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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
Selene: What will I become?
DVD ReviewI am a huge fan of writer/director Len Wiseman's Underworld—though I really question the need for it to have been released in three different DVD iterations—and while it is inherently dumb graphic novel-styled action/horror, the presentation is what it is all about.
The first movie gives us Kate Beckinsale, a self-described "death dealer," flipping about in tight black leather, firing big loud guns as part of a centuries-long war between vampires and werewolves, as well as more shootouts and fight scenes than you could shake a pointy stake at. Add in the supremely creepy Bill Nighy as a resurrected fangster boss and Scott Speedman as Beckinsale's wolf-bitten love interest and things move along at high speeds on a well-greased track, like so much empty calorie fun.
With Underworld: Evolution, Wiseman wisely opts out of just continuing the relatively simple vampires versus werewolves war and takes the narrative a little deeper into the backstories of both—we are given the origins of the species, so to speak. The setup, though, is a little clumsy, and while I admit to being a big admirer of Underworld, it still took me a while to remember who was who and what had happened in the original. At one point early on I really had no clue what was going on. Some of that, I discovered, is intentional, but some is not, and while everything looks terrific—from a visual standpoint—the transitional elements leave a little to be desired.
The basics of the story involve the lives of immortal brothers Marcus (Tony Curran) and William Corvinus (Brian Steele), one a vampire and one a werewolf, and the offspring of Alexander Corvinus (Derek Jacobi), who was apparently the original source of the whole vamp versus wolf lineage. There's a neat prologue that tries to set this up, which segues into modern times. Marcus has become a powerful winged demon of sorts, and he is seeking to rescue his imprisoned werewolf brother for reasons that can only be bad. There's a search for a weird amulet, and of course the only one who can stop the potentially apocalyptic horror is gun-toting Selene (Beckinsale), who has an itch for revenge for reasons related to the first movie, some of which I could barely remember despite having seen it three or four times.
Wiseman continues to layer on action set piece after action set piece as if to appease those left in the dark, all building to a big battle in a remote castle full of flooded caverns, twisty passageways, and crashing helicopters. Wiseman gives this sequel a visual veneer identical to the first film, and it is slick, metallic, and very, very dark. All the blathering about ancient evil and destinies is really just so much blah-blah-blah filler between Selene shooting her many guns and leaping acrobatically into danger. And even though Marcus' winged creature is quite the big bad, there is far less vampire versus werewolf action here, and that was really the appealing heart of the whole original mythology.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: As with the original Underworld, the color palette here is a steady stream of color-corrected blacks, blues and silvers, giving the 2:40:1 anamorphic transfer a weird cross between metallic and pen-and-ink. Most of the film is dark, and thankfully black levels are very solid, revealing much with regard to shadow depth and detail. The only bursts of color occur about forty minutes in, as part of a post-coital moment, but then it's right back to the icy darkness.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: A pair of Dolby Digital 5.1 surround tracks are provided (in English or a French dub), and all of the obligatory aural theatrics are present and accounted for. Loud and deep explosions work the sub effectively, rears carry bullet ricochets and clanking metal, and there is a fine sense of movement across the front. Voices are evenly mixed, and only occasionally fall a little below the din.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
13 Other Trailer(s) featuring When A Stranger Calls, Ultraviolet, London, Click, Underworld, Hostel, The Boondocks, Marie Antoinette, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Benchwarmers, Silent Hill, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The James Bond Ultimate Collection
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Len Wiseman, Patrick Tatopoulos, Brad Martin, Nicolas De Toth
A set of six featurettes—individually accessible or viewable via the "play all" option—run the gamut of subjects one would expect to find on an action/horror combo. Bloodlines: From Script To Screen (13m:26s) looks at (surprise!) the progression of the story to the final version; The Hybrid Theory (13m:00s) examines visual effects, such as practical vs CG; Making Monsters Roar (11m:56s) shows off the creature effects; The War Rages On (9m:54s) is all about stunts; Building A Saga (12m:57s) looks under the hood of production design; and Music and Mayhem (11m:50s) studies the sound design and score elements.
There's a music video (3m:54s) for the tune Her Portrait In Black by Atreyu, in which the loud guitars and screaming vocals of the band are intercut with clips from the film. Standard issue marketing material, as are the thirteen assorted trailers (though none for the feature).
The disc is cut into 28 chapters, with optional subtitles in English or French.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsThings are a little confusing early on, but the story settles in soon enough and Len Wiseman keeps piling on the action and mayhem, so maybe we won't notice. Thematically this is a little less satisfying than the original, but it has the identical look and feel—chockablock full of action violence—and it isn't too difficult to settle in.
The solid image transfer is a real plus, and even with wonky plot this is certainly a recommended purchase if you are a fan of the first one.
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