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.
Note: This is not the director's cut, which was released earlier this year on its own DVD edition. It is the theatrical cut of the film, as was released on the original DVD edition.
VIDEO: (from the review of the original release:) "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.
The Superbit edition once again presented the film in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The differences between the two editions seemed rather minor. Sharpness and detail seemed slightly improved. Once again, despite the film's low-light situations, the image seemed consistent and never was soft. The picture seemed free of print flaws and edge enhancement, although a few trace instances of compression artifacts appear. Once again, the film's dark, blueish/purplish color palette looked accurate and well-presented, with no smearing. Overall, the differences here are pretty minimal.
SOUND: (from the review of the original release:) "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.
The Superbit edition of "Underworld" offers both the Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation included on both prior releases and a new DTS 5.1 option. The DTS audio option did offer some improvements over the Dolby Digital track, although, like the picture quality, both tracks were fairly similar. The DTS track offered bass that was more concise and pleasing. The DTS track seemed to boast slightly greater clarity and detail overall, although not by much. The DTS did have the edge over the Dolby counterpart, but the differences were minor.
EXTRAS: Nothing, since this is a Superbit release.
Final Thoughts: This "Superbit" edition of "Underworld" is tough to recommend. While I continue to moderately like the movie, this edition does not present a compelling enough reason to purchase it. While there are slight improvements in picture and sound quality, the other two Special Editions of the film offer a better overall package. The original Special Edition release can be had for nearly ten dollars less.