Underworld Evolution Blu-ray Review
PictureEncoded via MPEG-2 1080p, the 2.40:1 image for Underworld: Evolution is great but not spectacular. A very early release on Bu-ray, this title would still have been considered a flagship-title in its day, but despite being superficially scintillating, there are a fair few problems that, whilst minor, do detract. Grain is apparent in some scenes and there can be a very slight muddiness to some of the darker portions of the frame. This latter is not consistent though and seems more like a temporary lapse in quality-control considering that elsewhere the image can achieve incredible depth, detail and contrast.
The film is often little more than black and white, but possesses that silvery sheen and stark, stylish crispness that reveal it to still be visually keen and alive. Black clothes, dark hair, pale skin and sickly-looking incandescent eyes - and this isn't just Beckinsale I'm talking about here - bring the image into sharp relief and the contrast works wonders with such a two-tone aesthetic. Naturally, the film also favours a darker palette with regards to its settings too, and the vast swathes of thick shadow do a fine job, for the most, of smothering the frame without crushing out too much detail. There are, however, instances when this rolling carpet of inky blackness becomes too full to relinquish some of the background detail that may be held within. But, on the whole, this is a good and atmospheric job that adds a lot of impressive gothic ambience to murky underground chambers, tunnels and medieval passageways. When colour is permitted to intrude - blood, the robes on certain on characters and the décor of a decadent vamp's inner lair or in Alexander's ship-bound rooms for examples - it is rich and nicely textured. Flames from the burning village at the start or the couple of explosions that light up the image are pretty decent - although I feel that Alexander's ship blowing up is not as vibrant as it could have been and lacks a bit of detail or variance in its engulfing swirl of fire-colours.
Detail is high and, even if the image somehow fails to “pop” all that successfully from the screen - at least when compared to many more recent releases - it is still presented with a clean sharp vividness that makes close-ups fresh and exciting and distant objects clear and crisply delineated. Only one or two effects shots let the side down. Alexander's ship never looks quite right to me - somehow softer and less defined - and, obviously, some of the creature effects, namely Big Willy the werewolf at the end, who isn't the best bit of CG-rendering you will have seen. However, edges are well-maintained and there are no artefacts to detract from the overall pleasant picture on display. I viewed this on a 52 inch Sharp and, to be honest, sitting back and taking my critic's hat off for a moment or two, the movie looked mighty impressive, the basically monochromatic photography keeping the image crisp and bold.
SoundEven better than the image transfer is the eardrum-brutalising PCM Uncompressed 5.1 track. Pitching in with a mighty bass level adding enormous weight and sheer oomph-factor to the already aggressive dynamics, Evolution presents a real treat with its powerful wraparound mix. Even as one of the earlier releases on the format, well over a year ago now, the sound quality is superlative. Clearly a lot of thought went into the design and the audio transfer is tip-top when it comes to directionality, depth and full-range clarity and warmth.
Gunfire - be it single-shot or full-auto - is extremely powerful and punches across the set-up with deliciously exciting and precise steerage. Impacts of bodies smashing through walls and doors etc is gut-crunching and allows for discrete effects-work such as debris and splinters of wood, glass or stone to skitter around the set-up. Body-blows are deep and snappy, the entire dimensions of the room used to convey the onscreen CG-augmented brawls with seamless pans. The whump-whumping of the helicopter rotors - always a favourite - is thick and full of believable movement. The score is heavy, but detailed and, despite being particularly unmemorable, infiltrates the entire soundtrack without dominating it. Surprisingly, even though I found much of the film talky, the lingering impressions it made on me were entirely to do with solid, power-packed sonic ferocity. The dialogue is always clear and well-placed, ambience is almost perpetual - with the rears carrying a lot of detail - and directionality is seamless and convincing. The track is loud and bombastic and my advice is to crank up the volume as much as you can get away with.
There is also a DD 5.1 option on the disc, and this is a perfectly fine and exciting track in its own right. But it doesn't approach the depth, clarity and power of the PCM. The film may be a dud, in my opinion, but it sure delivers the goods in the explosive audio department and you shouldn't find anything to complain about.
ExtrasThankfully for fans of the film, the BD release ports over all the extras that were to be found on the SD version. Now, considering that I am not exactly over-enamoured with the film they bolster, the extras, whilst unarguably entertaining and informative enough, still kind of left me uninvolved or satisfied. But I will totally concur that fans will certainly enjoy them.
First up is the commentary with director Len Wiseman, production designer Brad Tatapolous, second unit director Brad Martin and the stunt coordinator Nicholas De Toth. Now, if you are into the film, you will find an enormous wealth of trivia and anecdote. From how the stunt-work was achieved to how to film your wife having sex with another man, the group enjoy looking back at the movie and there is rarely a let-up in their frank and humorous banter. But I must still say that most of it left me cold - simply because I couldn't muster up any enthusiasm for the end result of their endeavours. The track, however, is good value and manages to pack in a lot of information without sounding too dry or technical. Wiseman does tend to lavish praise about much too easily, though.
Then we a cluster of featurettes covering the gamut of the film's production which, in total, come to the best part of an hour's worth of bonus material. The titles kind of give the game away. In the Hybrid Theory - Visual Effects Featurette, we see how the numerous CG elements came into being. The War Rages On: Stunts is, fairly obviously, a glimpse into the world of wire-work etc. Bloodlines: From Script To Screen - Making-of Featurette takes a look at the initial concepts for the movie and how the screenplay moved - allegedly - deeper into the mythology and the relationships between the main characters. Making Monsters Roar - Creatures rather typically and surprisingly unexcitingly examines the werewolves and the Marcus Bat-thing but still failed to generate much interest from me due to the decidedly lacklustre final imagery and development that was achieved in the finished film. The final two instalments are a firm, but still token, gesture to bonus completion. We get Building A Saga - Production Design and Music And Mayhem to round out the package. Lots of talking heads but, admittedly, a fair amount of fact and info, as well. Although this is an early release, and relatively forgivable, I must admit that I don't like little biddy featurettes flung together, when it would surely be much easier to keep them as a whole documentary. Somehow, this always feels more substantial and comprehensive. But hey, at least this isn't just a bare-bones release. So, for that, fans should be thankful.
And ... we get the lousy music video “Her Portrait In Black” from Atreyu which just appears to be a loving showcase for Kate Beckinsale in black PVC - ergo, an awful lot of film clips. She may be sexy, but this is still utterly dire.
VerdictVacuous, air-headed and ultimately bereft of any acting talent whatsoever, Underworld: Evolution is a cluster of so-so CG set-pieces and colourless (literally and thematically) action. To paraphrase Albert Finney in the classic Miller's Crossing, if I never see Scott Speedman again ... it will be soon enough. The concept of werewolves and vampires at war is pure comic-book stuff, but even as a devout lover of the two creature-genres I think the idea, cinematically, stinks. Len Wiseman is also a hopeless director of anything other than action - I'll admit that I loved his Die Hard 4.0 despite many reservations going in (all connected to his Underworld films) - and somehow the camera's fawning over his wife - as gorgeous as she is - just made me feel uncomfortable. This is a director who is quite clearly getting off on filming his missus for the public.
And he certainly gets a good enough transfer on this BD release to showcase her, ahem, attributes. The image, as bleached as it is, is stunning and the sound is excellent, too. Extras-wise, there is a fair bit enhancing the overall package, but I found them of a one-watch-only affair and the commentary can be a tad irritating. “I love this shot,” and “I love that shot” - who gives a Donald Duck? Self-praise is no praise at all, Lenny. Ultimately, the Underworld movies are over-reachers but under-achievers. This one especially.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.15
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