Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
US Release Date: May 12, 2009
Movie: out of
A prequel to Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans tells part of the backstory hinted at in the previous films. A war is underway between vampires and a breed of werewolves unable to return to human form. An imprisoned werewolf gives birth to Lucian (Michael Sheen), the first of its kind able to switch freely between werewolf and human. Viktor (Bill Nighy) reluctantly allows Lucian to live, and uses his blood to create a slave army of Lycans to protect the vampires during the daylight hours. A forbidden love affair develops between Lucian and Viktor’s daughter, Sonja (Rhona Mitra), and we finally get the Romeo and Juliet storyline that the first Underworld failed to deliver on.
Len Wiseman, after directing Live Free or Die Hard, turns the director’s chair over to Patrick Tatopoulos (production designer on the two prior films). Tatopoulos does a capable job, keeping the action sequences exciting and the pacing brisk. Bill Nighy, who seems to be making a career of late playing villains, is over the top as Viktor, with glimpses of his Davy Jones character from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (minus the CGI makeup) appearing from time to time. The big surprise here is Michael Sheen, see more recently as David Frost in Frost/Nixon, as the anti-hero Lucian. Sheen appears equally comfortable in action sequences as he does in more dramatic scenes.
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is a genre filme, first and foremost, well-deserving of its R rating from the MPAA for its violent and often gruesome action sequences and a graphic love scene. Like most prequels, the film does suffer from a lack of peril, as we know the ultimate fate of these characters and how the story will likely end. Ultimately, though, the ride from beginning to end is a fun one, and much more enjoyable than what is passing for horror these days.
Video: out of
Filmed in High Definition using Panavision Genesis cameras, the 1080p AVC encode was difficult to review. This is a darkly-lit film, bathed in blues with lots of shadows. Additional grain appears to have been added during the digital intermediate process, giving the film a gritty look. At times, however, the additional grain seems so artificial that the HD cinematography looks too much like processed video and not film. Still, this Blu-ray does do a nice job replicating the theatrical presentation.
Audio: out of
The English Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, although at times immersive with its use of music and discrete sound effects, was disappointing. The dialogue was difficult to hear, mixed at a much lower level than the rest of the audio. I do not recall this being an issue when I first experienced this film during its theatrical run last winter, and the other language tracks do not exhibit this problem. Unfortunately, the 640 kbps English Dolby Digital track also exhibits the lower-level dialogue issue.
Special Features: out of
Not necessarily a Special Feature, but I found the Blu-Meter on this title to be annoying. Whenever you scan through the film, the meter takes up about 1/3 of the screen. Most other Sony titles that have this feature are not as obtrusive, and it takes up very little real estate.
Sony has loaded this Blu-ray with an abundance of extras for viewers to sink their teeth into, all in high definition.
Playstation 3 Theme and Wallpaper A pleasant surprise, not mentioned on the cover, is an Underworld: Rise of the Lycans theme and wallpaper for the PS3. Accessible as a disc download from the Games menu on the Playstation 3’s XMB screen, the theme consists of 3 lobby cards from the film that randomly rotate whenever the PS3 reloads the XMB (such as ending a movie or game) and a set of icons in white stone with red backlighting.
CineChat is Sony’s BD-Live online text chat feature, similar to the chat features on Universal’s Hellboy II and The Incredible Hulk. A Sony BD-Live user ID is required, and chats are by user invitation only.
Filmmakers’ Commentary is a roundtable discussion with producer and co-writer Len Wiseman, director Patrick Tatopoulos, producer Richard Wright, producer Gary Lucchesi, and executive producer and visual effects supervisor James McQuaide. The five discuss how the film was made, what it was like shooting in New Zealand, and even hint at a possible new cut of the original Underworld, replacing footage of the blond Sonja with footage from this film with the intended dark-haired Sonja (and why Sonja was blonde in the first film, due to budget constraints). They also joke amongst themselves about some of the mistakes made in this film.
Behind the Castle Walls: Picture-In-Picture is similar to Universal’s U-Verse feature, using interviews and behind the scenes footage in a window in the lower right corner of the screen. Unlike U-verse, it is not possible to turn this feature on and off at any point in the film and remain in the film. When you turn off the feature, you are taken back to the main menu. Although the standard pop-up menu is locked out, you can use the scan or chapter skip buttons to find a particular section of the movie with the PiP feature still engaged.
Lycanthropes Around the World Interactive Map is a rather useless feature, a bit of a letdown considering how heavily it is promoted on the disc’s cover. From the world map, you can choose a continent to explore, and then choose a reported sighting on that continent. The number of sightings is, sadly, sparse, as is the information provided once you click on the sighting. Expect slow load times for this feature, even on the Playstation 3.
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans: From Script to Screen A 9 minute EPK featurette with the filmmakers discussing how quickly they had to get the screenplay ready for shooting due to the WGA strike and actor commitments, shooting in New Zealand to keep costs down, and how they had to make all of the props and costumes from scratch.
The Origin of the Feud is a 20 minute featurette documenting the storyline and characters, and how they tie into the other Underworld films.
Recreating the Dark Ages – The Look of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is a 13 minute featurette on the film’s production design.
Music Video: Deathclub (Wes Borland/Renholder Remix) This is your typical movie clip music video, with the musician performing the song interspersed with clips from the movie.
Previews Trailers for Blu-ray Disc Is High Definition, The International, The Sky Crawlers, and The Da Vinci Code play immediately upon starting the disc and can also be accessed from the Special Features menu. Also included on this disc are trailers for Close Encounters 30th Anniversary Edition, Resident Evil: Degeneration, Fired Up, Underworld, Underworld: Evolution, Resident Evil: Extinction, Passengers, and Quarantine.
Digital Copy Sony has included a second disc, containing a standard definition copy for iTunes, Windows Media, and PSP.
As with most Sony Pictures Blu-ray discs, this disc is BD-Live enabled. At the time of this review, no title-exclusive content was available on the Sony BD-Live portal. The good news, however, is that access times to the BD-Live portal seem to have improved.
Overall: out of
A better than expected movie, especially after a second viewing, with good video and a large abundance of features make this a rather handsome disc, but blemished by a weak audio track with dialogue recorded at such a low level many viewers may opt to turn on the English subtitles.