"Underworld Trilogy" Blu-ray Review
May 18, 2009 by Zach Demeter
The Underworld series is a bit of an odd duck when it comes to what normally constitutes a trilogy. See, none of the films have been received positively by critics and the fans seem to be a rather easily pleased bunch, as the first film grossed a shy under $100 million worldwide, while Underworld: Evolution had no trouble stepping over the $100 million threshold. The latest entry, Rise of the Lycans? It grossed the least of the three, although oddly enough has had the highest critical reception of the three films (although, granted, a 32% overall on RT isn’t saying much). So that’s why it’s a bit of a peculiar series—none of the films did particularly well with critics, but the modestly budgeted films nevertheless make enough bank at the box office to remain profitable. Just what is it about this series that is so intriguing? Besides Kate Beckinsale, anyway.
Synopsis - Underworld
In the Underworld, Vampires are a secret clan of modern aristocratic sophisticates whose mortal enemies are the Lycans (werewolves), a shrewd gang of street thugs who prowl the city's underbelly. Noone knows the origin of their bitter blood feud, but the balance of power between them turns even bloodier when a beautiful young Vampire warrior and a newly-turned Lycan with a mysterious past fall in love. Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman star in this modern-day, action-packed tale of ruthless intrigue and forbidden passion all set against the dazzling backdrop of a timeless, Gothic metropolis.
I’m not sure what got me into the Underworld series—it was nothing that ever jumped out at me as something I needed to watch, but after a few nudging’s from friends to check out the first film, I have to say…I was quite impressed with it. Not that it was a terribly original film with the vampire and werewolf lore intertwined with one another, but it was just, stylistically at least, a really intriguing concept. It didn’t hurt that the lead was the incredibly attractive Kate Beckinsale, but whether it was the general sci-fi/horrory goodness or the ridiculous stunts and gun play in the film…it was just a lot of fun to watch.
I mean it’s an easy film to tear down; the bullets to the floor scene makes zero sense since her magazines should’ve run out way before she should’ve been able to complete that sequence of shots fired, but it’s so damn cool that it doesn’t even matter. Not to mention there’s a whole slew of cool little action bits with the vampires and wolves…it’s just a very exciting and fun time to be had in the theater. For this reason I can see why the series was successful—it’s mindless entertainment at its finest (well maybe not at its finest—if Michael Bay were behind this, I’m sure we could’ve had even less brain usage). Not to mention the whole sordid and forbidden relationship between the vampire/werewolf (lycan, whatever) is always an enjoyable, if predictable, plot device to toss in there.
The first film is easily my favorite of the three and…actually, this is probably the most positive I’ll ever be about this series after this point, as I really did not enjoy the next two at all.
Synopsis - Underworld: Evolution
Kate Beckinsale is back as vampire heroine Selene in the highly anticipated sequel to Underworld. Underworld Evolution continues the saga of war between the aristocratic Death Dealers and the barbaric Lycans (werewolves). The film traces the beginnings of the ancient feud between the two tribes as Selene (Kate Beckinsale), the vampire heroine, and her love Michael (Scott Speedman), the lycan hybrid, try to unlock the secrets of their bloodlines. The tale of action, intrigue and forbidden love takes them into the battle to end all wars as the immortals must finally face their retribution.
Oh hell…why!? Actually, scratch that—I know why. The first film did gangbusters for Sony and a sequel was mandatory, but why did it have to be so….bad? There was so much wrong with this film that I could barely sit through it. It took everything good about the first film and tore it down to ridiculous basics again with vampires vs. lycans and Bill Nighy just brought copious amounts of ham with him as we were forced to sit through what was basically the first film over again, with less action.
There were really no upsides to this sequel, aside from getting to see more of Kate Beckinsale in black leather (and actually out of the black leather, as there was quite a steamy sex scene between her and co-star Speedman…but not even that could make me want to watch this movie again). They also seemed to go through some kind of TMNT style suit impediment with the Lycan’s, as they get progressively worse looking throughout the series. How did they manage that? I’ve no idea. But it’s obvious and ugly.
Really, this was a film I wanted to enjoy and genuinely looked forward to after the popcorn fest that the first film was…but perhaps it was the further exposition on the vampire/Lycan relationships that made it so unenjoyable. It’s like adding extra plot to Transformers--when all you want to see is robots beat each other up (in this case, vampires vs. lycans) and you’re forced to sit through “story”…it just gets tedious.
Synopsis - Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
The prequel story traces the origins of the centuries-old blood feud between the aristocratic vampires known as Death Dealers and their onetime slaves, the Lycans. In the Dark Ages, a young Lycan named Lucian (Michael Sheen) emerges as a powerful leader who rallies the werewolves to rise up against Viktor (Bill Nighy), the cruel vampire king who has enslaved them. Lucian is joined by his secret lover, Sonja (Rhona Mitra), in his battle against the Death Dealer army and his struggle for Lycan freedom.
Ah hell, it’s a prequel. And it doesn’t have Kate Beckinsale, so that’s an immediate set of points lost for this one. Instead they cast her clone of Rhona Mitra, who looks a lot like Beckinsale (which makes sense at the end of the film, but for the advertising of the film I thought they were just trying to get people to the theaters thinking it was Beckinsale) in a role that’s…well, pretty much identical to the one that Beckinsale has with Speedman. Mirta is instead paired with Michael Sheen (who looks a lot of like Simon Pegg, I swear. Film’s full of doppelgangers) and a forbidden love is then paired up between them and…blah, you know the story.
In fact, that’s the problem with this prequel. What starts out as an enjoyable history lesson stretches on into an hour and a half of…talking. Thankfully this is the shortest of the three films, but man…for a bad ass vampire/lycan war story, there is sure a copious amount of talking going on. There’s some awesome fighting and whatnot to take in as well, but…not nearly enough to offset the mediocrity of the babble we have to listen to inbetween. Nighy again hams it up and…man, those werewolf suits. What the hell? They look like completely solid faces that occasionally drip drool…there’s just no motion in them at all. They pretty much look like pure rubber, which his ridiculous…but…whatever. Saves on budget, I guess.
I knew going into this film that it wouldn’t be all that good and while I enjoyed it a bit more than Evolution (that film just…really annoyed me), Rise of the Lycans was still a boring history lesson that really should’ve been a short ten minute prequel to the beginning of a proper third installment.
Overall the three films make for a fair way to blow off some time if you’re just bored (and the Blu-ray presentations definitely help ease the pain of some of the absurd story and dialogue you have to sit through), but if you enjoy the first film then prepare to be let down by the later two. While I Recommend the first film, the last two are really just Rental’s. Still fun horror/action style outings to be sure, but the series seems to progressively get more and more into the talking and less into the action, which is likely where the trilogy ended up losing me.
The three films are each housed in their own Elite Blu-ray case inside of a small cardboard box (with reflective foil front) and each of the three films are the same releases as you’d get if you bought the individually. Menus for all three films are simple and easy to navigate, while inserts range from the usual advertisements for the Blu-ray format to a digital copy and digital copy code (for Lycans only).
The first two films of the set sport the older MPEG-2 encoding of the films, but that’s nothing to scoff at—they still both look brilliant. All three films have a drastic loss of color, with a moody blue hue cast upon the entire trilogy, creating one unique hue and universe for the films to fall into. Daytime sequences are cast in grey and it’s only during nights that colors come out, where deep and rich blues pop against the stark black backdrops. These films are certainly worthy of the Blu-ray format and the detail presented throughout is nothing short of exceptional. The same can be said for the AVC encoded Lycans, which looks even better than the other two films (it being newer and all, it kind of has to be). Detail is abound in all three films and there’s certainly little better that I’ve seen on the format than this Underworld series.
Audio for the first two films are also the older uncompressed 5.1 PCM tracks and, again, nothing to scoff at here—they’re loud and absolutely filled with surround usage. Everything in the first two films sounds absolutely stunning and Lycans packs an equally impressive TrueHD 5.1 track that thunders about the room during any of the action sequences. Throughout all three films, crystal clear dialogue can be heard pouring out of the center channels and everything from a flying bullet to a clashing sword reverbs throughout the room in pure digital clarity. Needless to say the entire Underworld trilogy is a worthy demo for any home theater.
As previously mentioned, the extras for the releases are the same as the individual releases. Included for Underworld are:
• Director & Cast Commentary
• Fang vs. Fiction
• The Making of Underworld
• The Visual Effects of Underworld
• Creature Effects
• Designing Underworld
• The Look of Underworld
• Sights and Sounds of Underworld
• Storyboard Comparison
• Music Video by Finch - "Worms of the Earth"
Underworld: Evolution gets a slightly larger load with its extras, which include:
• Director's Commentary
• Featurette: Bloodlines: From Script To Screen
• Featurette: Building a Saga
• Featurette: Making Monsters Roar
• Featurette: Music and Mayhem
• Featurette: The Hybrid Theory
• Featurette: The War Rages On
• Director and Filmmakers' Commentary
• Bloodlines: From Script to Screen
• The Hybrid Theory
• Making Monsters Roar
• The War Rages On
• Building a Saga
• Music and Mayhem
• Music Video: "Her Portrait In Black" by Atreyu
Finally Underworld: Rise of the Lycans gets the shortest list of extras (fitting, since it’s the shortest of the three), which include:
• Filmmaker Commentary
• Behind the Castle Walls: Picture-in-Picture
• Lycanthropes Around the World Interactive Map
• Underworld: Rise of the Lycans: From Script to Screen
• The Origin of the Feud
• Music Video: "Deathclub" By William Control
• PS3 Wallpaper
Although hit should be noted that while the first two films sport more “general” extras in their presentation, Lycans gets the Blu-ray treatment, with extras like the “Behind the Castle Walls” piece that plays during the film itself, so there’s plenty of stuff to check out here, even if the material looks like less.
Overall the Blu-ray trilogy is certainly an amazing presentation and a robust outing of extras, but whether it’s worth picking up will depend on your enjoyment of the series. If you’re like me and only really enjoy one of these films, then your best bet is to just pick up that release by itself. However, if you’re a fan of this series you really can’t beat this trilogy set. Recommended for the fans, worth a Rental at the very least to wow yourself with the fantastic visuals and audios of Underworld.
Underworld Trilogy is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.