May 16, 2009

Blu-ray Review: Underworld - Evolution

In 2003, director and co-writer Len Wiseman introduced us to his vision of a vampire/werewolf war in Underworld. That feature brought us such memorable characters as Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a vampire Death Dealer (soldier in the war on the werewolves), Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), a vampire/werewolf hybrid and romantic interest of Selene, Viktor (Bill Nighy), a diabolical elder vampire, and Lucian (Michael Sheen), the vengeful leader of the lycans (what they call the werewolves in this world). While the film was not the best written, it did open a number of doors as it laid the groundwork for its universe. When it ended, we were left with much bloodshed and our heroes on the run from both sides of the war.

2006 brought us Wiseman's second go around as director with the arrival of Underworld: Evolution. This film picks up right where the first one left off, with Selene and Michael on the run from both the vampires and lycans in the wake of Viktor's and Lucian's death. They know that Kraven, the double dealing vampire who was working with Lucian, will be heading back to the mansion to take care of Markus before he wakes up. However, he is a bit late as Markus is already awake and turned into a hybrid, having been woken by the blood spilled by Sing, a lycan killed in the first film.

Now things are picking up steam. We learn of the Corvinus brothers, Markus (the same) and William, sons of Alexander and the first vampire and lycan, respectively. The story tells of further political dealings involving the brothers, the imprisoning of one, the fear of killing either, and more about the dawn of the the war between the races.

Throughout, we do not get much time alone with Selene and Michael for their budding relationship to grow, what with the oncoming monsters from all directions.However, the story is a bit more solid and complex as the interactions leading to this very day are explained in more detail.

I am sure many of you have already seen the film, so I will not bore you with the play by play. Suffice to say, the story builds very nicely from what we got initially. The world has become even larger in scope and we learn much of where these races came from and what they have put each other through for centuries.

One of the first things you will notice about Evolution is the increase in budget. The first one did well at the theater and very well on home video that when it came time to bring them back, they were able to get more money from Screen Gems. Evolution had a budget of $45 million, more than double Underworld, which clocked in at $22 million. This is easily seen by the increase in the number of fight sequences, and the increased, and effective, use of special effects and CGI.

The movie just looks better than its predecessor. That is not a knock at the first click, which did look very good, this one just had more money to play with and they definitely put it on the screen. We see more transformations, more blood, and more blood and dismemberment in said battles.

The acting is on par with the first. Kate Beckinsale does an admirable job as an action lead with an icy demeanor that still holds vulnerability behind the eyes. I would have to say the biggest loss was the diminished role for Bill Nighy. Yes, it was necessitated by the story, but he does a great job as a vampire elder.

Overall, this is a welcome addition to a new mythology. This series is not likely to have a long lasting effect on cinema, but it does go a long way to spark the thought process about what this war could be like.

Audio/Video. This film, shot on Super 35, is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio (and I would not have anything less for a Blu-ray release). The film, much like its predecessor is very dark and tinted blue. Also like the disk for the first film, this one is as solid as they come, accurately representing the look of the film without losing any detail. There is easily more visible detail than the DVD release. I am continually amazed by what I see with Blu-ray. As for the audio, it is equally stunning. In particular, the sound effects really stuck out for me, both by their weight and their directionality. Listen as a door creaks open on the right and you hear someones footsteps on the left, or track gunfire as the shots move from left to right. I love the sound of guns in movies. The uncompressed 5.1 PCM track makes it sound like Kate and the rest are right there in the room with you.

Extras. This release, a repackaging of the original Bu-ray disk in the trilogy box set has a decent selection of bonus material.
  • Commentary. The track features Len Wiseman with Production Designer Patrick Tatapoulos and Editor Nicolas De Toth. It is a good track with plenty of information and some goodhearted backslapping. Lots of discussion with almost no dead air.
  • Music Video. This is for "Her Portrait in Black" by Atreyu, a band I cannot say I ever really cared for. The video is all right, combining performance footage with clips from the film.
  • Bloodlines: From Script to Screen. This is a standard making-of featurette.
  • The Hybrid Theory. Go inside the effects. This is pretty good showing the different digital and practical effects. I must admit to personally loving practical effects work.
  • Making Monsters Roar. This one looks at creature effects and how they modified things like the werewolf suit to allow for mobility.
  • The War Rages On. Go behind the scenes on stunts This is pretty interesting with the use of rigs and wires.
  • Building a Saga. Production design is much more important this time around, with the increased budget, more design work is needed.
  • Music and Mayhem. Score and sound design play an important role. (nicely presented on this disk)

Bottomline. Much like my revisit of the first film, I think I like Evolution more now than I did on the big screen. With the lack of big screen anticipation and a desire to have fun, I think the movie just plays better, it is easier to get caught up in and go along with it. The slick look, plenty of action, and Kate Beckinsale's outfit do not hurt!



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