in English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround tracks, both of which are appropriately aggressive and exciting. It appears to be the same mix, and any easily identifiable differences were difficult to measure. This is the kind of action film that screams for active surround channels, and that's just what we get. Low frequency signals will really put your sub to the test, so much so that I insist you double-check that all pictures and shelves are securely attached before allowing the full-fledged rumble to knock them down. The constant use of the surround channels only adds to the clear, encompassing sound mix, and dialogue is blended equally well, 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
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Hellboy, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Spider-Man 2
2 TV Spots/Teasers
2 Documentaries
7 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Len Wiseman, Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Music video
Extras Review: How are the supplements, you ask? Well, some of the extras that show up here are actually new, and a few others are imported over from the original single disc release.

Disc one contains a brand new full-length, scene-specific commentary track from director Len Wiseman and cast members Scott Speedman and Kate Beckinsale. The three seem to have a fun time together, and there is plenty of laughing and mocking things like Beckinsale's so-called "bad gassy" moment during the opening bell tower sequence, or Speedman's recurring "oh shit" look. Wiseman, who is quick to point out that this is not a director's cut, clears up a couple of Internet rumors regarding what some thought were wires that weren't removed digitally (he claims there just cables that were there for effect), and he gets a bit of a ribbing from Beckinsale about it. With regard to the inclusion of the new or recut footage, Wiseman points out things like Bill Nighy's Viktor tearing out his implants, but he admits most of the new clips are simply bits and pieces "here and there", designed to help tie things together better.

One of new highlights on this 2-disc set is Fang vs. Fiction (47m:04s), a made-for-television special that purports to investigate the origins and lore surrounding vampires and werewolves, or as we're told: "to explore the dark side of history". We all know this is a thinly disguised plug for Underworld (it uses copious film clips), but the material is extremely interesting, even when it dips down low to interview so-called modern day vampires and werewolves. A string of authors on the subject (J. Gordon Melton, Brad Steiger, Daniel Cohen, Katherine Ramsland) all offer input to clarify or dispel legend, and it's all presented in a very serious tone, as if that person sitting next to you might be a shapeshifter or a blood drinker.

Also new on disc one is an Outtakes reel (03m:41s), and though I am generally not a big fan of watching botched line reads, this one held my interest. Of course, this may be due largely to my infatuation with seeing Kate Beckinsale in shiny black leather.

Disc two houses nearly 90 minutes of special features, a few of which are ported over from the original single disc release. Returning are The Making Of Underworld (13m:01s), Creature Effects (12m:30s), Stunts (11m:42s) and Sights & Sounds (09m:06s). The Making Of 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 to how to shoot, while Sights and Sounds is a montage of wacky clips and behind-the-scenes footage. There is also the same Storyboards (06m:41s) segment from the original release, which does a side-by-side comparison of half a dozen scenes.

New behind-the-scenes pieces include The Visual Effects of Underworld (9m:55s), Designing Underworld (10m:46s) and The Look of Underworld (19m:10s). All three of these are on par in quality with the other featurettes, and in The Visual Effects of Underworld we see the in-depth development of the CG effects and how these were morphed with live-action footage, and the presentation is not just informative, but nicely assembled. Designing Underworld concerns "the visual architect" Bruton Jones, who worked to create a consistent history with regard to clothing, dwellings and weapons. The Look of Underworld tackles how the gorgeous and distinctive look was visualized and defined, and how Len Wiseman was really responsible for the overall visual feel of the film, and then handed off the capable hands of Merchant/Ivory dp Tony-Pierce Roberts.

In addition to a set of trailers on disc 1 (Underworld, Spider-Man 2, Hellboy, Resident Evil: Apocalypse) and a return of music video for the thrashy metal of Worms of the Earth (02m:42s) by Finch on disc 2, the new extended/unrated cut of the film is divvied into 28 chapters, and features subtitles in English or French.

Other new extras include a 48-page mini comic book that presents a rather condensed version of the film, as well as the 14-page Drawings of Underworld, with sketch to scene comparisons.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

This is an easy recommendation if you don't already own the single disc version. As much as I enjoyed both versions of Underworld, far be it from me to tell you whether or not you need both in your library, as the differences between the films are minimal, at best. A couple of new extras, especially Fang vs. Fiction, are quite good, as is a new commentary that features Wiseman, Speedman and Beckinsale.

For those just concerned about aesthetics, the packaging on this 2-disc set is definitely snappier, with a cool-looking hard-plastic slipcase giving the whole thing some heft.

 


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