Directed by Len Wiseman
Released by Columbia Tri-Star
Take it or leave it, Underworld isn’t going to please everyone. Look at its placement on the great linear scale of genre offerings of the last ten years to see why. “Buffy”. Blade. The Matrix. There is such a thing as “overload” and audiences, as of late, have gotten not tipsy but absolutely tanked on dexterous leather-clad pretty young things leaping all over creation with wire assistance like an act out of Cirque du Soleil. Len Wiseman’s debut may not have been the instant hangover cure people were looking for, or for that matter the slaughterhouse rock-style vampire-versus-lycanthrope brawl a premise such as Underworld‘s would make one imagine.
Regardless of expectations, Underworld‘s thick Shakespearean twists hooked me. It’s an entertaining flick, maybe even a bit long in the tooth, but it moves and there’s a conviction behind the mythology Wiseman, screenwriter Danny McBride, and actor Kevin Grevioux have mapped out that is worth commending. Beckinsale delivers a subdued, graceful performance as well…something I can’t say for everyone in the film. I’m not blind to the awkwardness of the pacing (plot crunching flashbacks throw the story off kilter), nor am I a big fan of Patrick Tatopoulos’ Sleepwalkers-on-steroids werewolf designs either. In the end, though, Underworld is a good one to chill out to on a rainy day and if you need two hours to kill.
What can only be the result of a sweet box office take in September of ’03, Columbia Tri-Star has reissued the supernatural soap operatic workings of Underworld with an inflated “unrated cut.” I can imagine this would only cater to and please those who give a damn about the film in the first place.
The significant meat removed from the theatrical cut, and now restored, concerns the character of Michael Corvin (Speedman) whose participation in the grand scheme of the Underworld universe, I thought, was nothing greater than a stage prop. Corvin is the everyman caught between two feuding factions: Vampires and the “Lycans.” The latter are trying to get their claws on him because they believe he carries a genetic code within his bloodstream that’ll give them the upper hand in what could so plainly be seen as a class war. You don’t need to read between the lines to pick up on this seeing as Wiseman and co. make it quite clear: The vampires live a life of aristocracy while the Lycans are forced to live below ground. (Although, in the film’s ten-minute, nearly dialogue-free, wham bam opening you shouldn’t have a hard time distinguishing which race is more physically dominant.) Anyhow, the only vamp to catch on to the Lycans’ scheme is a “Death Dealer” named Selene (Beckinsale) who integrates herself into Michael’s life, initially out of priority to protect her own kind. As their chemistry develops, however, her hardened emotions crumble for Michael, even after he becomes bitten by a member of a race she has committed herself to wiping out using one silver nitrate bullet after another.
Suffice to say, Michael was in dire need of some “fleshing out” and courtesy of this extended cut he’s given a little more dimension through a scene in which he somberly recounts to Selene a tragedy that claimed his wife. Another character to benefit from some added minutes is Sophia Myles’ calculating bloodsucker known as Erika. What could otherwise be viewed as cursory reaction shots of her are now lent some depth when she’s continually rejected by Kraven (played by Shane Brolly, whose over-the-top antics gets no assistance whatsoever in this reissue). Notably these two, at present, share a scene that’s best described as “safe” sex and about as PG-13 as it come. Puhleaze. Filling out the rest of the newly inserted footage are minute shots that are questionable at best. They neither impair nor improve upon Underworld’s already existent convoluted narrative.
The picture quality on the DVD is razor sharp throughout, clean as a whistle, and bleak as all hell. Underworld boasts a unique color palette that rarely allows natural flesh tones to dominate the suppressing bluish and gray hues Tony Pierce-Roberts’ photography displays, with a little guidance of digital color correction. Columbia’s transfer holds it together, deep contrasts and all.
Underworld demands full use of the surround and gets it with a presentation that’s both powerful and highly detailed. When you can hear the variations of pitch and intensity given to each gun fired then you’ve got it loud enough. I can appreciate a mix that gives a genuine weight to the film and I respect anyone in post-production who can elevate Beckinsale’s often timid vocal level (as heard in various Van Helsing and Underworld interviews) beyond that of a mouse’s fart.
In terms of extras, there are some exclusive to this edition that include a new commentary with Wiseman and his actors Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman, previously missing on Columbia’s first disc which featured not one but two production commentaries that don’t survive the cut here. As with any discussion amongst close friends, this scene specific track is filled with some good laughs. Speedman is the brunt of many jokes beginning with the trio point out, in the film’s opening shoot-out sequence, a moment in which the actor slides across the floor to pull a woman out of danger and winds up grabbing her crotch! As the movie progresses Wiseman takes the time to touch on the new footage citing reasons for their deletion (mostly pacing concerns), but he makes it a point at the beginning of the commentary to state this is not a “director’s cut.” Hmm. Beckinsale meanwhile good heartedly points out her flaws (sure thing, babe) and sometimes goes so far as to take jabs at scenes that don’t work. “I feel like the child of divorced parents,” Speedman says when he’s caught in the middle of a Wiseman/Beckinsale bickering match. Ah, love.
I’d suggest listening to the commentary first to get a feel for what’s new if it’s been some time since you caught the theatrical cut.
I knew “Fang vs. Fiction” (47m 4s) was inevitably bound for some DVD release of Underworld, because it wasn’t included on the first and that surprised me. This made-for-television documentary is guaranteed fun for freak show value as we’re taken behind the vampire and werewolf legends and are introduced to a few “real” creatures of the night. Holy guacamole!
This docu paves the way for the seven featured on Disc Two, all of them recycled from Columbia’s original offering. “The Making of Underworld” (13m 01s) is your standard fluff, EPK, explanatory piece that details the plot, character motivations, blah, blah, blah. It’s similar to something you might find on HBO. FX supervisor James McQuaide and the CG team break down the effects shots in the aptly titled “The Visual Effects of Underworld” (9m 54s). One of the highlights revealed here is some trashed footage of Tatopoulos’ practical werewolves crawling on a train rooftop that was later replaced by some more fluid, albeit CG, Lycans. You’ll be glad Wiseman looked to the computer for aid in this instance, trust me. He didn’t do it all the time, however, as his enthusiasm shows in “Creature Effects” (12m 20s) that he’s still got love for the traditional “man in the rubber suit” magic. Tatopoulos, here, is given his due to defend the craft of practical effects and go into a few details about the creation of both the Lycans and the lackluster vampire/werewolf hybrid. “Stunts” (11m 41s) focuses on the wire work, gunplay, and fighting while “Designing Underworld” (10m 44s) pulls back the curtain on both production design and costuming; each of the lead crew members behind these departments laid an impressive amount of history and cultural references into their work, kudos to them. “The Look of Underworld” (19m 10s) takes an appropriate amount of time establishing Wiseman’s own illustration abilities and uses this introduction as a way to establish how he expressed the look he wanted to cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts. This featurette is interesting in that it not so much sheds light onto Roberts on-set work as it does on the digital lighting process that followed. Finally, “Sights & Sounds” (9m 6s) takes a break from the routine interviews instead blending some behind-the-scenes footage for a harmless, fun montage.
Elsewhere on Disc Two you should find six scenes extracted for a side-by-side “Storyboard Comparison” (6m 41s) feature that’s easy to chapter through if you’ve had your fill of one sequence. Be sure to check out Beckinsale shaking her ass at the camera, the stunt coordinator taking a nasty slip, and a Lycan testing the water with his paw in an “Outtakes” reel (3m 41s) on Disc 1; and if you’re tolerance is high, Columbia has also carried over Finch’s “Worms of the Earth” music video (2m 41s).
The packaging is bulky enough that if you dropped it from a high place onto someone’s head, it’d do some damage. I’m a fan of creative packaging and Columbia has delivered in spades with slipcase and clamshell artwork that do not work unless they’re combined as intended. Now, the source of that “bulk” I mentioned… Columbia has also included a copy of IDW’s Underworld comic adaptation as well as a slim production art booklet. Is this Christmas, or what?
Underworld: Extended Edition
Directed by Len Wiseman
Commentary by Len Wiseman, Kate Beckinsale, & Scott Speedman
Fang Vs. Fiction
The Making of Underworld
The Visual Effects of Underworld
The Look of Underworld
“Worms of the Earth” music video
4 out of 5
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