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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Underworld Trilogy
Underworld Trilogy
Sony Pictures // R // May 12, 2009
List Price: $47.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Nick Hartel | posted May 23, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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THE MOVIE
The Underworld Trilogy collects all three "Underworld" titles in one package. The "Underworld" disc is the first disc from the Unrated Extended cut two-disc set released a few years back. "Underworld: Evolution" and "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" are the standard releases that are available separately. The ratings at the side are an average for all three films. Individual content ratings for each film are found at the end of the three mini review sections as well as the final thoughts section for those not wanting any spoilers revealed, as some minor ones appear in the second and third film write-ups.

Underworld: Unrated Extended Cut

Len Wiseman's 2003 film, "Underworld" hit theaters with a huge amount of hype behind it. It was one of those films that the projected business was so good, that the following two films were green lit before the original opened widely. While it was a reasonable box office success, critically it was shredded. Having a chance to revisit this film six years later, a lot of that hatred is undeserved.

Set in modern times, "Underworld" follows the vampire Selene (the lovely Kate Beckinsale), a death dealer (or assassin who hunts werewolves, referred to in the film as Lycans) as a seemingly simple hit on some Lycans turns her world upside down. Selene finds these Lycans are hunting a human doctor, Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman in an exceptionally wooden performance) for yet to be revealed reasons. Selene takes a keen interest in Corvin, which makes her already shaky relationship with superior, Kraven (Shane Brolly) even more strained

To "Underworld's" credit, it distances itself from the generic sci-fi fantasy action film, by taking time to unfold it's plot. While the idea of Vampires and Lycans living amongst humans in a civilized fashion is nothing new, elements that make up the final act of the film, which I will not spoil, do make the complete package shine more brightly than it should. The script is aided by an admirable performance from Beckinsale, who can be a stellar performer, as her work on BBC productions in the past has shown. Beckinsale never tries to steal any scenes or overplay her lines; she keeps her cool throughout and makes a convincing action heroine. Bill Nighy, on the other hand, overacts, but does so with dignity and refinement (i.e. he knows just how far to go). His clan leader role, Viktor, breathes some life into the second act of the film, just when we think the rest of the running time will be her trying to save Corvin from both the Lycans and increasingly sleazy Kraven. Shane Brolly and Scott Speedman, though, are the definition of wooden. Brolly attempts to look menacing, end up coming across as constipated; while Speedman teeters from competent to confused at times. They were obviously cast for their looks, especially in Speedman's case, as they add nothing to the acting pool.

The real star of the show is Michael Sheen in a somewhat brief, but extremely memorable role as Lycan leader, Lucian. I remember being very impressed at the intensity of Sheen's performance, when I originally saw this a few years back, and having a chance to see him again here, especially after his critical success is fun. He does his best with the story and script and his effort seems to be just as much as he put into "The Queen" or "Frost/Nixon." His jumps from snarling, brutal rage to quiet, empathy really feel out of place for a film that is, at it's core, a loud action fantasy.

If "Underworld" has one major flaw though, it's the running time. This cut of the film runs over two-hours long, and while I appreciated the plot spilling out over the course, it's obvious the film could have been trimmed a bit more. Things lag a bit in the middle as we get some false tension buildup. In addition, the action packed finale suffers from some hyper active editing. Things get very cramped and can be a bit hard to follow, which is likely a result of Wiseman finding his footing on this style of action picture. The overall quality of these scenes is a far cry from what he accomplished with "Live Free or Die Hard." The last thing I'll make note of, are the effects. The Lycan transformations are a good blend of CG and practical effects and are not overused. The dark tunnels in which the Lycans appear also hide any limitations of the CG work at the time.

All in all, "Underworld" is a above average film that should leave you feeling entertained, without being insulted. It never feels like it thinks it is high art, but at the same time, has the decency to provide a well crafted framework to build the action around.

RATING: 3.0/5.0
REPLAY: 3.0/5.0

Underworld: Evolution
SPOILER WARNING: THIS SECTION OF THE REVIEW ASSUMES YOU HAVE SEEN THE ORIGINAL UNDERWORLD

Len Wiseman's 2006 follow up to "Underworld" opens with a flashback sequence building on the series' mythology. The viewer sees clan leaders Marcus (Tony Curran), Amelia, and Viktor, hundreds of years prior, attempting to clean up the aftermath of Marcus' brother, and Lycan, William. Marcus and William are sons of Corvinus, an immortal human; each son was bitten by a different animal and resulted in the formation of the Vampires and Lycans that inhabit this universe. When we jump back into the present time, Selene and the Vampire/Lycan hybrid, Michael (a descendent of the Corvinus bloodline) are on the run from temporary clan leader, Kraven. However, for both parties, things will get complicated fast, as the last surviving clan leader, Marcus has awoken, and is not in a good mood.

"Underworld: Evolution" doesn't unfold in the same way the original film does; it chooses instead to be a an action/thriller/adventure film. Selene and Michael spend the majority of the film following a trail of clues from one place to another, in a attempt to find out why Marcus pursues them. What we do get in terms of story advancement feels shallow, as it merely piggybacks on plot reveals from the original film. Again it's all merely a lead up to an action packed finale, but even at a shorter 106 minute running time, still feels stretched thin.

The action scenes this time around are much more grand in scale and extremely bloody. The visual effects that make up Marcus' beastly Vampire form are creepy and convincing and lead to a few solid action pieces, despite one being a blatant knockoff of "Raiders of the Lost Ark's" truck chase. The finale is a bit too action heavy though and the limitations of the Lycan effects popup as one character plays a prominent role in the ensuing melees.

On the acting front, Beckinsale is once again very competent as Selene, while Speedman appears to have put some practice into his delivery and is much more tolerable. In terms of new additions to the series, we get two very competent supporting actors in Tony Curran as the insane Marcus and Derek Jacobi as Corvinus, the man indirectly responsible for the creation of both Vampires and Lycans.

Unfortunately, when the credits started to role, I felt a bit cheated from this film. It ties up loose ends from the original nicely, but didn't do much in terms of original storytelling. Add to that, the already mentioned, action overload, and "Underworld: Evolution" can be a frustrating film to sit through.

RATING: 2.0/5.0
REPLAY: 1.5/5.0

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
SPOILER WARNING: THIS REVIEW ASSUMES YOU HAVE SEEN BOTH UNDERWORLD AND UNDERWORLD EVOLUTION

"Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" hands the directors chair over to Patrick Tatopoulous who served as an effects designer on both preceding films, as well as production designer on the second. Luckily, Tatopoulous, returns the series to its roots, as this prequel to the series is heavy on story.

The viewer is treated to the return of both Billy Nighy as Viktor and Michael Sheen as Lucian, and we get some gaps filled in from the end of "Underworld." Lucian is established as blacksmith, kept by the Vampire clan due to his loyalty and trustworthiness, although Viktor literally keeps a collar on Lucian that prevents him from turning into his Lycan form without certain death. We see Lucian's importance to the Lycan clan as he is the first of his kind to control his rage and transform at will. We also see that his loyalty to Viktor may only be due to his love of Sonja (Rhona Mitra).

While I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this film, I must admit the story itself is uninspired. It provides no real tension as the viewer who has already seen "Underworld" knows the outcome, and the forbidden love plot, has been a thousand times over. The new material the story does introduce is engaging; we learn how the Lycans ultimately became powerful rivals to the Vampires, and where Lucian met his trusted second in command, Raze (original co-creator of the original film and imposing figure, Kevin Greivoux). What keeps this generic tale captivating are the performances.

At this point in their career, I am shocked that both Nighy and Sheen chose to return to what most would call, inferior roles, but thankfully they took up the task and gave it their all. Sheen gives a standout performance as Lucian who embraces his animalistic nature, but retains the compassion and humanity that sets him apart from all others in the world of these characters. Nighy brings back the dignity and camp of Viktor, but also infuses the deep pain of a man torn between the love of his daughter and his blind hatred. Newcomer to the series, Rhona Mitra plays a good love interest to Lucian and fills the action heroine role nicely, almost eclipsing Beckinsale's work in the previous two films, despite having a limited screen time.

The biggest downside to the whole affair is the awful Lycan visual effects. The packs of Lycans featured towards the beginning and end of the film look awful, Sci-Fi Channel Original Pictures awful. While a few scenes with Lucian and Raze sport competent work, this only emphasizes the flaws in both the CG Lycans and the practical costume effects. The rest of the action, which there is a decent amount of, is entertaining though.

"Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" infuses a lot of rehashes story from the prior two films on top of a slave revolt allegory. It sports the shortest running time of the all three films, and is actually a film that could have used 10 or 15 more minutes to just add a bit more originality to make it truly stand out as the best of the series. It's still a much better film than "Underworld: Evolution," but isn't original enough to elevate its rating higher than what it gets.

RATING: 3.0/5.0
REPLAY: 4.0/5.0




THE DVD

The Video

All three films sport magnificent transfers, with "Underworld" being presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 presentation and the subsequent films in anamorphic 2.40:1. The first two films in the series are nearly flawless transfers that highlight the sleek metallic color scheme. "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" sports a bit more grain than either of the other films, and the color scheme just doesn't feel right in the gritty medieval setting. I did not however, spot any technical errors with any of the transfers.

The Audio

Each film sports an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is as technically sound as the transfer. Dialogue comes through crisp and clear, making the accents of many of the actors easy to follow; when action kicks in, things get very aggressive, with appropriate use of the surrounds. The carriage attack in "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" stands out as one of the series' best sounding sequences, with Lycans flanking on all sides, surrounding the viewer in the action through the frantic sound design. French 5.1 tracks are available on all three films as well; on the third film, 5.1 tracks in Spanish and Thai are also present. English and French subtitles are standard for all three films, with "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" getting Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Thai subtitles as well.

The Extras

In terms of extras, luckily, all three films feature commentary tracks. First up on "Underworld" is a track with Len Wiseman, and the two leads Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman. It's a fun track with all the parties clearly enjoying the work they put into the film. "Underworld: Evolution" features a more technical track with Wiseman and a few members of the production crew. Wiseman shows up one last time on the prequel films' commentary, this time as a writer, along with director Tatopoulous and other crew members This is another technical track and highlights that the people involved on these films were very serious about the work they did.

"Underworld" also contains a TV documentary called "Fangs vs. Fiction." Running 45 minutes, it takes itself way too seriously, but is worth a viewing, at least once. The remainder of the bonus content on the three discs are by and large, making of featurettes. They do give insight into the making of the films, but are also, mostly your standard talking head pieces. Unfortunately, the second disc from the original "Underworld" release isn't included here, as I believe it contained a documentary on the making of that film. Trailers for various films, and music videos for music from or inspired by the films also show up on the respective discs, but the artists behind these songs aren't ones I care for.





Final Thoughts

UNDERWORLD
FILM RATING: 3.0/5.0
REPLAY: 3.0/5.0

UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION
FILM RATING: 2.0/5.0
REPLAY: 1.5/5.0

UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS
FILM RATING: 3.0/5.0
REPLAY: 4.0/5.0

The "Underworld" series isn't high art, but I found the whole ride to be entertaining. I've heard a fourth film has been green lighted, but I only see one more story they could tell, and that's of the Great War and Kraven's rise as hero. To be honest, this is the story, I thought I'd be seeing in the prequel film, so if that's what the fourth film will contain, count me in. Of the three films, the only two that have a great deal of replay value are the first and the third. "Underworld: Evolution" can't escape it's fate of being a noisy, shallow, action film, that feels like it was only made because the creators wrote themselves into a corner with the "twist" at the end of the original film.

This collection itself is a bit of an oddity. I'd assume fans would already own these films as separate releases, so for newcomers, the price tag is a bit steep. The technical presentation is stellar for all three films, and the quality commentary tracks are always a huge plus for any DVD release. Unfortunately, the omission of the second disc for "Underworld" makes this a less than definitive collected release, as does the awful packaging. The set comes in a standard keep case, with all three discs stacked on one hub. I can handle the slight overlap with the dual disc trays for digipaks, but this type of packaging, just increases the risk of unnecessary scratches, as the spindle itself, doesn't like to release the discs as easily as it should.

For fans, pick up the individual release of the newest film. For newcomers to the series, I'm torn between recommending the original film first or the prequel, as I feel, had the prequel been the first film of this series to hit theaters, that it critics would have been much more receptive to this franchise. I'll leave it up to them to decide though, but I can't say, drop $35+ on this collection, chances are you can get all three films piecewise, for a lot cheaper anyway. Rent It.

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