UNDERWORLD ($29) is one hell of an enjoyable popcorn movie. As a fan of the horror cinema, I am always excited whenever someone tries to do something different and interesting with the established conventions of the genre. I know that the majority of attempts to reinvigorate genre mainstays unusually fall flat on their faces, but UNDERWORLD is one of those movies where the attempt is actually successful. UNDERWORLD takes a novel approach to depicting vampires and werewolves in the modern world by dropping them in the midst of a well-choreographed action movie setting- full of wire enhanced fighting, speeding cars and blazing weaponry. Also, UNDERWORLD is also a truly cool looking movie that takes some of its stylistic influences from that modern action movie touchstone THE MATRIX, while at the same time maintaining a gothic horror movie atmosphere.
The plot of UNDERWORLD finds that vampires and werewolves (called Lycans here) embroiled in a centuries old war. As the film opens we are introduced to a vampire warrior named Selene (Kate Beckinsale), who has a group of werewolves under surveillance. Just as Selene and her compatriots are about to take out their quarry, she notices that the Lycans are stalking a human in very uncharacteristic fashion; however, he does manage to get away in the ensuing vampire/werewolf melee. Determined to find out why the werewolves were so interested in this particular human, Selene tracks down Michael (Scott Speedman), but not before the werewolves are able to put the bite on him. What follows is a forbidden attraction between Selene and Michael, as well as treasonous plots and counterplots to shift the balance of power in the vampire hierarchy- something that will ultimately affect the continuing war between the vampire and werewolf factions. The cast of UNDERWORLD also includes Shane Brolly, Bill Nighy, Erwin Leder and Sophia Myles.
Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made UNDERWORLD available on DVD in a 2.35:1 widescreen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. As expected from a brand new studio movie, UNDERWORLD looks fantastic on DVD. The transfer produces a wonderfully sharp and highly defined image that brimming with detail. Colors are strongly rendered, displaying all of the necessary vibrancy of a given moment, while maintaining the stylized palette of the nighttime world in which the central characters inhabit. Blacks appear inky, whites are crisp, plus the picture boasts excellent contrast and shadow detail. The film element used for the transfer appears virtually pristine, while the grain structure remains at a very modest level for a rather dark movie. Digital compression artifacts are very well concealed throughout.
UNDERWORLD comes with a potent Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack that has all the bells and whistles that one should expect from this type of high impact action movie. The aggressive sound design makes excellent use of the surround channels for active effects, not to mention atmosphere and musical fill. Additionally the rears are cohesively tied into the forward soundstage that places the viewer in the middle of dimensional sonic environments. Fidelity is nothing short of outstanding- creating completely convincing sound effects and a musical richness for the film’s dramatic score. Dialogue is always completely understandable and never overshadowed by the other sonic elements. A French 5.1 channel track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the enjoyable supplemental materials contained on the disc. UNDERWORLD features two running audio commentaries; the first is with director Len Wiseman, writer Danny McBride and writer/actor Kevin Grevioux, while the second includes creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos, visual effects supervisor and executive producer James McQuaide, plus sound designer Claude Letessier. Both commentaries are very good, although casual listeners will get more enjoyment from the director/writers track than they will from the technical commentary.
Next up are the featurettes. The Making Of Underworld runs thirteen minutes and has the most fluff in the form of promotion minded interviews with the cast and crew. Still, there is a brief look behind-the-scenes that makes this program worthwhile viewing. Creature Effects is definitely more interesting, with the twelve minute featurette offering a good deal of detail of how the film brought to life these legendary creatures by practical means (instead of the usual over reliance on digital effects). Stunts provides an eleven minute look at how some of the film’s impressive stunt work was accomplished, with an emphasis on the training undertaken by the film’s principal cast members. Sights And Sounds is nine minutes worth of various moments captured by the cameras during production. Storyboards clocks in at over six minutes and offers comparisons between the concept sketches and actual film footage. A music video for Worms Of The Earth by Finch is also included, as are theatrical trailers, bonus trailer and TV spots.
As I stated above UNDERWORLD is a very cool action/horror outing. Columbia TriStar has done a great job with the widescreen DVD, offering a terrific looking and sounding presentation, plus solid extras. If you are a genre fan or just someone looking for something cool to demo on your home theater system, you will definitely want to check out UNDERWORLD on DVD. Recommended.
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