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Underworld Double Feature

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    Ian Jane
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  • Underworld/Underworld Evolution Double Feature

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    Released by: Sony
    Released on: 01/13/2009
    Director: Len Wiseman
    Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen, Tony Curran
    Years: 2003/2005

    The Movies:

    Underworld

    English hottie Kate Beckinsale (of the atrocious Van Helsing) plays Selene, a foxy vampire clad in leather who operates as a 'Death Dealer' - basically a vampire warrior who hunts down the dreaded Lycans (short for lycanthrope - the vampires' werewolf enemies). The two factions have been battling it out for fifteen hundred years now and Selene has gotten pretty good at her game.

    She becomes suspicious after surviving an attack one night that the Lycans were actually after a human who happened to be in the same subway station as she was when the attempt when down. As she looks into things more, she concludes that yes, they were after the human, a man named Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman of The Four Feathers) who holds the key that the Lycans need to defeat the vampires once and for all and end the ages long war. Selene alerts her superior, Kraven (Shane Brolly of the short lived Night Man television series - remember that show?), to what she has discovered he tries his best to get her off the scent, forcing her to awaken one of the elders, Viktor (Bill Nighy), to set things right.

    Underworld isn't really much of a horror movie despite the presence of a lot of Hot Topic shopping vampires and oodles of werewolves to boot. Sure, it's got monsters and a fair to middling amount of bloodshed in it, but the film doesn't have any real scares in it nor does it have much suspense either. The potential was there, but it just didn't happen. What Underworld is, first and foremost, is an action movie, albeit one with monsters as its lead characters. As a horror movie it fails miserably but as an action movie, it's not half bad. The plot lends for plenty of reasons to have our immortal warriors square off with one another, and the fact that they've taken to using customized firearms to aide in their respective causes leads to a few tense shoot outs (and plenty of unrealistic weapons that seem to hold a whole lot more bullets than would ever be really possible).

    While the movie does have a couple of those really tired 'bullet time' moments that have plagued action films since the Wachowski Brothers turned Keanu Reeves into the Messiah in The Matrix trilogy, it doesn't suffer from the horrid CGI that other recent monster/horror/action hybrid films as of late have (cough coughVan Helsingcough cough). Sure, it's there and it's pretty obvious when the werewolves run down the walls of the hallway that they're computer generated but the film doesn't beat you over the head with as many digital effects as I'd expected it to. Speaking of the effects, the werewolf transformation scenes, which play like a clip from An American Werewolf In London in fast forward, are pretty effective is the way that Viktor's resurrection is portrayed, with all manner of tubes pumping blood into his dehydrated and suspended frame.

    At just over two hours the film does feel overly long in a few spots and it does take a little while to really get going but overall, Underworld is good brainless fun as most decent action films tend to be. Yes, it borrows heavily from The Crow (Beckinsale could pass for a female version of Eric Draven) and from the Blade films in look, feel and tone and maybe the storylines plays like a cross between The Terminator and Highlander but if you can look past the obvious 'influences' you're left with a reasonably entertaining, if unoriginal, movie that provides plenty of action and a hot lead actress in a leather cat suit. And honestly, I'm okay with that.

    Underworld: Evolution

    Picking up where the first film left off, this second film finds Selene (Kate Bekinsale) trying to stop a powerful werewolf named William (Brian Steele) from getting out of the prison that he's called home for the last few centuries. Head honcho werewolf Marcus (Tony Curran) knows that if he gets William out, it'll give him the edge in the ongoing war, especially now that the powerful vampire named Viktor (Bill Nighy) is dead. Seeing as the werewolf bloodline began with William, it's imperative to the vampires who Selene fights for that he stay under lock and key. She teams up with Michael (Scott Speedman) again to keep things from getting out of hand while simultaneously unlocking the history of where the vampire and werewolf bloodlines began and how the war started.

    It's a pretty save bet that if you enjoyed the first film in the franchise, this follow up will work just as well for you as it doesn't break the mold at all. At the same time, it effectively expands on the story that the first part began and delves deeper into the continuity and back story, which makes for fairly interesting viewing.

    How much you get out of the film will also depend on your tolerance and appreciation for 'action horror' rather than straight up traditional horror. While the sets and locations used for the film are traditionally gothic, the film plays out with plenty of rapid fire action and over the top acrobatics. Most of the werewolf effects are handled through CGI though thankfully it's handled reasonably well and while it would have been preferable to see make up effects used in its place, the CGI in the film is definitely better than average.

    Beckinsale and Speedman once again show a nice chemistry on screen, just as they did in the original picture, and their combined efforts against the various villains that they come against as the film plays out are entertaining enough. Ultimately, like the film that came before it, Underworld: Evolution is a bit on the brainless side but a fun slice of over the top entertainment regardless.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Both films l get great 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfers that look pretty darn impressive. With so much of both films taking place either at night or underground without much light, it's obviously very important that the black levels remain stable and consistent and thankfully, that's exactly how it goes down. There's almost no edge enhancement at all throughout either film and the blues, browns, grays and blacks used so predominantly throughout the movies to give them that horror-noir look are reproduced faithfully and naturally. There's a very high level of detail present even in the darker scenes there's really nothing to complain about in regards to the look of this release.

    Each film is presented in English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound with optional subtitles available in those same two languages. As you'd probably expect from films like these, the sound mixes are pretty aggressive and quite active, especially during the action scenes. There's plenty of rear channel action and nice response throughout the movie and the score is spread out quite nicely. Dialogue stays clean and clear and there aren't any issues with hiss or distortion to complain about. All in all, both films sound great.

    Extras for Underworld start off with a commentary track from Len Wiseman, Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman. It's a solid track with some good information about where the ideas for this movie came from, what it was like preparing for the parts that Beckinsale and Speedman played, handling the stunts, and shooting the action scenes. They talk about character development and about some of the ideas that were bounced around for the film but not used. There's quite a bit of decent discussion about the picture in this track that makes it worth a listen.

    Complimenting the commentary nicely is the Fang Vs. Fiction (47:03) documentary that puts the movie into context by interviewing experts on the subjects of werewolves and vampires. In addition to talking to authors and scholarly types, this segment also interviews people who claim to have some insider insight into both segments of the supernatural. We also learn the origins and histories of these creatures of the night and how it all ties into Underworld, which is excerpted fairly heavily throughout the documentary.

    From there, we get to check out the collection outtakes (3:42) that have been provided. None of these are very important, but they're here if you want them. Rounding out the extras are a pair of TV spots for Underworld, the film's theatrical trailer, some animated menus, chapter selection options and trailers for a few other Sony DVD releases.

    Underworld: Evolution has a commentary track with Wiseman who is joined by set designer Patrick Tatopoulos, second unit director Brad Martin and editor Nick De Toth. This is a more technical commentary track than the one recorded for the first film as the four participants discuss aspects like cinematography, set design, editing, sound work and stunt choreography. It stays fairly scene specific and the four feature participants share a good sense of humor amongst themselves which makes this a fun and interesting listen.

    After that, there are six featurettes that cover the making of the film starting with Bloodlines: From Script To Screen (13:24) which takes a look at Len Wiseman's creative process by way of an interview with the director who talks about the writing process and making a feature film out of a handful of ideas. The Hybrid Theory (12:59) features interviews with one of the film's producers, director Len Wiseman and an FX supervisor who discuss combining a werewolf and a vampire into one hybrid creature while Making Monsters Roar (11:55) examines the effects technology and make up appliances used to bring the monsters to life in the movie by way of some interviews with the effects technicians who worked on the film and a fair bit of behind the scenes footage. The War Rages On (9:53) is a look at the stunt work that was done for the film while Building A Saga (12:56) covers the location shooting and the set design work done for the movie. Last but not least, Music And Mayhem (11:50) discusses the importance of the film's score and how it was created.

    Rounding out the extras on this disc are an Atreyu music video, previews for a bunch of other Sony DVD releases (though the trailer for the feature is missing), animated menus and chapter selection. The keepcase housing the two DVDs sits inside an embossed slipcase featuring identical cover art.

    The Final Word:

    Those who already own the single disc releases have no reason to upgrade as the transfers, audio and extras are pretty much identical but Underworld fans who haven't already added the two films to their collection can now get them both in one handy boxed set at a good price. The movies themselves are good mindless fun sure to appeal to anyone willing to check their brain at the door and enjoy the spectacle.
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