PictureUnderworld, brought to us using the AVC/MPEG-4 codec at its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, is in the main a loving piece of work. The original print from which this was taken is showing no signs of marks, scratches or other blemishes and this is really how it should be for a film only a few years old. Grain is never really apparent but there is some noise shown in some of the darker scenes and due to the nature of the film obviously there are a number of these scenes to be had; it's never distracting from the action presented on screen though.
Len Wiseman hates colour, he admits this in his commentary, and because of this the film went through a lot of post processing. Colours were muted down and desaturated. The result of which is a narrowed colour palette bordering at times on the monochromatic. It suits the film though and the dark nature of the subjects concerned so in all reality this process helps the atmosphere of the film rather than detracting from it. Wiseman wanted to almost produce a comic book feel and he certainly comes close here, producing an image almost blue-grey in the main.
Contrast bears up well even considering this desaturation process. Whites never bloom nor loose their definition however at times the blacks really do suffer. These blacks are as black as the vampyre's heart, dark, brooding and definitely inky which we love to see. However definition is lost at times during these areas. In saying that though you'll still be able to see detail in the corsets which Kate herself wears and the flamboyant fop like shirts of Kraven, interim leader of the vampyre clan.
Other detail is more than acceptable, structure and texture in the buildings no matter how distant or how they blend into the background both above and below ground. Detail in the muscle structure of the werewolves; their (and their counterparts) eyes are stunning. In the end though although artistic decision has produced a desaturated vision of this film it still gains a more then complimentary mark due to its impeccable transfer.
SoundYou really have the option of an English 5.1 PCM at 4.6mbps or English 5.1 Dolby Digital 5.1 at 640 kbps. Also for those Italian speaking you are also graced with the PCM track. I always opt for the PCM track and this review in the main is concerned with that. Some scenes were reviewed as a comparison between PCM and DD. In the main, yet again, the PCM pips this to the post, more thunderous LFE and slightly tighter on the dialogue. Dolby Digital listeners will still think this is a almost reference level outing though and no doubt one to show off to friends and family.
Let me state from the outset that both of these tracks are loud. I'll state that again... both are very loud so please bear this and your neighbours in mind if you decide to play this in the early hours of the morning. Packed with immense LFE your room and the contents of it will certainly be tested here, be sure to BluTac some fine china ornaments down before watching lest they decide to walk of the sideboard. There is not a scene to be heard really where at some point the LFE will kick in and thump you in the chest. From the all too often thunder storms to the plethora of automatic fire, car doors, normal doors, grates, landings... everything has a touch of low bass to it. Perhaps a little too much I would have to say, in the end it just becomes rather repetitive. Even through the monstrous bass the dialogue is always presented well and clear from the centre.
Steerage and panning are sweet. From cars to jumps to the many shots fired from a variety of weapons. Shell casings will clink onto the flow in perfect clarity from a wide variety of speakers in your setup. Ricochets in one battle scene will encompass the viewer making you wonder where it's all coming from next. This in itself really gets you into this movie; you'll always be situated right in the middle of any action scene. The score presents itself well across the front stage giving a wide and welcoming sound field again helping the viewer enter the full arena of this movie. In the end perhaps a little over heavy on the bass so don't play it with a hangover, apart from that it really can't be faulted.
ExtrasThere's quite an extensive list of extras to be gleaned from this disc. Most from the double disc SD outing have been taken over, what's been left has been pruned and it a lot tighter in my opinion.
- Commentary with Len Wiseman, Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman
The usual commentary fodder. It would seem that Speedman though doesn't recollect too much about the film and is constantly asking questions which Wiseman and Beckinsale parry telling him to actually rent the movie he starred in. This essentially becomes a little tiresome after a while but fortunately he's only in it for half the time. Leaving, we are told, to attend an interview I actually hoped he was just physically removed from the set. The latter half of the commentary then proceeds at a good pace both director and actress certainly trying to engage the listener with facts from the film. It's an enjoyable romp, pleasing to listen to and although never really revealing any major information that you will glean from the other extras it's once which shows rapport between the two and the other actors in the film. Bill Nighy often receives a mention for his on set antics.
- 7 Featurettes - Making of Underworld, Visual Effects of Underworld, Creature Effects, Stunts, Designing Underworld, The Look of Underworld and The Sights and Sounds of Underworld - 86 mins
Just shy of an hour and a half this collection of featurettes is presented well, usually with interviews and demonstrations by the people responsible for their particular area. You'll see why Wiseman didn't want to use CGI for the main lycanthropes and at times why he had to. The detail, time and pain-staking effort which goes into the production of werewolf heads and bodies. Also on show is the wirework used in some of the stunt work and the training which the actors had to go though in order to perfect their moves. All in all this set of mini documentaries could be applied to many films which use similar techniques and as such it's a great mine of information.
A short collection of bloopers. Amusing to a degree, but once you seen them they will quickly loose their appeal.
- Storyboard Comparison - 6 mins
A quite interesting feature where certain scenes are replayed. In the top half of the screen you'll see the storyboard, in the lower the final cut of that scene in the film. As Wiseman himself is a talented artist in his own right and worked on storyboard for previous features and this he was probably glad to see this included. It's a great way I thought to present this subject, seeing the original boards and the final outcome. What can be seen is how closely a director will follow their initial concept art.
- Music Video - Finch "Worms of the Earth"
Does exactly what it says on the tin, presents Finch's music video. You'll either enjoy it or not depending on your musical tastes.
- Documentary : Fang Vs Fiction - 47 mins
And last ladies and gentlemen but by no means least this so-called documentary which no doubt would have done the rounds on say The Sci-Fi Channel or Bravo. Masquerading as a documentary it really shouldn't have that heavy mantle, more pseudo I would have suggested. It does delve into the history of both the vampyre and lycanthrope as early as ancient Greece where King Lycaon was turned into a wolf for serving human flesh to Zeus, and so this is where the word lycanthropy derives from. Through the middle ages all cultures are revealed to have in some shape or from a word for a life or energy stealing creature; we know it as the vampyre. They all too have their own word for a person who changes into a beast at the sight of the full moon. Obviously here we can see the werewolf emanating from ancient Greece, no discussion about vampyres would be complete though without the spotlight firmly falling upon Vlad the Impaler, not only drinking the blood of his victims but renouncing the Orthodox church and turning to Catholicism sealed his fate in history.
The documentary then leaves history to discuss present day attitudes and this is where it really goes off on a tangent in a sort of..."You really need professional help" kind of way. We're introduced to a real werewolf, or he claims to be. He's a giant of a man, huge sideburns, pointy teeth (his own or cosmetic - who knows), flowing hair and you could be thinking... well maybe. But alas he turns and you see his bald spot, obviously the werewolves amongst us have to share this curse with us mere mortals.
This is really a great set of extras. Not only is the commentary one which you can actually listen to and enjoy, but the extra featurettes really add weight to this entire package. You'll learn something, you'll have a good laugh and it might make some people research either production techniques or history a little further. Both the featurettes and the so-called documentary will serve as a good grounding for this. If nothing else please give the documentary a watch; it's a hoot - some of the real life characters will either have you laughing or chill you to the bone. Not that they're in any way scary but because of the wonder why "Care in the Community" left them behind.
VerdictWhat we have here then at the end of the day is a stylised film which no doubt is a joy to look at and without a shadow of a doubt a wonderful aural presentation (once you crank the volume down a little), but the film itself lacks any real substance. It showed promise once Lucian started giving his history, and you thought..."Here we have it again, the down-trodden werewolves are certainly cursed and I offer my sympathy to them". It's not followed through though to it's fullest extent I felt. Had it done so, with perhaps more flashbacks, or ever a re-structuring so that it was shown chronologically then it may have gained more feeling and less apathy.
Derivative of a few films which have preceded it, notably The Matrix down to the use of slow motion, wire work, at times scenes washed in green and also at times the music in the background, Underworld I find really doesn't stamp it's mark on the whole Gothic/Action/Horror market. A few tightly bound PVC clad damsels does not a Gothic thriller make, although I'll admit it did add to the enjoyment somewhat.
A lack of empathy permeates Underworld. The relationships which are briefly exposed on screen are never fully explored or developed. Viktor's relationship with Selene looking upon her as a daughter, and why, could have been interesting. Lucian's relationship in his past some centauries ago should also have been examined a little more closely I feel; if these had had more screen time then I think that Underworld would have been all the better for it. It's a shame it doesn't though as the rest of the package is superb. Fans of this style of movie should certainly pick this up if only for the increased picture quality, the extremely loud soundtrack... oh and of course not forgetting Ms Beckinsale in shiny mirror like PVC.
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- Commentary with Len Wiseman, Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman