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Underworld: The Unrated Extended Cut DVD Review

Underworld: The Unrated Extended Cut

December 21, 2003

Director: Len Wiseman,
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, Erwin Leder, Bill Nighy, Sophia Myles, Robby Gee, ,

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DVD Review

Underworld (2003) is a comic book movie in search of a comic book. It is not actually adapted from an existing one but it looks and sounds like it could be and, more obviously, influenced by other movies. Like many big budget studio offerings, it is written and structured as a launching pad for a franchise of sequels, novelizations, and, yes, comic books. These ancillaries mean big bucks for the studio with a film that connects with an audience on a large scale. Judging from the box office success of Underworld, Sony Pictures has a hit on its hands.

A centuries old war is raging between vampires and lycans (a.k.a. werewolves). The vampires have hunted the lycans to the brink of extinction. Selene (Beckinsale) is the super-efficient leader of the Deathdealers, an elite group of lycan killers. Michael (Speedman) is a human who gets caught in the middle of a skirmish between Selene and some lycans. She soon realizes that they are interested in Michael for some unknown reason and she gradually realizes that he is the crucial lynchpin in their ages-old struggle.

The film’s opening action sequence—an exciting shoot-out in a subway station—is a blatant homage to The Matrix (1999) with its slow motion, bullet-ridden, two-gun action. This sequence also firmly establishes Kate Beckinsale, normally associated with romantic comedies like The Last Days of Disco (1998) and Serendipity (2001), as a bonafide action hero as she easily dispatches bad guys and looks cool doing it.

The dark, rainy gothic retro-future look of Underworld is a pastiche of The Crow (1994), Dark City (1998) and the aforementioned The Matrix to name just a few films it references. The leather-clad characters of Underworld inhabit a decaying, gothic city and are armed to the teeth in John Woo-style action sequences. Sound familiar? Critics complained that Underworld borrowed from the above mentioned movies, but c’mon, let’s be fair: they all borrowed from Blade Runner (1982) and Brazil (1985) and they borrowed from—well, you get the idea. Underworld is a good-looking film. It has rich, detailed sets and is drenched in atmosphere that completely immerses the viewer in its world.

The problem with Underworld lies in its screenplay. It ambitiously tries to establish a vast world with an elaborate history but it is a lot for the viewer to digest. Initially, it isn’t easily discernible who are vampires and who are lycans. If there is a war raging between the two races, the audience should be given some kind of indication early on who’s who to avoid any confusion.

The love story between Beckinsale’s vampire and Speedman’s human isn’t believable. There isn’t any chemistry between the two attractive leads which is crucial for any kind of relationship between them to work. The film would have worked much better if the screenwriters had avoided the whole romantic subplot but it is indicative of the film’s nature to overreach.

Special Features:

The DVD set comes with an excellent 48-page mini-comic book which furthers the mythos established in the film and a glossy sketch notebook.

In addition to the movie, the first DVD features an audio commentary with director Len Wiseman and actors Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman. They joke and talk about the rigors of making the movie and playfully make fun of each other. Wiseman points out the new footage that was added for this cut which appears mostly in the third act and fleshes out Michael’s backstory.

There is a pretty funny outtakes reel that features blown lines and physical goofs on the set.

“Featurette—Fang vs. Fiction” is a 47-minute look at the origins of vampires and werewolves and how they were viewed by different cultures throughout recorded history. Several historians and writers are interviewed, juxtaposed with some dodgy folks who believe that they are descendents of werewolves.

Rounding out this disc are two TV spots.

The second DVD contains the bulk of the extras that were found on the original DVD, starting with “The Making of Underworld.” This is pretty standard press kit stuff with soundbites from the cast and crew mixed with clips from the movie.

“The Visual Effects of Underworld” is a ten-minute look at how the filmmakers mixed CGI effects with traditional miniature work (i.e. for the car crash).

There is a 12-minute look at the “Creature Effects.” Surprisingly, the filmmakers downplayed CGI for the monsters, instead going for traditional men in rubber suits and wirework a la The Matrix.

The actors trained extensively with the film’s stunt coordinators and this is documented in the “Stunts” featurette. There is ample rehearsal footage of Beckinsale and Speedman flying around on wires and practicing all kinds of fighting moves.

“Designing Underworld” takes a look at how the sets and locations for the film were designed and then created. Wiseman wanted to give the world in his movie a sense of history and decided to shoot it in Europe which had the kind of architecture he was looking for.

“The Look of Underworld” examines the graphic novel look that Wiseman wanted for his movie. He wanted a cool, comic book look and enlisted the services the legendary director of photography, Tony Pierce-Roberts from such period films as A Room with a View (1985) and Howards End (1992)!

The “Sights and Sounds” featurette is merely a montage of on the set footage.

There is also a storyboard comparison which allows one to simultaneously view the storyboards and the final version of the opening sequence, the car chase and Viktor’s resurrection.

Finally, there is a music video for “Worms of the Earth” by neo-metal band Finch.

Fans of Underworld will definitely enjoy this new two-DVD set that features a longer version of the movie and an extensive collection of extras. Obviously, a lot of work went into this set and it is definitely worth the upgrade if you love this movie and already own the original DVD.

 

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 75%

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