Blu-ray Disc REVIEW
Release Date: AVAILABLE NOW
Film Rating: /
Starring: Kate Beckinsale (Selene), Scott Speedman (Michael Corvin), Tony Curran (Marcus Corvinus), Shane Brolly (Kraven), Sir Derek Jacobi (Alexander Corvinus), Bill Nighy (Viktor)
Screenplay by: Danny McBride
Directed by: Len Wiseman
HTF DVD Reviewer Mike Osadciw writes: I’m keeping a vampire theme going here when reviewing BDs. This time I’m happy to report on a much better film - Underworld: Evolution - and it outperforms Ultraviolet in many ways. The film was more exciting and visually stunning because of the excellent special effects. I won’t go on and on about it; instead I will leave you with HTF Reviewer Aaron Silverman’s humorous write up from his Underworld: Evolution DVD Review. If you wish to go straight to the A/V review of this excellent Blu-ray disc, just scroll down past Aaron’s contributions.
HTF DVD Reviewer Aaron Silverman writes: In a blinding flash of style over substance, the new sequel to 2003's vampires vs. werewolves kerfuffle, Underworld, delivers some cool action sequences, but wastes an interesting mythology on a sloppy story that bounces between "huh?" moments without ever finding its focus. The original film often felt more concerned with looking slick than with making sense, and its successor takes that to a new level.
The idea of a secret war between classic monsters that walk among us is a great concept. Vampires and werewolves (called "Lycans" in these films) both employ vicious fangs to terrorize the living and convert them into fellow creatures, but their common images are very different -- conflict between elegant, aristocratic vampires and wild, animalistic werewolves seems only natural. And Underworld's back story of enslaved werewolves rebelling against their vampire masters makes that conflict even more powerful.
So, how to portray this epic battle of supernatural beasts? Have people wearing lots of black patent leather blast away at each other with machine guns, of course! (What, that wasn't obvious?) And these are special guns, too -- their ammunition has different effects, depending on the importance of the target to the plot. Is the victim a nameless warrior who might as well be wearing a red Star Trek uniform? A few dime-sized torso perforations and he's wasted. Is the recipient of said ammo the chief villain? 'Tis only a flesh wound! Um, 'tis only sixty-three flesh wounds!
You see, in the world -- er, "underworld" -- of Underworld: Evolution, the only effective method of slaying a major character is impalement, followed by removal of the head (and, preferably, a few other extremities for effect). Impalement alone won't do, as Dr. Wiseman's Amazing Sanguine Elixir, i.e., characters feeding each other their blood, is just the thing to cure any puncture wound. Six-inch-thick steel pipe through the solar plexus? Just take two tablespoons of vein juice and call me in the morning.
OK, so maybe the nonsensical combat is purely intentional, and we're supposed to let it slide. There are plenty of other examples of sloppy filmmaking from which to choose. A harbinger of things to come appears early in the film, as our heroes Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and Michael (Scott Speedman), fresh from the carnage of the original film, visit a deserted secret lab used by the vampires to study the werewolves. When they arrive, Selene informs Michael that motion sensors will inform the "central mainframe" of their presence, so they'll have to grab what they need and hustle out of there before the other vampires track them down. Fair enough. But what happens when it's time to hustle? It's too dangerous for Michael to show up at the vampires' home base, so Selene is going alone. Don't worry, she'll be back to get him afterwards. If Michael wondered why she thought he'd be better off waiting there when she'd just told him that it wasn't safe to stay, then he kept it to himself. (Had I been on set, or at least in a story development meeting, I'd have piped up.)
Another fun, um, "continuity" issue gelds a love scene between Michael and Selene, who are quite horny in addition to being fangy [Even though vampires are sexual creatures, I thought vampires lose their human desire for lovemaking? – Mike] Mainly it consists of the usual slo-mo close-ups of ecstatic faces and random bits of rubbing flesh, but it also features a couple of full-length side views of the lusty couple. This would be all well and good if it weren't for the fact that, to put it politely, they're not lined up correctly. Not by a long shot. My first reaction: "Ooh, lots of skin!" My next reaction: "Is there something I should know about vampires' bellybuttons?" It kinda takes ya out of the scene.
Getting back to the idea of vampires and werewolves as gunslingers, Underworld: Evolution actually kicks off with a prologue of sorts that takes place in the 13th Century, when the vampires made do with swords and crossbows and the Lycans stuck to their natural weaponry. This sequence is pretty interesting, and more scenes like it (or even a complete filmed origin story) would have been great. [If the whole movie was in the Medieval Times as staged by the opening I think it would have been a kick-ass film – Mike] Unfortunately, that's it for this film's Medieval Times, aside from an excruciatingly drawn-out expository speech delivered later by a minor character.
So what about the actual plot? Well, the back story certainly has potential. Hundreds of years ago, two brothers named Corvinus became the original vampire and Lycan when they were respectively bitten by a bat and a wolf. Their "descendants" have fought an underground war nearly ever since. Way back when, the vampire brother, Marcus (Tony Curran) and his crew captured and imprisoned his fuzzy brother William (Brian Steele) and enslaved the other Lycans. The Lycans eventually revolted, sparking the continuing conflict.
In the first film, a group of Lycans are trying to capture Michael, the actual descendant of a third Corvinus brother, whose blood remained "pure." There's some mumbo-jumbo about Michael becoming a "hybrid" vampire/Lycan, which means that he eventually turns into a tough blue beastie who may be more powerful than any individual of either type. For the most part, though, he is a very passive character who gets dragged around by his vampire warrior girlfriend.
In the new film, the Lycans are not so clever. We learn that the first of them were simply violent animals who couldn't change back into human form. Apparently, they evolved somehow into more advanced werewolves who could to some extent control their violent impulses and alternate between their original bodies and their battlin' wolf personae. This isn't explained in any detail (perhaps their vampire masters set up an obedience school of some sort, although the Schutzhund Theory doesn't explain the younger Lycans), and it flies in the face of the general idea of this mythos that older=stronger.
Instead of a Lycan trying to capture the hybrid creature (who remains essentially passive, taking orders from Selene and participating in her fights at opportune moments), this film features Marcus trying to free his brother William, who has been locked away in a secret dungeon since his original capture. He also plans to start a new race of monsters in his "own image" (I bet the other vampires would like to know where he got those anime-like tentacles and enormous wings, and can he get them a discount?). Only Selene, the daughter of the dungeon's builder, knows where William is located, and she's not about to tell. Fortunately for Marcus, a side effect of the Elixir is its Vulcan Mind-Meld-like telepathy, so all he has to do to find his brother is drink Selene's blood.
Unfortunately, Selene is not really a match for the O.V. (Original Vampire), so she'll need to power up before the final confrontation. Who better to help out than Alexander Corvinus (Derek Jacobi), the father of Marcus and William and the ancestor of Michael? No, he isn't a vampire or Lycan, but he is about 800 years old (don't bother askin', 'cause the script ain't tellin'). He has his very own ship decked out with all sorts of flashing lights and screens as well as a loyal squad of commandos. Whether the commandos are recently recruited normal humans or long, long, long-time employees isn't addressed, but they wear black and carry machine guns, just like the vampires and Lycans do (in the first movie, anyway).
At any rate, there's a lot of impaling and blood-drinking and plenty of jibber-jabber about the benefits of impaling people and drinking their blood. In fact, there's a bit of a preoccupation with impaling people and drinking their blood. Unfortunately, there's only so much character development that can be hung on that sort of stuff. Marcus wants to free his brother and become really powerful. Selene wants to stop him (remember, he needs to drink her blood) and protect Michael. Michael wants to -- well, he doesn't seem to have any motivations except when he turns blue and gets into fights. Alexander simply wants to clean up his kid's mess. All of this, I suppose, is enough of a framework for a simple action flick, but there are just too many distractions here -- too many "why is he doing that?" moments. Two characters fighting on the back of a moving flatbed truck is very cool; wondering why the third character is still driving instead of double-teaming the bad guy really detracts from the cool. Unfortunately, that sort of head-scratcher is the rule rather than the exception in Underworld: Evolution.
To make a long story short, Underworld: Evolution is only OK. It has some cool action sequences, but as with the first film, it’s more concerned with style than with making full use of its complex mythos to develop an interesting story or characters who are more than skin deep. In this respect, it’s inferior to the original, which was decent but no classic to begin with. Fans of the first Underworld may appreciate it, as it does hold some appeal as a slick action movie, but I wouldn’t get too excited about it. Anyone who didn’t care for the first film is highly unlikely to get anything out of this one, and those who haven’t seen its predecessor should probably go for that one instead, especially considering the fact that this story is a direct continuation of the events in the original.
VIDEO QUALITY 9.5/10
I’ve decided to rank the video quality of these discs on a 1-10 scale. A Blu-Ray score of 5 will mean that it is similar to the best-looking DVD I can think of and the remaining 5-10 will be based on the extended resolution of Blu-Ray disc. I think this is the best way to rank these titles for now so I hope this will help you to determine what a reference HD disc is. As more BDs become available and authoring improves (as was in the early DVD days) the earliest titles I’ve ranked as “10” may not appear as “reference quality” anymore. Please note that I’m currently viewing this on a 1280x720 projector and I’m not even able to see half of the 1920x1080 information on this disc. In the simplest terms, instead of seeing 6x the resolution of DVD I’m only seeing 2.6x the improvement. Our display devices have a long way to go before we can see all of the picture information contained on these discs. This disc was reviewed on the Samsung BD-P1000 on a 35-foot Monster M1000HDMI to a calibrated PT-AE700 (D6500/D5400B&W). The screen is a D110" (8-foot wide) Da-Lite Cinema Contour (w.Pro-Trim finish) and Da-Mat fabric.
This is one of the best looking Blu-ray discs I’ve come across thus far and thus I’m going to give it almost a top score. I left .5 off because things can always be better, right? But right now, this is the best I’ve seen from Sony (I have not viewed any Lionsgate titles).
The 2.40:1 image is clean of film dirt, grain, white specs, or anything obtrusive to the image presentation. It does not have any edge enhancement like what Aaron Silverman reported on the DVD. I may have noticed a hint of compression artefacts from time to time, and it was very minor, but for an early release this is pretty darn good. It actually looks much better than RV, one of Sony’s newest upcoming releases.
The film exhibits excellent 3-D imagery even on a 720p display and is not a step below what it should be like the DVD may exhibit. Like many films the picture quality has been tweaked to give it a blue-shadow look that complements the dark night time scenery. All colours take on a blue cast except for the daylight scenes that look more natural. Skin tones vary in these conditions of course, but never look unnatural to the intended presentation.
I give this title big thumbs up!
PCM AUDIO EXPERIENCE: 10/10
DOLBY DIGITAL AUDIO EXPERIENCE: 8.5/10
For the sake of consistency with the video, I’m going to rate uncompressed PCM (and eventually the lossless audio compression formats when available), as well as lossy Dolby Digital and DTS on a scale from 1-10. This rating is based on “satisfaction” – the highest score delivering the greatest amount of satisfaction and the lowest delivering the least. When defining satisfaction, I mean both the resolution of the audio as well as the sound design for the film. I’m listening for the best experience possible.
WOW! Was I blown away with this soundtrack!? YES!! The soundtrack of this film defines fun for home theatre! Thumbs up to the sound design team who went the extra 5 miles to deliver an awesome film soundtrack. I’d be a happy camper if every movie soundtrack attempted to sound like this film. That is why this soundtrack stands out from the rest.
The opening medieval sequence primed me for what was to come. The delivery of voices and sounds during the quietest moments had suitable ambience and space around it to make it convincing enough to feel like I was in the environment I was watching the film. Dialogue was clear, undistorted, and nicely integrated with the left and right channels. There are tonnes of activity in the remaining four channels and subwoofer. All channels are active at almost every moment in the film. They are never distracting and enhance the listening experience delivering everything from subtle ambience to powerful and charged activity.
The surrounds are effectively used to extend the soundfield beyond the walls of my room. I have not heard a soundtrack like this in a while and it’s also due to the extra ambience the uncompressed PCM soundtrack delivered lost in the Dolby Digital process. The soundtrack ignites the imagination as to what is going on around you. The opening battle with the Lycans proves this. As we watch the visuals on screen and hear their sounds, we also know there is danger behind us as well as separate action behind us. You can hear Lycans move, bite, and chew on people behind you as the surrounds are utilized to create this movement and ambience. These aren’t bullet ping-ping effects that we hear on such films as Saving Private Ryan, I’m talking about panning sound images around the soundstage. This kind of sound design is welcomed! Those listening with dipolar speakers or speakers to the sides may have a more diffused effect with less imaging around the back, but you should still appreciate this soundtrack nonetheless.
Bass pounds in all five channels; those will full range speakers or subwoofers per channel will appreciate the full range nature of this soundtrack. The dedicated LFE channel enhances this bass even more so you will be moving a lot of air in your room at times.
People who have higher powered systems capable of loudness and/or great dynamic range ability will love the impact this soundtrack has. Like the first film, this soundtrack can get loud – very loud. But not uncomfortably loud like the first Underworld film when your ears are bleeding after listening to it (the film wasn’t eq’d for home theatre and was deafening to listen to at reference level – treble was also exaggerated). While I don’t believe any of these Blu-ray titles have been re-eq’d for home theatre playback, the soundtrack is acceptable throughout the frequency range. The quality of the recording for both sound effects and music is very satisfying.
If you have a Blu-ray player and you choose to listen to the Dolby Digital soundtrack, all I can say is YOU ARE CRAZY! When comparing that to the uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack option, PCM exhibits much better dynamic range, a lower noise floor, a much wider soundstage all around the listener, greater bass definition, greater clarity, better panning of sounds around the listener, and all of the holes in the sound that seem to be missing in the Dolby Digital encoding/decoding are now here. Need I say more?
(Note: you must have the 6-channel output of your Blu-Ray player connected to an EXT-IN on your receiver/preamp to take advantage of uncompressed PCM or with the use of HDMI and supporting devices).
TACTILE FUN!! /
TRANSDUCER ON/OFF?: ON
Tactile ratings are based on the information in the dedicated LFE channel only. Bass from any other channel has not been rerouted to the LFE. For “shaking” purposes, I’m interested only in the bass the LFE provides to enhance the bass in all other channels. It also gives me a good indication of how much of that “.1 LFE” channel is used on each film. A Clark Synthesis TST-429 is used on an AudioSource AMP5.3, an AudioQuest Diamondback interconnect and Crankin’ Cable 12-awg speaker wire.
Trust me: you want a bass shaker when watching this movie. You will feel like you are punched, knocked out, thrown against the wall and slamming to the ground as you watch the battle sequences in this film. The transducer did not take away from the action, in fact it enhanced it so much that I think I enjoyed this movie far more than I would have without it. You have to remember one thing – these kinds of movies are made for fun – and when your sofa is shaking you in the action when watching the movie on a big screen it makes the experience a knock-out!
SPECIAL FEATURES /
The special features on the Blu-ray disc are the same as what is available on DVD. They are presented in 4:3 standard definition.
HTF DVD Reviewer Aaron Silverman writes:
Commentary With Director Len Wiseman, Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos, Second Unit Director/ Stunt Coordinator Brad Martin, and Editor Nicolas De Toth
This is a pretty solid track, wrapping plenty of interesting information about the production in a crispy banter shell. Wiseman and Tatopoulos do most of the talking.
Six featurettes are included, totalling around 70 minutes. They combine talking-head interviews with various members of the cast and crew with film clips and behind-the-scenes footage. Generally speaking, they are of decent quality. Anamorphic widescreen would’ve been nice, though.
Bloodlines: From Script To Screen – Making of featurette (13:26)
This is an overview, EPK-type piece. Not the most exciting, but OK as those things go.
The Hybrid Theory – Visual Effects featurette (13:00)
The visual effects, which combined CGI, miniatures, green screen, and other techniques, are covered here. Some of the miniature work (which involved enormous “miniatures,” including a 34-foot boat) is especially interesting.
Making Monsters Roar – Creature featurette (11:56)
This piece goes into great detail about the design of the Lycans and how they were brought to life, as well as the monstrous incarnation of Marcus. Everything you’d want to know about the creature costumes and effects and then some.
The War Rages On – Stunts featurette(9:54)
This featurette covers the stunts, but it spends too much time on film clips and talking-head interviews. There’s very little behind-the-scenes footage.
Building A Saga – Production Design Featurette (12:57)
Director Wiseman and Production Designer Tatopoulos discuss a couple of the elaborate sets that were built for the film.
Music And Mayhem – Music and sound design featurette (11:50)
While this featurette doesn’t go into much detail about the music itself, it does offer some interesting insights from the filmmakers
Music Video: “Her Portrait In Black” by Atreyu (3.54)
This video intercuts footage of the band performing in a sewer-like environment with clips from the movie. The music is very aggressive, with death-metal-style vocals.
IN THE END...
Even though the movie is a bit disappointing in terms of storytelling, I loved all of the action in this film and the concept is great. It was enjoyable to watch. Not to mention this Blu-ray disc has become my default demo disc for home theatre. This film delivers top-notch A/V that we home theatre enthusiasts love. If you have a BD player, I recommend picking this title up.
August 08, 2006.