Underworld (2003)

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Released 20-May-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Main Menu Introduction
Dolby Digital Trailer
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Director And Writer
Audio Commentary-Technical Commentary
Featurette-Making Of
Featurette-The Look Of Underworld
Featurette-Creature Effects
Featurette-Stunts
Featurette-Sights And Sounds
Music Video-Finch: Worms Of The Earth
Storyboard Comparisons
TV Spots-War, Trailer Cutdown
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Hellboy, Spider-Man 2, The Medallion, S.W.A.T.
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 116:14
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (71:21) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Len Wiseman
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Kate Beckinsale
Scott Speedman
Michael Sheen
Shane Brolly
Bill Nighy
Erwin Leder
Sophia Myles
Robbie Gee
Wentworth Miller
Kevin Grevioux
Zita Görög
Dennis J. Kozeluh
Scott McElroy
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music David Bowie
Paul Haslinger
Maynard James Keenan


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Boiled down to its essentials, a movie consists of two things - style, and substance. Truly great movies, whether they be pure action vehicles like the X-Men franchise, or more straight drama, like a Donnie Darko, combine the two with maximum effect. Then there are very good movies, such as Road To Perdition or Gosford Park that combine huge quantities of one with respectable amounts of the other. Finally there are the movies that are all one and none of the other. Underworld is a film with plenty of style, but it is just a pretty face - there is nothing going on below the surface. While this approach can at least produce a watchable film, it only makes for an entertaining experience if the subject matter is particularly forgiving. In the case of Underworld, that subject matter is vampires and Werewolves - a genre that could hardly be more challenging - and the movie sadly comes up wanting.

    Set in the present day, Underworld takes us into a Gothic universe where the seemingly eternal war between vampires and Werewolves is coming to an end. The Vampires have hunted the Werewolves almost to extinction, but that has only made the Werewolves all the more hungry for one last, great, effort. In the midst of all this is Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a Vampire "death dealer" - essentially the shock troops for the Vampires in the war - who has spent almost her entire immortaldom hunting and killing Werewolves, or as the Vampires call them, Lycans. Following two suspected Lycans on a routine mission - looking for an opportunity to end their existence, naturally - events take a turn for the worse when Selene's prey attacks in full view of the public - something that they are generally loathe to do. When looking back at the situation, it seems the Lycans were after a young man named Michael Corvin (Felicity alumni Scott Speedman), but while tracking him down proves easy, discovering the reason for the Lycans' interest in him does not. On top of this is the fact that the local Vampire clan's leader seems to be more interested in building a political power-base than the war, and that a long-dead Lycan hero's legacy seems to be having an impact. Selene decides it is time to turn to Vampire elder Viktor (Bill Nighy) to help settle matters, but her actions may just spark the biggest split in Vampire ranks for a millennia, and her growing feelings for Michael are further complicated by the knowledge that he will soon become a Lycan - one of her arch enemies.

    While the story has all the background necessary for a great film, it simply does not pull it off. There are many reasons for this, but the simple fact is that the characters do not seem to inhabit the same world as the backstory. They carry out actions that have supposedly been forbidden since the 10th century B.C. seemingly without thought. For characters that have been living with these rules for the better part of a thousand years, it should be almost unthinkable to go against those rules, yet they ignore them like a race-driver would a speed sign on the side of a street circuit. Another problem is that the characters do not even seem to listen to one another. Selene does not follow even one order from her supposed leader Kraven (Shane Brolly), and is not even particularly perturbed when she learns some information that should tear her apart. Kraven on the other hand offers her a "last chance" on at least four or five occasions, each time leaving her to make her own decision - hardly the actions of a natural born killer. Another blow is the fact that, while this is a Vampire/Werewolf movie, all the Vampires do when they "transform" is grow fangs and get blue eyes (the Werewolves at least make a full transformation), and there is not even so much as one human character killed. This is explained by the story ("it is forbidden"), but it gives the entire film a less threatening feel (although the producers seem to think this sets them apart in a positive way). Finally, the supposed "society" of the Vampires revolves around all of about thirty of them - one would have thought that after after a thousand years of existence, there would be just a little more.

    Despite the problems with the story, this is not really a horror film, so much as it is an action film, and in that regard it does reasonably well - with one major problem. But first the successes - the stunts and physical fights in this film look great, and are impressive to watch. The creature effects are excellent, and rely as much as possible on prosthetics and physical effects (wire work) than CGI, which gives the film a more organic feel. It really is stand out work, and when the comparatively small budget is taken into consideration (it was shot for $US23 million, which is around one quarter to one fifth of the usual Hollywood action blockbuster, and only half of the budget for the freeway scene alone from the first Matrix sequel), the feat the filmmakers have pulled off is truly astonishing. The downside is that most of the action in this film is gunplay - and there are only so many ways you can film a shoot-out. Despite trying their hardest, the gunfights are starting to get old two thirds of the way through, and that still leaves the big final battle to come, by which time the audience is starting to hope the protagonists would just trip and shoot themselves. It would not be so bad if the wait between the action set pieces was not as long as it is, but when sitting through ponderous dialogue scene after ponderous dialogue scene, none of which impart more than a few tid-bits of useful information, the movies biggest flaw becomes apparent - pacing. An action film needs to be frenetic, with lots of energy, while Underworld, despite starting with a bang, is beginning to drag by about the hour mark, and it is a two hour film. Edited down to ninety-odd minutes, this could have been a fair amount better.

    What Underworld does show is plenty of promise. Delivered by a first time director, with first time screen-writers, it is a very good start. By taking the subject matter seriously, they have come up with a film that at the very least does not drown in its own corniness. A tightening of the dramatic events, some more varied action, and a wider scope (the latter of which is obviously limited by budget) could have lead to a truly great cinematic experience, especially when coupled with the incredible visual style. As the main creative triumvirate behind this film are already talking of not only sequels, but other work they are considering doing together, the future still remains bright.

    Unfortunately, the future will not help the present, and Underworld is a film that will never be of interest to any but die hard genre fans. The action focus will annoy dedicated horror fans, while the Vampire/Werewolf focus will alienate many pure action fans, so this is really only for those specifically interested in Vampires and Werewolves in general (as opposed to strict horror buffs). On the upside, even if they do not like the content, they will at least find it good to look at.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Befitting the visual heroics of Underworld, this disc is delivered with an excellent transfer that helps to make the film look that little bit better.

    Presented at the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this transfer is 16x9 enhanced.

    Sharpness is excellent, although fine detail is slightly reduced due to the high-contrast effect of the image processing applied to the film, however this does not have a large overall impact as it is largely hidden by the harsh whites and deep blacks. Shadow detail is also affected by the processing, causing the blackest areas to be virtually impenetrable, however as this is by design, it is forgivable. Where allowed to drop off "naturally", shadow detail is excellent, which is very important for a film that is set entirely at night. Grain is almost non-existent, only showing up noticeably from 29:45 to 30:06. There is no low level noise present.

    Colours are, intentionally, extremely washed out and pallid. Digital post-processing has been applied to this film to remove any colour highlights, turn flesh tones pale, and give the whole film a very monochromatic appearance (albeit one tinged with blue). This lack of colour is rendered well, with good graduation in the harsh whites, and reasonable representation of the colours that are present.

    There are no compression artefacts in this transfer, and as should be the case with such a recent film, there are no film artefacts either. Aliasing is only a minor nuisance, with the only really noticeable instances appearing on the Vampire House crest at 14:26 and 107:56, the lamp stand at 22:56, and the baggage rack on the train at 65:56. Unfortunately, the position of the artefact on the screen combined with the generally low level of aliasing makes these instances a little more obvious than they really should be.

    Subtitles are well rendered, relatively accurate, and easy to read.

    This is an RSDL formatted disc with the layer change taking place at 71:21 during chapter 18. It is quite obvious, as it is placed in a shot with a fair amount of motion, and a high level of ambient sound. This is a pity as there are many other moments where it could have been more conveniently placed.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    In an effort that goes a long way to matching the superb visual style of this film, the sound design has also received incredible attention to detail, and that is shown off to its full capacity with an excellent audio transfer.

    There are three audio tracks present on this disc. The first is the original English dialogue, presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 448 kbps). The other two are both audio commentary tracks, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo (at 192 Kbps).

    Dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times. It does sound a little "hollow" from time to time, but presumably that is in an attempt to avoid looping, and is preferable to bad sync.

    The music for underworld consists of hard-rock/metal numbers and score music, credited to Paul Haslinger. The score is very much in the "industrial" style (and some standard orchestral as well), and fits in very well with the atmosphere and other musical cues, although its overall effectiveness is questionable - the style of the score loses its impact quite quickly.

    Surround activity is aggressive and constant, delivering both high-impact and ambient noises throughout the soundstage for the entirety of the movie. The gun battles see bullets flying everywhere, cars roar from front to rear, or vice-versa, thunder rumbles all around, and the score is very evenly spread. The dynamic range is impressive and will tax your surround speakers considerably. This soundtrack is nothing short of sensational, and is most definitely one to put on for demonstration purposes.

    As with the surround channel use, the subwoofer is driven to extremes. This is a soundtrack that is very much improved by a good subwoofer, with plenty of bass coming from gunfire, cars, trains, roars, fights, and the score itself. The rumbles are constant and hefty, and will threaten the foundations of the viewing room.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The collection of extras on this disc is surprisingly extensive.

Menu

    The menu is animated, themed around the movie, 16x9 enhanced, and features Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio. It is quite stylish, and embodies the feel of the movie quite well.

Audio Commentary - Len Wiseman (Director/Writer), Danny McBride (Screenwriter), Kevin Grevioux (Writer)

    This commentary is between three good friends, and putting aside the fact they are under the impression they have made an utterly brilliant movie (apparently the critics "didn't get it" - presumably that goes for all the people who didn't go to see this movie), is a worthwhile listen. They discuss story concepts, the vision for the movie, and the evolution of the screen play, all of which is quite interesting.

Audio Commentary - James McQuade (Visual Effects Supervisor/Executive Producer), Patrick Tatopoulous (Creature Designer), Claude Letessier (Sound Designer)

    The is the "technical" commentary, and while the three participants do not quite have the close friendship of the members of the first commentary, they are still quite friendly and talkative. They discuss sound design in depth (this is the first full commentary I have heard from a sound designer, and it is a very interesting perspective from which to consider a movie - especially in regards to how they use chickens!), with plenty of coverage on creature design and visual effects. A little less energetic than the first commentary, but still worthwhile listening to.

Featurettes (65:37)

    This section contains a total of five featurettes, all of which can be accessed individually, or as one long featurette via the "Play All" option. The featurettes on offer are as follows:     All are presented at 1.33:1, are not 16x9 enhanced, and feature Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

Storyboard Comparison (6:42)

    This features a few key action sequence from the movie playing in a small panel at the bottom of the screen, and the storyboards for that sequence appearing in a flash-card manner at the top. This is a good way of comparing the two, and is worth watching. Presented at 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

Music Video - Finch: Worms Of The Earth (2:45)

    Finch are not exactly a chart-topping band, and based on this effort, they are never likely to be. Slickly produced hard rock/metal, which seems to defeat the purpose of its own existence, at least the video looks great - and if you like this sort of thing, the sound quality is pretty good too. Presented at 1.85:1, not 16x9 enhanced, and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

TV Spots

    Presented at 1.85:1, not 16x9 enhanced, and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio, there are two TV spots available - one entitled War (0:32) and a cutdown version of the trailer (0:32).

Trailers

    There are five trailers available here, including the theatrical trailer for Underworld. The trailers are as follows:     All are presented at 1.85:1 and are 16x9 enhanced. Underworld and Spider-man 2 only have Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, while the rest are more encouragingly decked out with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Underworld is currently only available in standard widescreen and pan-and-scan versions in Region 1, but there is talk of a special "Directors Cut" edition in the works. The following comparison is with the first released (and currently only) version of Underworld in Region 1.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     Why the Region 1 version does not come with the longest and most interesting of the featurettes is a mystery. Possibly it was held back for the future "Directors Cut" edition - only time will tell. For now, the missing featurette gives our version the slight edge, so go local for this one.

Update - 10/05/2004: Thanks to every one who let me know via the comments section that the Region 1 "Extended Cut" was due out very soon. Reviews have now started to appear, and based upon those, I have put together a new comparison chart.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 2-disc version of this disc misses out on;

    It is quite sad how little difference there is between the original release of Underworld and the new "extended" cut in terms of extras - a clear case of getting people to pay twice for what they want. It is a close call as to which is the better version, as the new 2-disc Region 1 edition comes with a new audio commentary, and a couple more featurettes, but it misses out on the original audio commentaries, both of which are quite good. On top of that, the additional scenes reportedly add little to the movie, making them largely superfluous. In the end, this has to go to the Region 1, but you could be very happy with the local version.

    One final thing - the UK Region 2 version of this disc is specced similarly to the original Region 1 release (that is, it misses out on The Look of Underworld featurette), but it does have a half-bitrate DTS track. In my experience, there is no benefit to be gained from a half-bitrate track in comparison to a high-bitrate Dolby Digital track (although a full-bitrate DTS track is a different matter altogether), and as The Look of Underworld is the best of the featurettes, I would stick with the local version if I had decided to forego the "extended" edition.

Summary

    Underworld is a beautiful, but sometimes stupefyingly dull action film that happens to have Vampires and Werewolves (sorry, Lycans). For all the eye candy, it fails to match its impressively rich and detailed background to its cardboard cut-out characters, leading to a long and uninvolving film that fails to capture any sympathy from viewers.

    The video quality is truly top-notch. This is a brilliant transfer that serves to show off the visual style of the film with aplomb.

    The audio quality is also top-notch. The audio transfer is extremely aggressive and well spaced around the soundstage, but never sounds forced, while the subwoofer track is likely to crack walls.

    The extras are surprisingly good, lead by two interesting and in-depth commentaries, and followed up by over an hour of detailed featurettes. Underworld has certainly received the special edition treatment. If only the film was even just a tiny bit better.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Nick Jardine (My bio, it's short - read it anyway)
Saturday, May 01, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-555K, using Component output
DisplayLoewe Xelos 5381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS787, THX Select
SpeakersRochester Audio Animato Series (2xSAF-02, SAC-02, 3xSAB-01) + 12" Sub (150WRMS)

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Jules F
impulsegamer.com - Adam Dumicich

Comments (Add)
Region 3 editions. -
R1 Director's Cut already announced -
Any problems with region coding on R1 disc?????? -
Re: Any problems with region coding on R1 disc?????? -
Re: R1 Director's Cut already announced -
The R1 DVD is definitely RCE. - Cassidy (The bionic man)
More on the Extended Edition.... - Richard
Any problems with region coding on R1 disc?????? - -