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COLUMBIA TRISTAR

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Len Wiseman
Cast:
Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, Bill Nighy, Erwin Leder, Sophia Myles, Robbie Gee, Wentworth Miller
Writing Credits:
Kevin Grevioux, Len Wiseman, Danny McBride

Tagline:
An immortal battle for supremacy.

Synopsis:
Selene (Beckinsale), a beautiful vampire warrior, is entrenched in a war between the vampire and werewolf races. Although she is aligned with the vampires, she falls in love with Michael (Speedman), a werewolf who longs for the war to end.

Box Office:
Budget
$23 million.
Opening Weekend
$21.753 million on 2915 screens.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 133 min.
Price: $34.95
Release Date: 5/25/2004

Bonus:
- Disc One -
• Audio Commentary with Director Len Wiseman and Actors Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman
• Outtakes
• “Fang vs. Fiction” Featurette
• Previews
• TV Spots
- Disc Two -
• “The Making of Underworld” Featurette
• “Creature Effects” Featurette
• “Stunts” Featurette
• “The Visual Effects of Underworld” Featurette
• “Sights and Sounds” Featurette
• “The Design of Underworld” Featurette
• “The Look of Underworld” Featurette
• Music Video
• Storyboard Comparison

• 48-Page Underworld Mini-Comic Book
• 16-Page Production “Sketch to Scene” Booklet


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RELATED REVIEWS


Underworld: Unrated Extended Cut (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 7, 2004)

Here’s how I’ll bet its creators pitched 2003’s Underworld to studio execs: “It’s The Matrix with vampires!” But that simplifies things, for Underworld isn’t really just The Matrix with vampires. At its heart, it’s The Matrix with vampires... and werewolves.

Actually, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Unfortunately, the movie itself doesn’t live up to the concept and turns into a fairly dull experience.

At the start of Underworld, we learn of an ancient blood feud between vampires and Lycans, creatures we refer to as werewolves. Unlike the movie werewolves we know, some old and powerful Lycans can change form at will. Vampires called Death Dealers try to kill off the Lycans.

Something called the Awakening will occur in a few days. Apparently there are three main vampire leaders; they alternate the head spot for a century at a time while the other two snooze. The Awakening brings back the one whose turn it becomes.

Death Dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) warns the others that the Lycans have something big in the works and this may be timed to coincide with the Awakening. Kraven (Shane Brolly) remains in charge until the Awakening, and he and Selene don’t seem to get along; she doesn’t think he’s much of a leader, and he mostly ignores her theories.

Selene believes the Lycans tried to follow and capture a human named Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), but again, Kraven discounts his ideas. Against his wishes, she finds and nabs him, but he escapes after too long. Slowly the plot emerges that relates why the Lycans want Corvin, and we also discover some underhanded dealings that connect to the apparently-long-dead Lycan leader Lucian (Michael Sheen).

I wish I could say that all of this plot really existed as an excuse for some fine vampire vs. werewolf action, but unfortunately, those moments never really emerge. Oh, we do get battles between the two groups, but they seem almost superfluous. They come across like the filmmakers added them because they felt they had to do so, not because they wanted to do so. Underworld remains much more concerned with its story about politics and deception than with action.

And that’s its greatest shortcoming, as the thing simply seems dull much of the time. It starts out with a decent bang; though its obvious thievery from The Matrix detracts from the opening battle, it still gets us into the mood and allows us to anticipate fights yet to come. Unfortunately, those never really develop. Some action occurs but the efforts feel half-hearted and never manage to involve us and get pulses racing.

That seems like a disappointment, for the idea behind Underworld really is a good one. As “high concept” as it may be, that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Sadly, fun is in short supply during this film, and it just comes across as bland and plodding.

The story itself suffers from some problems. The backstory behind the Lycan/vampire war seems intriguing, but the movie concentrates so much on the hunt for Corvin that we don’t learn much about this. Enough emerges to set up the characters and their motivations, but the film appears more interested in Corvin and Selene and a theoretical romance between them.

None of this goes anywhere. Beckinsale and Speedman look good, but they enjoy no chemistry in their moments together. None of the actors really brings a whole lot to their roles, actually. They seem competent but no one breaks out of the pack to add some spark to the dull proceedings.

The film’s ending clearly sets up a sequel, which seems like a positive and a negative. While I didn’t like Underworld and wouldn’t want to see a sequel that resembles it, the underlying concept behind the flick remains cool enough that I’d be interested in additional explorations. Unfortunately, the one at hand fails to muster much of interest, and it comes as a definite disappointment.

Note that this DVD presents a new “Unrated Extended Cut” of Underworld. Ala the 2003 reworking of Alien, the new Underworld adds some footage and loses some material from the original version. According to the press release, the extended cut adds 12 minutes overall and also uses 11 minutes of “different angles and takes”.

Does any of this make any difference? Not to my eyes. I only saw Underworld once, and although this occurred just four months ago, I didn’t remember that experience well enough to notice any significant changes. A few scenes seemed vaguely unfamiliar, but thrre was nothing that stood out to me as a massive alteration. The story and progression remained virtually the same, as did the ultimate impact of the film. I continued to want to like Underworld and feel like I should like Underworld, but I still didn’t think much of it.


The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B+

Underworld appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For the most part, Underworld presented a strong picture.

Sharpness seemed immaculate. I never noticed any signs of softness or fuzziness. Instead, the movie looked nicely crisp and detailed at all times. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement seemed apparent on rare occasions. I noticed no signs of print flaws, as the image looked clean. With the various supplements packed onto the disc, I worried that it’d look noisy due to compression issues, but other than some light grain – to be expected via the movie’s many low-light shots – I saw no elements that resembled those concerns.

Underworld presented such a flat palette that it virtually came across as a black and white film. Even shots of blood appeared quite muted, as the vast majority of the film came across in varying levels of blue and dark tones. A little green showed up at times – ala Matrix - but even that stayed modest. Some mild reds appeared as well, but they didn’t show up with much frequency. Blues and blacks ruled the day, and all the tones looked accurately reproduced within their limitations. As for the dark elements, they were deep and dense. I thought blacks seemed nicely replicated and presented clear, taut textures. Low-light shots came across extremely well. They looked very well-defined and delineated and made the movie quite attractive. Despite its stylistic limitations, Underworld presented a fine transfer.

While the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Underworld scored points for ambition, it lost some due to execution. To be sure, the soundfield seemed terrific. The movie presented a wide and broad spectrum that presented a strong feeling of environment. The mix utilized all five channels in a very active and involving way. Vampires and Lycans moved all around the soundscape cleanly and in a lively manner, and other violent elements popped up in various appropriate places. These meshed together well and created a vivid and enveloping sense of place.

For the most part, audio quality seemed good, with one exception: bass response. Ala The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, this mix sounded way too hot. Every little sound came with an enormous boom. Gunshots displayed excessive bass, and the over-the-top low-end even affected small elements like the closing of car doors. Anything that theoretically could produce a thump displayed a loud rumble. Even the idling of a car engine sounded like the world was coming to an end. This became a distraction and caused me to lower my audio grade.

Otherwise, the audio sounded strong. Dialogue was natural and well-defined, and I noticed no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess. Music seemed smooth and vibrant, with clean highs and manageable low-end; the excessive bass didn’t appear to affect the score, happily. Effects were solid except for the low-end issues I already mentioned. They otherwise came across as clean and accurate and suffered from no signs of distortion or other problems. Without the bass issues, I’d have given the audio of Underworld an “A”; it offered a generally excellent mix. However, the low-end was so overwhelming that I knocked down my mark to a “B+”.

If you compare my remarks above to those about the picture and audio of the theatrical DVD of Underworld, you’ll see that I didn’t change them one iota. That’s because I found both elements to appear virtually identical when I compared the two sets. The new footage for the “Unrated Extended Cut” blended seamlessly and maintained the same level of quality.

For this new version of Underworld, we get a collection of extras that repeat some of those found on the original DVD and offer some new ones. I’ll note any repeated supplements with an asterisk and then cover those that didn’t make the cut here at the end. On DVD One, we get a new audio commentary from director Len Wiseman plus actors Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman, all of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. Actually, Speedman leaves for an audition about 60 percent of the way through the piece, which then continues with just Beckinsale and Wiseman.

Don’t expect a great deal of concrete information from this track, but do anticipate it to offer a lot of fun. As for the facts, we hear about changes made from the theatrical flick and this extended version, and we also discover lots of notes from the set and various experiences. Mostly the trio joke around and crack on each other, which makes this one of the less fluffy and backslapping commentaries I’ve heard.

It also makes the track very entertaining. Speedman suffers as the brunt of many insults, especially since it occasionally comes across as though he never actually saw Underworld. When Speedman splits, the commentary loses energy. It remains fairly interesting and actually starts to focus more on movie-related data, especially since most of the changes made for the extended cut occur during the third act. It’s just not as much fun. In any case, the overall result offers a pretty enjoyable commentary.

One interesting twist: Wiseman often goes out of his way to remind us this isn’t a director’s cut. He expresses that he doesn’t much like a lot of the material. Some of the added footage seems to please him, but not all.

Next we locate a collection of outtakes. This set runs three minutes, 41 seconds. Expect the usual amalgamation of goofs and silliness, as nothing terribly interesting shows up here.

After this we find a featurette entitled Fang vs. Fiction. It fills 47 minutes and three seconds as it presents a look at the history of vampires and werewolves. We get the standard mix of movie clips, behind the scenes snippets, and interviews. We hear from authors J. Gordon Melton, Daniel Cohen, Brad Steiger, Katherine Ramsland, Linda Godfrey, and Kalila Smith, Transylvanian Society of Dracula head Nicolae Paduraru, “lycanthrope” Gypsy Zanval, British Psychic and Occult Society chief David Farrant, werewolf witness Freddie Salazar, and “vampires” Crudelia and Morditha Kalavera.

They discuss various cultural myths of vampires and werewolves as well as more recent concepts, specifics about the histories, modern incidents with vampires and werewolves, and the current subcultures. The program treats the subject too literally and seems to present most of the concepts as probable. This makes it informative about the myths but fairly silly, especially when we see the rather absurd “real” werewolves and vampires. Still, “Fang” includes a fair amount of useful notes, and it provides a decent look at different ideas.

Finally, we get two *TV spots and a collection of previews. These appear for Underworld, Hellboy, Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Spider-Man 2.

When we head to DVD Two, we open with seven pieces in the “Featurettes” area. *The Making of Underworld runs 13 minutes and one second as it combines movie snippets, a few shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from Wiseman, Grevioux, McBride, producers Richard Wright and Gary Lucchesi, assistant stunt coordinator Scott McElroy, stunt coordinator Brad Martin, creature effects supervisor Guy Himber, and actors Kate Beckinsale, Bill Nighy, Scott Speedman, Shane Brolly, Erwin Leder, Sophia Myles, and Michael Sheen. Mostly they cover the story of the film, but we also get a little information about the devices used to create the on-set creatures and some stunts. Those moments are fine, but they don’t fill enough of the piece, as it mainly just shows movie clips and touts the film. It’s a mediocre program, and since all of the decent info appears in subsequent featurettes, it becomes pretty useless.

After this we find the nine-minute and 54-second program called The Visual Effects of Underworld. It presents comments from executive producer/visual effects supervisor James McQuaide, visual effects supervisor Payam Shohadai, editor Martin Hunter, We hear about the general duties of the visual effects supervisor and the use of 3-D elements plus specifics for things like lycan transformations, Selene’s jump at the start of the movie and other CG bits that don’t seem obvious, and Lucian’s car accident. The program tosses out enough hard data to make it useful, but it doesn’t give us a ton of depth. It needs to be a little longer and a little richer.

Next we get a look at *Creature Effects. This 12-minute and 28-second featurette includes the same mix of film snippets, behind the scenes footage, and interviews. We get notes from Tatopoulos, Wiseman, McBride, Himber, Nighy, creature effects art director Steve Wang, and lab technician supervisor Gabe Bartalos. They discuss the design and creation of the Lycans plus a little about Viktor’s visual elements. It’s a concise and informative program.

In the 11-minute and 41-second *Stunts, we find comments from Wiseman, Martin, Beckinsale, McElroy, Wright, McBride, Sheen, Nighy and Speedman. They cover training for the actors, design of wire work, and various other stunt-related issues. “Stunts” seems clear and interesting, and it stands out as particularly good due to the fun shots of rehearsals and training.

Designing Underworld fills 10 minutes, 44 seconds. It includes remarks from production designer/conceptual artist Bruton Jones and director Wiseman. We learn about creating an atmosphere with visual design, specifics about sets and various designs, costumes, and props. The participants prove informative and useful as they elaborate on the decisions and goals for the material in this pretty tight little program.

With The Look of Underworld, we get a 19-minute and 10-second piece. It presents statements from Wiseman, producer Richard Wright, cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts, and visual effects supervisor McQuaide. They chat about preparatory drawings, choosing a cinematographer, color schemes and digital color correction, general visual design, shooting constantly at night, and location scouts and working in Europe. It’s another solid program. It includes a concise examination of the subjects and moves briskly, which makes it a fine show that gives us a lot of good notes.

Finally, *Sights and Sounds runs nine minutes and six seconds and presents a montage of material from the set. We see video footage of random behind the scenes shots. These don’t seem terrific, and it occasionally resembles a long gag reel. Still, it gives us a moderately interesting and enjoyable glimpse at the production.

After this we find a *music video for “Worms of the Earth” by Finch. They offer a lip-synch performance of the tune and we see many movie clips in this dull video. The *storyboard comparison presents a split-screen examination of the movie’s opening sequence and four other scenes. It runs six minutes, 41 seconds and offers a decent look at the material.

In addition, Underworld includes some paper materials. It presents a 16-page production “sketch to scene” booklet as well as a 48-page mini-comic book. My review copy didn’t include the former but it did offer the latter. It retells the movie’s story and seems like a fun addition.

Today’s Decision I Don’t Understand: with a second DVD available for extras, why did the folks at Columbia choose to put anything other than the commentary on DVD One? The 47-minute documentary took up some substantial space. The cynic in me thinks they did this to prime the pump for a later Superbit release of Underworld, though I suppose only time will tell if that occurs.

So what extras appeared on the old DVD and not this one? The only loss comes from the absence of its two audio commentaries. One of those came from director Wiseman, writer/actor Kevin Grevioux and writer Danny McBride, while the second offered remarks from creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos, visual effects supervisor/executive producer James McQuaide, and sound designer Claude Letessier. Given the screen-specific nature of those tracks and all the variations between the two versions of the film, I suppose they wouldn’t make much sense alongside the new cut, but they still go missed.

Underworld enjoys a terrific concept behind it, but unfortunately, it largely squanders its potential. The movie looks good but presents very little excitement or real intrigue. The DVD offers strong picture quality plus generally solid audio marred only by some excessive bass. The extras seem pretty positive as well and add some value to the package. Unfortunately, the movie itself remains a moderate dud, so I find it tough to recommend the package.

For those who do want to own a copy of Underworld but don’t desire two separate versions in their library, the question becomes which flavor to get. Frankly, it’s a toss-up between the original DVD and the extended version. I didn’t think the added footage for the latter made it any better, and both discs presented virtually identical picture and audio quality.

The main difference then relates to the extras. The extended DVD loses two audio commentaries but adds a fun new one plus more than 90 minutes of new featurettes. I’d like to firmly recommend one over the other, but I can’t. Both are equally strong packages, so either one should work out fine. Die-hard fans will want to own both, though, since too much compelling information appears in each.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4875 Stars Number of Votes: 80
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