While no one will ever accuse UNDERWORLD ($35) of being great cinema, it is one hell of a fun popcorn movie. Now available in an Unrated Extended Cut, UNDERWORLD remains very much the same film it was in its theatrical version, only some embellishments have been added to the story. Largely derivative of many other genre films, UNDERWORLD assembles an entertaining package that throws gothic creatures like vampires and werewolves into a modern setting, where they get to play with assault weapons- of course, these weapons have been fine-tuned to their particular physiologies. With its blazing weapons, beautifully choreographed wire enhanced fighting; UNDERWORLD is stylistically reminiscent of modern action movie touchstone THE MATRIX, plus it heaps on atmospheric cinematography and production design. In addition, the plot of UNDERWORLD throws in bit of a Romeo and Juliet romance, that is, if it were taking place within the Hammer/Universal gothic horror movie realm.
As the film opens, we learn that that nightmarish creatures such as vampires and werewolves (called Lycans here) are real and have been embroiled in a centuries old war. Our guide to this world is a vampire warrior named Selene (Kate Beckinsale), who is preparing to launch an assault on a group of Lycans with several of her compatriots. Just as the vampires are about to attack the Lycans, Selene notices that the werewolves are stalking a single human in a very uncharacteristic fashion. While the human named Michael (Scott Speedman) manages to escape the ensuing vampire/werewolf melee relatively unscathed, Selene decides to track him down, so she can uncover the Lycans’ strange interest in him. However, before Selene can get her information, the Lycans put the bite on Michael, which complicates matters enormously, especially as a forbidden attraction grows between the two. As the hostilities between vampires and Lycans escalates, alliances are made and broken in an effort to shift the balance of power in the vampire hierarchy, and change the face of the centuries old war forever. 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. This unrated extended cut is very similar in appearance to the theatrical version; in other words, it looks fantastic. As expected, the image appears very crisp and highly defined. Colors are very solid and can appear quite vibrant when required; however, much of the film has a highly stylized palette, reflecting the nighttime world in which the vampires and werewolves inhabit. Blacks are smooth and inky, while the whites appear crisp and solid. Contrast is quite excellent, as is the level of shadow detail. The film elements used for the transfer appear quite pristine, while the grain structure remains modest level for such a dark looking movie. Digital compression artifacts maintain a low profile throughout.
UNDERWORLD comes with a kick-ass Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack, featuring all the sonic assaults that one would expect from the action movie genre. The sound design is highly aggressive and makes tremendous use of the surround channels for active effects, not to mention adding atmosphere, as well as filling out the musical component. Additionally, the wide forward soundstage effectively wraps around into the surround channels creating a cohesive sound field that envelops the viewer. Fidelity is truly excellent- producing convincing sound effects, plus full-bodied musicality for the film’s score. Dialogue never becomes overshadowed by the soundtrack’s wall of sound, thus it is always completely understandable. A French 5.1 channel track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and French 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 supplemental materials, which are spread across both discs of this set. Many of the supplements contained on the Unrated Extended Cut of UNDERWORLD can be found on the original theatrical release version of the film. Disc one features a new running audio commentary with director Len Wiseman, plus actors Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman. This track is more entertaining than technically minded; casual listeners should find it enjoyable. I should note that the two commentaries contained on the original DVD release have been omitted here, so if you interests are purely technical, please refer to that disc. Also provided on disc one is the documentary entitled Fang Vs. Fiction, a forty-six minute program looks at the mythology of the creatures that are featured in UNDERWORLD. Theatrical trailers, bonus trailer and TV spots are also included on disc one.
Moving over to disc two, one will find the remainder of the supplemental programming- much of which has been ported from the original DVD. New additions to the supplemental programs include: Visual Effects, Designing The Movie and The Look Of Underworld. Visual Effects runs ten minutes and looks at- you guessed it. Designing The Movie is eleven minutes on production design and such. The Look Of Underworld is twenty minutes on how the film’s particular look was achieved. From the previous DVD comes the following: The Making Of Underworld is a fluffy thirteen minutes of promotional minded interviews with the cast and crew. Creature Effects is twelve minute detailing how the film’s legendary creatures are brought to life. Stunts is an eleven minute look at some of the film’s impressive stunt work. 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.
If you like pure popcorn entertainment with a horror bent, or are just looking for another killer disc to feed your home theater system, the Unrated Extended Cut of UNDERWORLD definitely delivers the goods. However, if you are a fan of UNDERWORLD, you’ll want to check out the Unrated Extended Cut for the subtle changes and embellishments it brings to the film.
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