Directed by Len Wiseman
Produced by Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi & Richard Wright
Written by Danny McBride
Director of Photograpy Tony Pierce-Roberts
Music by Paul Haslinger
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, Erwin Leder & Bill Nighy
2003/121 mins/Color/5.1 Dolby Digital
2.35:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment DVD
The recent premiere of the trailer for VAN HELSING has created a lot of debate about the potential quality of the film. (Personally, I think it looks like loads of fun.) But, no matter how you feel about that film, it did create excitement amongst fans of "monster mash" films -- that is, those movies in which more than one type of monster appears. These films were very popular in the 1940s and 1950s, and we got a taste for this genre recently with last year's UNDERWORLD, which is now available on DVD.
UNDERWORLD is set in an undisclosed European city (it looks like London). Here, a war is raging between the Vampires and the Lycans (werewolves). Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a vampire warrior known as a "Death Dealer" (she is basically an assassin). As the film opens, she witnesses a group of Lycans exhibiting very odd behavior, as they pursue a human, Michael (Scott Speedman, who looks just like that guy from Creed). She reports this to her superior, Kraven (Shane Brolly), but he is not interested, being pre-occupied with an impending visit from Vampire dignitaries. Meanwhile, the Lycans, led by Lucian (Michael Sheen), are performing a series of mysterious experiments in order to create a new strain of werewolf. When Selene is able to track down Michael, she triggers a chain of events which take the war in a new direction, not the least of which are her romantic feelings for this human.
Like the vampires themselves, vampire movies never seem to die. Fortunately, UNDERWORLD offers some new takes on the already familiar vampire mythos. The clash between vampires and werewolves isn't necessarily new (in fact, the makers of UNDERWORLD were sued by White Wolf Publishing for copyright infringement), but this film offers a new explanation for the origins of vampirism and lycanthropy and creates an interesting rivalry between the two factions. While the story may offer some new twists, the look of the film does not. The vampire are the same Euro-goth creatures that we've seen dozens of times before and the werewolves have a rougher, urban look. (Where does the assumption that vampires would dress like this come from? Can't a vampire own a pair of jeans?) Also, the film's dark photography, combined with its overall blue lighting scheme make it look like James Cameron's interpretation of THE CROW.
But, these complaints shouldn't imply that UNDERWORLD is a bad movie. The film has some good ideas and the action scenes are very well done. The film's biggest problem is that it's simply too long. Director Len Wiseman worked with the creators of INDEPENDENCE DAY and GODZILLA in the past and there lack of editing vision has apparently rubbed off on him. At 121-minutes, UNDERWORLD overstays its welcome by at least half-an-hour. The last act contains many creative plot twists, most involving the moral decisions made by the characters, but many viewers will have given up hope by then. Yes, the film does attempt to fully flesh out the stories and characters, something which is a true rarity in the horror genre, but it goes too far, seemingly forgetting that we are here to see vampires and werewolves fight. And I'm not even going to get into the film's plot-holes. Despite its shortcomings, UNDERWORLD is still worth recommending, as it's a well-made action-horror hybrid that presents an interesting story (which has an obvious sub-text concerning racism and class) that doesn't talk down to its audience.
UNDERWORLD leaps onto DVD courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. The film is being given two separate DVD releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This transfer is quite impressive, as the image is crystal clear and very sharp. As noted above, this is a VERY dark film, but the action is always visible and the image never gets too dark. The film is lacking any truly bright colors, once again, most everything is black or blue, but the occasional flashes of red look fine. There is some slight grain at times, but the artifacting and edge-enhancement problems are kept to a minimum. And, as odd as this may sound, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track on the UNDERWORLD DVD is too good. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects, showing no defects. The surround sound and subwoofer effects are nearly constant in the film, making this a great demo disc. However, the dynamic range could use some tweaking, as the bass is overly loud at times, drowning out the rest of the audio. Overall, a very nice transfer.
This Special Edition DVD contains many extra features. We start with an audio commentary featuring director Len Wiseman, screenwriter Danny McBride, and actor/story writer Kevin Grevioux. This is an interesting commentary, as they discuss the film's production (locations, actors, etc.), but more importantly, they talk about the "hows and whys" of the script and talk about things that were addded and dropped from earlier drafts. The second commentary features Patrick Tatopoulos, creature design, James McQuade, visual effects supervisor & executive producer, and Claude Letessier, sound designer. This commentary isn't quite as engaging as the first one, simply because it gets a bit too technical at times. However, during the battle sequences, we do learn a great deal about how the FX were done.
Next up are four featurettes (which can be viewed individually or together with the "Play All" feature). "The Making of UNDERWORLD" (13 minutes) contains lots of clips and lots of spoilers, so make sure you watch the movie first. There are comments from the cast and crew, loads of behind-the-scenes footage as this segments examines the film's production, special FX and stunts. These elements are furthers explored in "Creature Effects" (12 minutes), which reveals why costumes, as opposed to CGI, were used, and "Stunts" (12 minutes) where we get to see Beckinsale training for the film. "Sights and Sounds" (9 minutes) isn't about sound design, but is actually just behind-the-scenes video taken from multiple sets and locations. The band Finch provides a music video for the hard-driving song "Worms of the Earth". There are storyboard comparisons for 5 scenes. Finally, we have 2 TV spots and the original trailer for UNDERWORLD, which is 16 x 9.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2004. ©