While not exactly strong on originality, “Underworld”’s high style, sleek appearance and generally good performances manage to make it a satisfying genre entry, if not something that will replace or overshadow the popular "Blade" series. Surprisingly heavy on plot and exposition, yet not without some well-staged action, the film focuses on a war between vampires and werewolves that has raged for over a thousand years. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a death dealer, one of the vampire elite that has been leading the quite successful war against the werewolves, whose numbers were thought to have dwindled.
When Selene spots a human named Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman) who has attracted the attention of the werewolves for strange reasons, she begins to believe that the tide of the war is going to turn back against her and her vampire clan, a suspicion furthered by the signs of a conspiracy between the vampire leader, Kraven (Shane Brolly), and the werewolf leader, Lucian (Michael Sheen).
“Underworld”’s success is largely due to Kate Beckinsale, the charming British actress more commonly known for her roles in lighter fare, such as “Serendipity”. While she seems like the least likely action heroine, the smallish Beckinsale actually manages to be an intimidating figure, showing herself quite capable of handling both the action sequences and the required attitude. Scott Speedman, on the other hand, is less compelling in his role, offering a rather wooden performance. The slightly "Romeo and Juliet" thing that the film was going for between the two never quite works because the chemistry just isn't really there.
There are other issues,too. While it's admirable that the screenplay creates a decent mythology and set of "rules" for the battle between the two creatures and their separate cultures, some of the dialogue can be a little goofy and some of the supporting characters are never really well-developed. In fact, the only character that's really compelling is Beckinsale's. Pacing could also have been improved, as the film, which runs just over two hours, could have easily lost about 20 minutes, as there are stretches in the middle that start to drag a bit.
Certainly, the look of the film is captured well, as the gothic atmosphere looks terrific and the excellent cinematography results in several stunning sequences. The whip-fast editing of the action sequences takes away from their power at times, but they're still entertaining. Overall, I liked this film, yet certainly didn't love it. It pulls together a few interesting threads, has a great look and a few good action moments. Yet, it could have been a lot tighter, more dynamic, and had more attention been paid to the characters, more memorable.
This "extended edition" of "Underworld" adds approximately 13 minutes to the running time of the previous release (121 minutes vs. 134). However, apparently some scenes also now use alternate footage or have been recut in some fashion, for a total of - as noted on the front of the box - about 23 minutes of new or different stuff. Did this make much of a difference? Not particularly; some scenes were noticably visually a bit changed and somewhat more dynamic, but I really didn't notice anything much different with the story, aside from a couple of character moments and various little tidbits. This cut of the film is unrated simply because it was not re-submitted to the MPAA.
VIDEO: "Underworld" is presented on Blu-Ray by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC). The film has been presented on DVD three times - we've gotten a Superbit edition, the unrated and the original. The Blu-Ray is a clear winner, presenting the film's ultra-dark visual style with greater clarity and definition than any of the prior DVD releases. The picture does show some mild-to-moderate grain at times (an intentional element of the cinematography), and generally looked clean and clear, with no edge enhancement, print flaws or other concerns. The film's cold blue/grey look appears accurately presented here. Overall, this is a solid, film-like presentation that, while not quite demo material, is a clear winner over the DVDs.
SOUND: “Underworld” boasts a fierce PCM 5.1 soundtrack on Blu-Ray. Highly directional, aggressive and bold, the sound mix is almost constantly rolling some effect across the soundstage or zipping another one from one side or the other.
The surrounds are involved throughout the majority of the film, offering both more noticeable discrete effects (see the opening gun battle, or any of the film‘s many action scenes, really) or even some pleasing ambience (there’s plenty of thunder and rain falling throughout). While not an official EX soundtrack, those who can enable a rear back surround will find that it gives the soundtrack a more pleasing 360 degree feel. Sound effects don’t seem at all compressed, coming across sounding dynamic and forceful. Dialogue and score also remained clear and well-recorded throughout. The PCM presentation on the Blu-Ray edition is more dynamic and powerful than the Dolby Digital 5.1 presentations found on the DVD editions.
EXTRAS: The extras are not presented in HD. They have been taken from the previous unrated DVD set.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Len Wiseman, actress Kate Beckinsale and actor Scott Speedman. The track is mainly quite funny, as Speedman is the target of a lot of goofing from the other two participants. All three joke about some of the moments in the final product and chat about some of the amusing stories from the set. The three are viewing the new cut of the film, as the director makes a point to note that this is not a "director's cut" of the film, but simply a reworked cut of the film that includes some moments that were cut for pacing reasons. Speedman leaves about 73 minutes into the picture, and the joking in his direction continues, as the two note that his audition is for an Olsen Twins movie.
"Fang Vs. Fiction", a 47-minute documentary that looks at the myths behind warewolves and vampires, mixing in occasional film footage with interviews with experts on the subject. It's an interesting, generally well-done look at some of the possibilities behind the creatures.
On the second disc, we get the block of featurettes included on the prior release: "Featurettes: This appears to be one large (45-50 minutes) documentary broken into parts ("Making of", "Creature Effects", "Stunts" and "Sights and Sounds"). The "Making Of" portion starts off terribly, with a few minutes worth of just complete "happy talk", with the participants talking about how wonderful everything turned out. The rest of the piece isn't much better, offering information about the plot of the film we just saw mixed with clips from the film. The next two parts fare much better as, although clips from the film inserted often start to seem like filler, we actually get some decent information. The creature FX section offers a look at some of the concepts and ideas behind the look and creation of the creatures, as well as some of the fascinating electronic construction of some of the physical creature (the film used a neat mix of practical and CGI) effects. The stunts area shows the rehearsals that Beckinsale did for the part, as well as how some of the action scenes were designed. The "sights and sounds" area, unfortunately, isn't a discussion of the cinematography and sound design - it's simply a montage of B-Roll footage."
We also get a series of new pieces - "Visual Effects of Underworld", "Designing Underworld" and "The Look of Underworld". The nearly 10-minute visual effects piece is very interesting, as while it doesn't go into a terrific amount of depth, it manages to show some of the elements that go into some of the visual effects sequences in the movie. It also points out some of the minor effects in the movie that aren't so apparent.
The other two featurettes, which run for a total of about 30 minutes, discuss the film's visual style, production design, cinematography, lighting and color correction. We hear from the film's director, production designer, cinematographer and many others in interviews. Finally, we also get storyboard comparisons, a music video and outtakes.
Final Thoughts: A bit of a mess that could have been aided by some tightening, "Underworld" still boasts rich atmosphere and a very good performance from Kate Beckinsale, who is better in an action film than I could have ever imagined she'd be. The Blu-Ray edition offers image quality that presents the film's dark visual style with greater clarity than the DVDs. Audio quality also gets a definite bump up on the Blu-Ray and the extras from the unrated edition return. Recommended for fans.
The Film C+