Judge Ryan Keefer says that the first rule of underground werewolf fight club is you do not talk about underground werewolf fight club.
Our reviews of 3 Silent Classics By Josef Von Sternberg: Criterion Collection (published August 25th, 2010), Underworld (published January 6th, 2004), Underworld Trilogy (published May 22nd, 2009), Underworld Trilogy (Blu-Ray) (published May 18th, 2009), Underworld / Underworld: Evolution (published January 23rd, 2009), and Underworld: Extended Cut (published December 3rd, 2004) are also available.
An immortal battle for supremacy.
Underworld is a film that had presumably low expectations coming into its release, with a budget barely over $20 million and shot mainly in the former Eastern Communist bloc. Upon its release, it made a worldwide gross near the vaunted $100 million mark and gave the world a sequel, which meant more of its star Kate Beckinsdale (Vacancy), which almost every testosterone hosting male was glad to see. So how does the first Underworld film stack up on the Blu-ray format?
Facts of the Case
From a screenplay by Danny McBride (his screenplay debut) and directed by Len Wiseman (Live Free or Die Hard), the film is a look at a centuries-old battle between werewolves (referenced in this film as Lycans) and vampires, helped in part because Lucian (Michael Sheen, The Queen), a charismatic Lycan leader, inspired the others to break their indentured servitude to the vampires. Selene (Beckinsdale) is a vampire who hunts down werewolves to prevent any threat to the vamps, however when she sees a human named Michael (Scott Speedman, Felicity) being chased by the werewolves, the stakes for Michael's safety are raised when his role in the war is far more than they both anticipated.
I'm not a real big fan of supernatural films by preference. I respect and admire well-written pieces with vampires, werewolves, yetis, whatever, but I don't actively seek them out. I equate all that stuff to those who like or claim to be wiccans or witches. On a quick tangent, why do a lot of witches seem to walk with a cane or are living on some form of government cheese? Oh well, but past that, there really isn't a lot in Underworld that delights the eyes or stimulates that soft tissue mass between the ears.
For starters, and I'm sure without the added 15 minutes of material, this film could have been better served by shaving 20-30 minutes off. Wiseman has made a bloated, slow moving and otherwise pretentious film about the supernatural, using a lot of Kate Beckinsdale in leather outfits, or Kate Beckinsdale with small arms, or Kate Beckinsdale with wire work. Combine that with a story about a vampire coven leader double crossing a long-revered vamp elder (played by Bill Nighy, Hot Fuzz), everything is a confusing mess. Speedman did a great job in Felicity but all of his emotions are muted and not worth the point here. Beckinsdale does a lot of unvampire-like things (like crying, for one), but can you imaging a five-foot-eight woman who weighs 105 pounds soaking wet doing a Keanu Reeves impression and kicking your ass? Well, aside from the large money amount to pay someone to do it, it's not believable in real life, just as it's not believable here.
Technically, the 2.35:1 widescreen presentation using the AVC MPEG-4 codec looks good, considering that the film was color corrected for its intended look. Blacks look good and provide an excellent contrast, however because the film is on an extended cut, it appears that without having seen either cut before this review, I could point out what is work print footage and what is final product. The detail through the film is inconsistent, which was a letdown. At least the PCM soundtrack is the bee's knees. It's kind of a shame as there just aren't enough shootouts in this thing, as they sound fantastic (shell casings dropping all around in the rear channels from the jump). Dialogue comes off as muted every so often, but overall it's a forgivable sin.
Bonus wise, there's enough red meat to make the average lycan go crazy, not to mention almost all of the material comes from the two disc extended cut that was released in 2004. First up is a commentary with Wiseman, Speedman and Beckinsdale. The commentary is a lot of teasing and joking, which is fine, in fact, seems to be better than the feature itself, but I digress. Speedman seems to bear the brunt of the teasing, especially when husband and wife aren't playfully sniping at one another. Speedman apparently was caught "falling asleep" during the film's premiere and was constantly reminded about it, but I can't say I blame him. The track was recorded in two phases (Speedman left after an hour for an audition), but overall there's not too much information to be gained, though the dynamic between the triad makes it easy to see why they all came back for a sequel.
Moving onto the series of featurettes, which when played together, last as long as the film itself. The 47-minute "Fang vs. Fiction" piece covers the real-life and Hollywood looks at werewolves and vampires. It discusses whether these things exist in the first place, along with a detailed historical look at them. The science vs. faith aspects are covered, and those who claim to be members of either are given some interview time as well. This apparent TV special is very well detailed and worth checking out about for more on the mythology or otherwise. The making of look at the film (13 minutes) kicks things off, starting with the requisite cast and crew thoughts on the material and each other, along with some time on the special effects of the film. Speaking of effects, the visual effects get their own ten minute examination next. The computer generated artists discuss what they did to make things look creepier and crawlier. In an odd, choice, there's also a look at the process of editing and the editing challenges in the film here as well. The creature effects are given their own look, and the creation of the wolves and vamps gets a look. All of these, by the way, include Wiseman's thoughts on how he wanted things to look, along with his thoughts on the coordinators of each department. Stunts are next, as the actors are shown being put through their paces for rehearsals, fight sequences and other fun things. A look at the design of the film (production, location and costume) is next, running a little over 10 minutes in length, and then the look/style of the film is next. Covering storyboards, cinematography and other material, it's actually quite informative at almost twenty minutes in length. A piece titled "Sights and Sounds" is the last piece, however it's nothing more than footage on the film without narration. A pretty boring three-minute long outtake reel follows, along with an equally boring music video and a storyboard comparison on some scenes complete the disc. Overall the amount of extras is great, however the more involved you get in them, the more redundant they start becoming.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Like I said before, this film has not only spawned a sequel, but another film is supposedly on the way. So there is a rabid audience (pun intended) that either goes to the films or buys the numerous DVDs on the market, and bully to them. Plus Wiseman must have her drugged or something, because he goes home to Beckinsdale every night, so go figure.
I've been handed a rare challenge when it comes to handling this version of Underworld, the third such related review on this disc here at DVD Verdict. It's not that it's a matter of finding something new to say about this flick, because we're a wide and varied bunch here. It's that this movie is geared to be loud and sound good on a home theater system, and is loaded with extras, so it's a damn good disc overall. But the film is such a bloated, slow pretentious turd that I really didn't enjoy myself at all, despite all the other stuff. Walk on by this (insert bodily fluid name here) sucker.
Guilty as charged, the court is employing as many silver bullets, crucifixes and garlic as possible to clean the stench out of the chambers.
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