Sony has a history of repackaging their content on home video when it's commercially desirable. In other words, they love to "double dip," "triple dip," and "quadruple drip" into their back catalog, with new editions timed for sequels and prequels to their successful genre franchises. The Resident Evil film series is a prime example. Resident Evil has been like a cat with nine lives on home video, appearing twice on its own in different editions as well as packaged with its sequels and other horror movies. Just recently, it appeared yet again in stores as part of the Resident Evil Trilogy box set that coincided with the computer-animated Resident Evil: Degeneration.
Underworld, a vampires vs. werewolves action horror franchise (that bears more than a passing similarity to Resident Evil), seems to be bound on a similar track by Sony. First, the distributor released a "widescreen special edition" of this modern popcorn delight. Then came a 2-disc "unrated extended cut" a little while later. Now, with the prequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans about to show up on theater screens, Sony dives into the Underworld pool again for this 2-disc Underworld & Underworld: Evolution collection timed to help sell the latest entry in the series.
Several reviewers have already expounded their views of these Underworld ventures here at DVD Talk, and they can be found using our site's reviews search engine. I'll add my two cents worth on each movie individually below.
Underworld deposits the viewer right into an elaborate action sequence at the get-go. The movie's premise involves a millennia-old war between vampire clans and werewolves (here christened Lycans). It seems that the vampires have enjoyed the upper hand in this battle for some time. Vampire death dealer Selene (a leather-clad Kate Beckinsale), on the hunt for werewolves in a gothic city that seems to be in the grip of a perpetual thunderstorm, is curious as to why the Lycans are after a mortal human, Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman). Selene falls for Michael, even though he's been bitten by a werewolf, and their forbidden love develops during elaborate vampire political machinations and the re-emergence of the Lycan clan.
Underworld is no Shakespeare, but it's a well-made and entertaining popcorn flick. The action is plentiful - but so too is the plot, which is nice as oftentimes plot takes a backseat to eye candy spectacle in genre films like this. I also appreciated the high-tech accessories utilized in this "epic" battle. Yes, the supernatural is at play here with the vampire and werewolf legends, but Selene comes armed like a modern-day video game warrior, with guns and other advanced sci-fi weaponry at her disposal. The Lycan clans do as well, with a clever weapon of their own firing phosphorescent bullets. This melding of the supernatural and the speculative allows for intricate fight sequences involving Matrix-style theatrics amidst the typical monster transformations. It all culminates successfully on screen as aggressive fantasy violence.
Beckinsale, the central figure of Underworld plays a strong heroine in the turn-of-the-century superhuman style. The character is sort of a blend of Lara Croft from Tomb Raider video games and films, with Violet from Ultraviolet. However, Beckinsale here is more convincing than Milla Jovovich and less tongue-in-cheek than Angelina Jolie.
The look of the movie is great as it's set in the backdrop of a modern day Gotham City-ish urban environment. At times, Underworld adopts almost a noir atmosphere - although its icy blue color scheme sets up a dark atmosphere well, reminiscent of The Ring. At 134 minutes, Underworld may overstay its welcome by a few minutes, but hey, it's an extended cut.
Underworld: Evolution (***1/2)
Following the success of the original, Underworld: Evolution picks up where the original ended - after an introductory sequence that takes place centuries beforehand and a recap of the events of Underworld, that is. It's one of those sequels that elaborates heavily upon the original, so it's best to view Underworld: Evolution after seeing Underworld.
Without spoiling too much of Underworld, let's set the stage of its sequel. Selene and Michael - now half-vampire and half-werewolf - are on the run. A new vampire elder Marcus is piping mad at them but also convinced that Selene holds the key to finding his long-lost brother William, the original werewolf. Meanwhile, a mysterious and well-financed man named Corvinus is on the prowl as well.
Fans of the original Underworld will find much to like with its sequel. Continuity, I think, is the key here. The director (Len Wiseman) and cast return, and the script does a very good job of expanding the universe and characters created in the first film. So much so, in fact, that while Underworld: Evolution does operate as an independent film, it may be difficult to follow without seeing Underworld, as already stated.
Similar to the original, Underworld: Evolution provides a lot of nice-looking locales for intense and well-realized action sequences. The prologue, set hundreds of years in the past, allows for more traditional sword and horseback interplay, while the lengthy battle in the finale makes good use of a military helicopter.
Beckinsale continues to be a reputable action heroine here. Tough and sleek, her performance is nicely counterbalanced - again - by Scott Speedman (recently of the very good horror flick The Strangers), whose character is still very much in confused victim-mode here, despite his growing power. Of the newcomers, Derek Jacobi is a good addition as Corvinus. He lends a lot of gravitas to the role, a role that ends up being very key to the Underworld mythos at the end.
All in all, the Underworld movies are fun action-packed horror fantasies. Since this collection is - literally - just a repackaging of earlier DVD releases of the two films, fans who have the prior packages can skip this. However, on its own merits, Underworld & Underworld: Evolution is highly recommended; for the comparatively low list price, you get two good popcorn movies and a movie ticket to see a third one.
Just don't be surprised to see Sony dip into this franchise again when Underworld: Rise of the Lycans makes its home video debut.
Sony gives Underworld and Underworld: Evolution anamorphic widescreen presentations. Underworld has a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, while Underworld: Evolution's aspect ratio is 2.40:1. Both movies look terrific. The color palette is limited as the films heavily emphasize an icy blue ambience that reflects the cold and dark mood of the series. However, details are strong and clear throughout.
It should probably come as no surprise that both movies have the same audio options. Two audio language tracks are available for each film: English and French. They're Dolby Digital 5.1, with the English track being the default. As with the video quality, the audio quality is excellent. The plentiful action sequences surround the listener, while dialogue always remains clear.
Optional subtitles in English and French exist for the two films as well.
Underworld (Disc One)'s extras include a Previews menu with trailers for Underworld, Hellboy, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and Spider-Man 2. Two TV spots for Underworld are available elsewhere.
More significant, of course, is a feature-length commentary track with director Len Wiseman, and actors Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman. A random sampling suggests it's a lively and informal track.
Rounding out the extras on this disc are some Outtakes (3:43) that are basically just goofs during the filming of Underworld. These outtakes are not in anamorphic widescreen. And finally, a featurette titled Fang Vs. Fiction (47:04) is an entertaining albeit superficial look at vampire and werewolves.
Underworld: Evolution's disc has trailers for Ultraviolet and When a Stranger Calls that precede the main menu. A Previews option in the menu system offers access to these trailers as well as additional trailers for London, Click, Underworld, Hostel, The Boondocks, Marie Antoinette, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Benchwarmers, Silent Hill, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and The James Bond Ultimate Collection.
In addition to these trailers are several other extras. First up is a rather average-sounding hard rock video for Atreyu's "Her Portrait in Black" with lots of scenes from Underworld: Evolution included. It runs 3:54 and is not in anamorphic widescreen. Next up is a series of featurettes on the making of the movie. They're informative but rather cursory at times. A Play All option is included, which turns the featurette into a lengthier whole. The titles of these featurettes are Bloodlines: From Script to Screen (13:26), The Hybrid Theory (13:00), Making Monsters Roar (11:56), The War Rages On (9:54), Building a Saga (12:57), and Music and Mayhem (11:50). Again, these extras are in full screen. Rounding out the extras is a filmmaker's commentary track, with the participation of director Len Wiseman and several other behind-the-scenes production people. A random sampling suggests it's a lively and informative track.
Finally, this 2-disc set includes an e-Movie cash code for Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. The code is provided on a sticker placed on the outer cellophane wrapping. It expires on March 7, 2009 and is valued up to $10.
This 2-disc set contains the first disc of the 2-disc unrated extended cut of Underworld and the original DVD release of Underworld: Evolution. In other words, there is absolutely nothing new here for fans of the Underworld series. However, considering the list price, it's a no-brainer to highly recommend this collection to others: you get two entertaining action-packed horror fantasies and a movie ticket to see a third one.