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), 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 theBlade 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 gets a remarkable 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks simply amazing. With so much of the film 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 the entire film (I noticed it once for a brief second and that was it) and the blues, browns, grays and blacks used so predominantly throughout the film to give it that horror-noir look are reproduced faithfully and naturally. There's a very high level of detail present even in the darker scenes and try as I may, I can't really find anything to complain about in regards to the look of this DVD.
Viewers get the best of both worlds in the audio department on this release, as Columbia/Tri-Star has opted to include both a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track as well as a DTS 5.1 Surround Sound track with optional subtitles available in English, French and Spanish. Underworld benefits from a very active sound stage and this DVD really brings the mix to life. Regardless of which of the two audio options you choose, you're going to be impressed by the amount of activity evident on this release. Bullets whiz past you during the shoot out, the werewolves' growls rumble through your subwoofer, and you can hear every shell casing hit the floor and every shard of glass hit the ground. While the DTS track does have a bit more going on in the lower end than the Dolby Digital mix does, both sound excellent and are sure to give you surround sound system the exercise it craves. Channel separation is clear and distinct and there's plenty of positional audio action to keep you on your toes. Dialogue isn't once muddled or difficult to understand and every word is audible and comprehensible. The addition of the DTS track (which was missing in action on the first release of the theatrical cut of the film, nor on the director's cut) makes this one of the finest sounding DVD experiences I've had in quite some time.
As is the norm for the Superbit releases, this DVD has no extra features to speak of. Most people realize this beforehand and the point of these releases is to maximize the space on the disc
While I really believe that Columbia/Tri-Star should have put out the directors cut of Underworld as the Superbit release and not the theatrical version as we have here on this disc, the audio and video quality are top notch and the film is an entertaining two hours of escapism. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.