While not exactly strong on originality, "Underworld"'s high style, sleek appearance and generally good performances manage to make it a satisfying genre entry, if not something that will replace or overshadow the popular "Blade" series. Surprisingly heavy on plot and exposition, yet not without some well-staged action, the film focuses on a war between vampires and werewolves that has raged for over a thousand years. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a death dealer, one of the vampire elite that has been leading the quite successful war against the werewolves, whose numbers were thought to have dwindled.
When Selene spots a human named Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman) who has attracted the attention of the werewolves for strange reasons, she begins to believe that the tide of the war is going to turn back against her and her vampire clan, a suspicion furthered by the signs of a conspiracy between the vampire leader, Kraven (Shane Brolly), and the werewolf leader, Lucian (Michael Sheen).
"Underworld"'s success is largely due to Kate Beckinsale, the charming British actress more commonly known for her roles in lighter fare, such as "Serendipity". While she seems like the least likely action heroine, the smallish Beckinsale actually manages to be an intimidating figure, showing herself quite capable of handling both the action sequences and the required attitude. Scott Speedman, on the other hand, is less compelling in his role, offering a rather wooden performance. The slightly "Romeo and Juliet" thing that the film was going for between the two never quite works because the chemistry just isn't really there.
There are other issues,too. While it's admirable that the screenplay creates a decent mythology and set of "rules" for the battle between the two creatures and their separate cultures, some of the dialogue can be a little goofy and some of the supporting characters are never really well-developed. In fact, the only character that's really compelling is Beckinsale's. Pacing could also have been improved, as the film, which runs just over two hours, could have easily lost about 20 minutes, as there are stretches in the middle that start to drag a bit.
Certainly, the look of the film is captured well, as the gothic atmosphere looks terrific and the excellent cinematography results in several stunning sequences. The whip-fast editing of the action sequences takes away from their power at times, but they're still entertaining. Overall, I liked this film, yet certainly didn't love it. It pulls together a few interesting threads, has a great look and a few good action moments. Yet, it could have been a lot tighter, more dynamic, and had more attention been paid to the characters, more memorable.
This "extended edition" of "Underworld" adds approximately 13 minutes to the running time of the previous release (121 minutes vs. 134). However, apparently some scenes also now use alternate footage or have been recut in some fashion, for a total of - as noted on the front of the box - about 23 minutes of new or different stuff. Did this make much of a difference? Not particularly; some scenes were noticably visually a bit changed and somewhat more dynamic, but I really didn't notice anything much different with the story, aside from a couple of character moments and various little tidbits. This cut of the film is unrated simply because it was not re-submitted to the MPAA.
Note:: The audio/video quality of both the original release and the extended edition appeared equal. The comments for both are the same as for the original release.
VIDEO: "Underworld" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality was terrific; this is easily one of the finer efforts I've seen from Columbia/Tristar in quite some time. Sharpness and definition were simply superb; the picture boasted an excellent level of fine detail and depth throughout the entire film. Despite the fact that the film takes place entirely at night, the image never seemed murky or soft.
Edge enhancement did not appear at all, although I did notice a bit of shimmer in a couple of sequences. The print used seemed spotless, but there were a few minor instances of compression artifacts that were noticable, but were hardly distracting. The film's dark, blueish/purplish color palette looked accurate and well-presented, with no smearing. Black level remained solid, as well.
SOUND: "Underworld" boasts a fierce Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that is certainly one of the better ones I've heard in months. Highly directional, aggressive and fierce, the sound mix is almost constantly rolling some effect across the soundstage or zipping another one from one side or the other.
The surrounds are involved throughout the majority of the film, offering both more noticeable discrete effects (see the opening gun battle, or any of the film's many action scenes, really) or even some pleasing ambience (there's plenty of thunder and rain falling throughout). While not an official EX soundtrack, those who can enable a rear back surround will find that it gives the soundtrack a more pleasing 360 degree feel. Sound effects don't seem at all compressed, coming across sounding dynamic and forceful. Dialogue and score also remained clear and well-recorded throughout.
Note: This DVD edition loses two commentaries: one by creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos, visual effects supervisor and executive producer James McQuaide, and sound designer Claude Letessier and the other by director Len Wiseman, writer Danny McBride, and writer-actor Kevin Grevioux. It also adds the commentary noted below. It's a little odd, given that there are plenty of DVDs that include multiple commentary tracks - I wonder why the two tracks from the prior DVD needed to be left off this time around.
Commentary: This is a newly recorded commentary from director Len Wiseman, actress Kate Beckinsale and actor Scott Speedman. The track is mainly quite funny, as Speedman is the target of a lot of goofing from the other two participants. All three joke about some of the moments in the final product and chat about some of the amusing stories from the set. The three are viewing the new cut of the film, as the director makes a point to note that this is not a "director's cut" of the film, but simply a reworked cut of the film that includes some moments that were cut for pacing reasons. Speedman leaves about 73 minutes into the picture, and the joking in his direction continues, as the two note that his audition is for an Olsen Twins movie.
The other main feature on the first DVD is "Fang Vs. Fiction", a 47-minute documentary that looks at the myths behind warewolves and vampires, mixing in occasional film footage with interviews with experts on the subject. It's an interesting, generally well-done look at some of the possibilities behind the creatures.
Also included on the first disc are a few minutes of not terribly funny outtakes, previews for other Columbia/Tristar titles (Underworld, Hellboy, Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Spider-Man 2) and TV spots for "Underworld".
On the second disc, we get the block of featurettes included on the prior release: "Featurettes: This appears to be one large (45-50 minutes) documentary broken into parts ("Making of", "Creature Effects", "Stunts" and "Sights and Sounds"). The "Making Of" portion starts off terribly, with a few minutes worth of just complete "happy talk", with the participants talking about how wonderful everything turned out. The rest of the piece isn't much better, offering information about the plot of the film we just saw mixed with clips from the film. The next two parts fare much better as, although clips from the film inserted often start to seem like filler, we actually get some decent information. The creature FX section offers a look at some of the concepts and ideas behind the look and creation of the creatures, as well as some of the fascinating electronic construction of some of the physical creature (the film used a neat mix of practical and CGI) effects. The stunts area shows the rehearsals that Beckinsale did for the part, as well as how some of the action scenes were designed. The "sights and sounds" area, unfortunately, isn't a discussion of the cinematography and sound design - it's simply a montage of B-Roll footage."
We also get a series of new pieces - "Visual Effects of Underworld", "Designing Underworld" and "The Look of Underworld". The nearly 10-minute visual effects piece is very interesting, as while it doesn't go into a terrific amount of depth, it manages to show some of the elements that go into some of the visual effects sequences in the movie. It also points out some of the minor effects in the movie that aren't so apparent.
The other two featurettes, which run for a total of about 30 minutes, discuss the film's visual style, production design, cinematography, lighting and color correction. We hear from the film's director, production designer, cinematographer and many others in interviews. All three of these new pieces are very informative and more interesting than the featurettes included on the prior DVD which are once again available here.
Also included in this set are a 48-page "Underworld" comic book and 16 pages of production sketches.
Final Thoughts: A bit of a mess that could have been aided by some tightening, "Underworld" still boasts rich atmosphere and a very good performance from Kate Beckinsale, who is better in an action film than I could have ever imagined she'd be. Columbia/Tristar's DVD edition provides excellent audio and video, along with a fine helping of supplements.
This extended cut of the film doesn't add a great deal to the experience, but there are some very nice new supplements here. I can't see a reason to upgrade over the original edition for fans who already own that one, but this would probably be the preferable one for those who are considering buying the film who haven't yet.