I somehow managed to avoid ever watching more than five minutes of Len Wiseman's 2003 vampires vs. werewolves slugfest Underworld. I never particularly felt like I missed anything, and I feel even less so now after having watched the sequel Underworld Evolution, which spends an inordinate amount of its first act recapping and showing extensive flashbacks from the first movie just to be sure everyone gets caught up. It's not like the plot of either movie is so complicated that you couldn't piece it together from the trailers. You've got vampires on the one side and werewolves on the other, and they fight each other. A lot. There's a hot chick in a tight leather catsuit who likes to carry lots of automatic weapons and occasionally slice things up with a very sharp sword. It's all sleekly photographed and highly stylized, with action scenes choreographed to throbbing goth-techno music. Yeah, it's like The Matrix but with monsters, and without those ummmm, what were they called again?... oh yeah, ideas. Those pesky little things, they'd probably just get in the way.
Kate Beckinsale returns as the star character Selene, a badass vampiress who's gone soft and fallen for a vampire/werewolf hybrid (Scott Speedman, the sensitive hunk from Felicity) who may be the key to ending the ages-long war between the rival monster clans. The story this time has the two of them on the run from uber-vampire Marcus, whose monster costume looks suspiciously a lot like Gary Oldman's did in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Marcus wants to kill them out of revenge or spite or something, but his real master plan is to rescue his long-imprisoned brother William, an uber-werewolf, so that the two of them can gang up and rule the world together. I'm not quite clear on why, if the lead vampire and the lead werewolf are such close brothers, the rest of the vampires and werewolves have been at war for centuries, but maybe that was explained a little better in the first movie. Or maybe not. Maybe you're just not supposed to think about it too much.
Let's get right to the heart of the movie, Beckinsale looks incredibly sexy running around in her leather dominatrix outfit and blasting the hell out of stuff with a machine gun. She and Speedman have one pretty hot (unfortunately not overly explicit) sex scene that Wiseman (her husband!) must have felt really uncomfortable directing. Aside from some cheesy CGI werewolf transformations, most of the monster effects are pretty good, if not particularly original. The movie has plenty of gruesome blood and gore sure to please horror fanboys, though most of the action scenes are spent watching the heroes shoot at monsters they know can't be killed by bullets. Either that would make the heroes complete morons, or that's just one more of those things you're not supposed to think about too hard. Another is why, if the evil William's imprisonment was meant to last literally forever, his cell was designed with a key.
In a perverse casting twist, lovable character actor Bill Nighy (Love Actually, Shaun of the Dead) plays an evil vampire. Sadly, he's under so much prosthetic makeup that he doesn't get the chance to do much acting. Another prominent British thespian Derek Jacobi also shows up to bring some semblance of class to the proceedings. The efforts of both are wasted in a muddle of dumb plotting, bad dialogue, and an endless stream of loud, repetitive action scenes. Jacobi of course is renowned for his extensive Shakespeare work, which only brings to mind that famous line from Macbeth about "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". It's almost as if the Bard had seen movies like this.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Blu-ray discs are only playable in a compatible Blu-ray player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in an HD DVD player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
I haven't been too impressed with many of the initial Blu-ray releases but this one pleasantly surprised me. Despite being burdened with PCM audio and over an hour of video supplements, the disc looks pretty good for the most part. The image isn't always razor sharp, but is fairly detailed and has a consistent High-Def appearance. Some scenes look better than others, however. Detail and texture in facial skin pores, for example, look great in some shots but soft elsewhere. That may be a stylistic decision, so I won't hold it against the transfer.
This is a dark movie, yet shadow detail is well defined. The photography's color palette extends all the way from blue to blue. They don't even use different shades of blue. It's the same monotonous blue overcast from start to finish. We get the occasional red blood or fiery orange explosion to mix things up a little, but almost every single object in every single shot from the first frame to the last is the same shade of blue. Again, that's a stylistic choice (as tedious as it may be), not a transfer flaw. Ironically, the limited color range may be one reason the disc looks as good as it does; it was probably easier to digitally compress than other films with more complex visual designs. That doesn't mean there aren't compression problems, though. Parts of the movie are rather noisy with compression grain, especially when a lot of action is occurring on screen, but the effect is not as bad as some Blu-rays. Minor edge enhancement ringing is also visible in some scenes, and there's a bit of blatant color banding in the sunrise towards the end (one of the few non-blue images).
Overall, the disc looks comparable to an HD broadcast over cable or a mediocre HD DVD. That may be faint praise, but it's better than most Blu-rays released thus far.
The Underworld Evolution Blu-ray disc is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over a Blu-ray player's analog Component Video outputs.
Subs & Dubs:
No interactive features have been included.