Underworld is one of those films that I’ll never forget where in life I was when I saw it. I’ll spare you the details, but I remember that evening vividly as it was a good one. It also came out at just the right time when the vampire craze was just ramping up and ironically was both the rise and downfall of Kate Beckinsale’s career. That’s what happens when you fall for your film’s director. You’re forced to do sequel after punishing sequel. Just ask Milla Jovovich how that works out for you. However, there’s no disputing how fine Kate has always looked filling that tight, black leather corset coupled with those stunning Blu-ray eyes. Even though we had the pleasure of spending time with the lovely Rhona Mitra in the third film, Rise of the Lycans, no Underworld fan can deny Selene’s (Beckinsale) presence and assets were greatly missed. On the flip side, I really liked the third entry. Ha ha. I digress. Let’s rewind back to 2003 as we nostalgically discuss the one that started it all, Underworld, which coincidentally sees a 4K Ultra HD release December 27th.
I already spilled the beans on the Beckinsale/director relationship up above so let’s talk about the who is who here. The 2003 action horror flick Underworld is directed by Len Wiseman from a screenplay by Danny McBride. Now when you see that latter name I don’t know about you, but my mind instantly thinks of the comedic actor (HBO’s Vice Principals). Don’t let that happen! There’s a screenwriter who also share’s that same name. If you don’t believe me, here’s a link to his IMDB page. In addition to Beckinsale the movie does have some household names in it, which include the likes of Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly and Bill Nighy.
In the timeless, Gothic metropolis world of Underworld, the modern aristocratic Vampires are pitted against their mortal enemies the Lycans (werewolves) in an all out war beneath the city’s underbelly. The seemingly forever running bitter blood feud is escalated to new proportions here when Selene (Beckinsale), a Death Dealer whose sole purpose is to the destroy Lycans because of what they did to her family, falls for a human. Their forbidden passion comes about when Selene notices the Lycans pursuing this human, Michael Corvin (Speedman), for experimentation. She takes matters in her own hands by capturing him herself. Meanwhile, after fending off Lycan after Lycan she discovers two important things. Not everyone is whom they seem to be. Both sides, the Vampires and Lycans, appear to be secretly working together to destroy the Vampire Elders. And second, her father figure Elder, Viktor (Nighy), isn’t the standup guy she thought him to be all these years. Oh my!
If that’s not enough, in the midst of all these revelations Selene is experience Michael is bitten by a Lycan. Upon capturing him she must decide whether to do her duty and kill him off or go against her clan and save him. Of course if the latter did not happen, then when wouldn’t have the tale of forbidden love here now would we? Are you lost yet? Fret not because if you choose to embrace the world of Underworld like I have the film’s sequel (Evolution) will fill in all the blanks you want to know like why is Michael and his lineage so special to the everyone, how were the Lycans and Vampires created and of course the aftermath of all the events that go down in this first outing here. It’s all revealed in the sequel. That’s all I’ll say on the matter as I don’t want to dish any spoilers just in case this is someone’s first flirtation with this franchise.
Surprisingly all the cool things Underworld had going for it wasn’t enough to sway the reviewers in favorite of it. However, this is one picture I never listened to them on. In my opinion Underworld and its next two sequels did a lot right. It wasn’t until the fourth one, Awakening, where Beckinsale came back that I started to tune this franchise out. If you ask me, that movie and the direction it took was just plain bad (not to mention the acting). The minority that did praise this first film did so for its stylish Gothic visuals, the icy composure and stoic performance of Beckinsale and the extensive vampire-werewolf mythology of the feature’s backstory. There’s a lot more to write home about here, but make no mistake about it. It’s Beckinsale that sells and delivers the goods, in both body and overall performance, that brings all the boys to the yard here. I couldn’t imagine anyone else filling her tight, black leather corset and the Gods have spoken. They’re going to give me one more go around with her (complete with blonde highlights) in next month’s Blood Wars, which will serve as the fifth entry in this now long running franchise. Unfortunately it also follows the continuing storyline from the last entry. Boo!
All in all, call me a fan of Underworld. It’s not slick and highly polished like a movie of its kind would be in today’s modern day. However, this vampire versus werewolf film holds up quite well for its age. The effects still look great and so does Kate Beckinsale in tight black leather. So all is not lost here. Shockingly though I’m in the minority as a lot of peeps I know really dislike the Underworld pictures. So I don’t know what to really say. It’s either your cup of proverbial tea or it isn’t. I think by now pretty much everyone reading this review has an opinion of it though. After all the picture is over 1o years old now. I believe what you’re all really here for is down below. Let’s stop stalling then and tackle the inevitable…the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation.
The below video score and related critique of things here are based solely upon my viewing of the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation of Underworld.
- Encoding: HEVC / H.265
- Resolution: 4K (2160p)
- Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
- Size: BD-66
- Clarity/Detail: Well they all can’t be winners on the 4K Ultra HD format, can they? While there’s not a heck of a lot wrong with this one, it’s just not a stunning 4K presentation in my opinion to waste your money on upgrading your former Blu-ray. I would say it’s probably as good as this 2K DI transfer is going to look without sacrificing quality. Closeups look great as we see pores, hairs, stubble, etc. in characters and razor sharp details such as grooves in concrete and texture. Also, individual rain drops are on display for all to see. It’s just the grain that makes this one not a sharp one at times. However, like I said beggars can’t be choosers. I’ll take what I can get here because I’m a fan.
- Depth: Depth is prevalent throughout here thanks to the use of the cinematography and way light and shadows are captured here. From Selene peering off in the distance at the edge of ledge to the vampire’s vast interiors in their headquarters and the way Selene points her gun all around. It just has that pop to it all!
- Black Levels: Despite the darkness of it all there’s plenty of HDR going around here to keep details in the shadows clear and pronounced. I can’t fault this one here. Furthermore, the black levels are all deep and inky throughout here. I can’t nitpick there either. This one’s a dark one!
- Color Reproduction: Here’s where the blue-steel look comes into play. This one is a very stylistic adventure onscreen. Underworld is unmistakably Gothic in appearance. The only vivid colors you’ll find here are when Selene’s eyes glow Blu-ray blue and the crimson red in Viktor’s coat and other bloody moments. Otherwise this is a dark one, but an enjoyable ride nonetheless.
- Flesh Tones: The temperatures of skin tones here are pasty white and accurate just like any good vampire flick should look like.
- Noise/Artifacts: There’s absolutely nothing really to nitpick here other than some excessive grain, which makes itself known during certain moments here. Other than that there’s nothing else to really nitpick.
Like I mentioned up above in the video section, the below audio score and critical comments of such are based solely upon my viewing of the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation of Underworld. The Blu-ray only comes armed with both an English and Italian PCM 5.1 (Uncompressed) surround track, no Atmos.
- Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 compatible), French 5.1 DTS-HD MA (Quebec), Italian 5.1 DTS-HD MA
- Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Italian
- Dynamics: Underworld goes from quiet and subtle to loud and boisterous at the drop of a dime. Thankfully this new Atmos surround track keeps everything in check from the quieter, pondering moments where hearing the dialog is crucial to the action/takedown ones where the film’s soundtrack takes center stage and delivers the punishment. The detail of it all is what shines here as everything from atmospheric elements and spoken words to punches and gun shells clanging against the ground are faithfully rendered and constructed here. It can be a quite loud one at times.
- Height: I was stoked to see this one was retrofitted with an Atmospheric surround track, but at the same time I was underwhelmed by it all too. Atmosphere such as rain and musical score bleed into the Atmos height channels, but not much else to write home about. I can cite a few examples though like the Lycans hovering above in Michael’s apartment, a car flipping over and going into the water, thunder, an explosion with water flying up, etc.
- Low Frequency Extension: The LFE channel is thunderous and full when called upon, but it doesn’t continuously pound and remind you it’s there like it probably should. Nonetheless we have your usual gamut of bass moments here like bullets, action sequences, subway trains, wolves, water, etc.
- Surround Sound Presentation: The most impressive part of this Underworld‘s surround track for me were the surround channels. The rears seemed engaged throughout the film’s entire runtime. In fact the surround sound was in full effect right from the get go from the Screen Gems intro logo. It was quite incredible. Here we have the usual gamut of examples too such as bullets spraying, various moments of destruction, glass shattering and most impressive the flashback scenes where we see Lucian and Viktor’s combative history.
- Dialogue Reproduction: All the spoken words, minus the accents, were clear and intelligible to make out.
Sony’s Underworld 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray set comes armed with the feature presentation only housed on the 4K Ultra HD disc and an Unrated Extended Cut in HD on the 1080p Blu-ray disc. There is also a redemption code found within good for the feature presentation in 4K utilizing Sony’s proprietary streaming app and in HD at your favorite UltraViolet retailer. The 4K disc contains the movie only while the Blu-ray disc has the movie plus all the below extras I want to talk about. They’re basically everything found before on the original Blu-ray release. They’re even in Standard Definition. Yay! So let’s stop wasting time and tackle these now!
- Audio Commentary (HD) – Here we have a feature audio commentary with director Len Wiseman, Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman. They are not the most entertaining trio to listen to.
- Outtakes (SD, 3:43) – These “outtakes” are really nothing more than a glorified gag reel of goof ups. You even get to see a Lycan dance.
- Storyboard Comparison (SD, 6:42) – If you’re interested in sketches, this one’s for you. Here we have a side-by-side comparison of some scenes here with their associated storyboards.
- Music Video (SD, 2:45) – This is a music video of song called “Worms of the Earth” by Finch complete with footage from the film. The song is very skippable in my opinion or you may enjoy. You choose!
- Featurettes (SD, 2:13:38) – There are a total of 7 featurettes found on the disc here complete with a Play All option too. They are as follows.
- Fang vs. Fiction (SD, 47:18) – Here we have an AMC network documentary which explores the mythology and lore of vampires and werewolves throughout our history. I remember this doc from the initial Blu-ray release and really dig it. You even get to meet a real life werewolf. LOL. I kid you not!
- The Making of Underworld (SD, 13:02) – This one introduces the film with a lot of talking heads and footage from the feeling of the film to the script and production. This one is kind of basic, but essential if you love Underworld and of course have not seen this extra yet on the previous Blu-ray release. Everyone in this extra that talks seems to thinks this one is slick and interesting. As a fan I would have to agree.
- The Visual Effects of Underworld (SD, 9:56) – This one is all about the CG baby and exploring/explaining all the CG and visual effects employed here. I liked how they showed that one of the car flips into the water was actually a model.
- Creature Effects (SD, 12:30) – This one is obviously about all the detail, design, movement and intricacy of the creatures on display here, namely the werewolves. It was interesting to see the molds made to make said werewolf suits.
- Stunts (SD, 11:43) – Well duh! This one is about the stunts in Underworld. Len and Brad, the stunt coordinator, talk a lot in this one. Brad said he shot things the way they were drawn in the storyboards. We get to see Kate doing a lot of wire work practice in this one too. That’s always interesting.
- Designing Underworld (SD, 10:46) – This one goes into detail on what they based the look of the film on like underground churches and the locations chosen to shot in.
- The Look of Underworld (SD, 19:12) – This one explores the cinematography of Underworld and the post production process that gave it this unique, gritty, graphic novel like look. I loved how they said supermarkets and gas stations won’t be seen in this film because they aren’t interesting. Ha ha.
- Sights and Sounds (SD, 9:07) – Here we have a lot of behind-the-scenes clips from the actual filming and prep to laughter and good times had on the set. I got a kick out of seeing the guy slip with the ladder twice. Ha ha.
Considering the fact that I used to have a travel case of DVDs I would take anywhere with me to watch on a whim’s notice and Underworld was one of those, I’d say I’m a big fan of the film. I just wish this 4K Ultra HD presentation looked better. It’s kind of like the 4K remaster of Shout Factory’s Transformers: The Movie I just watched today. It’s kind of rough at times and not pretty compared to today’s presentations. However, the visuals and effects still hold up well so I suppose all is not lost in addition to a new bombastic Dolby Atmos surround track too. Sadly there are no extras here that have not been seen already in previous releases. Even worse they’re all in Standard Definition. While I may be a huge fan of the first three Underworld films under no circumstance should you jump on this one until the price is right. My advice here is my Christmas gift to y’all. Merry Christmas!
Underworld Bites Into
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray