Coming out on Blu-ray as part of a three-pack set, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is a fun, if overly effects-ridden entry into the gothy-emo film series created by Len Wiseman and popularized by actress Kate Beckinsale. The hip husband/wife team took a backseat for part trés, but actors Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen, both of whom starred in the first film and were singled out as standouts, are back in black (leather).
Briskly directed by effects guru Patrick Tatopoulos (who worked on the previous Underworlds heading up the design department), this supernatural spin on the Spartacus legend focuses on Lucian (Sheen), a Dark Ages werewolf whose kind has been enslaved by the vampire overlord Vikor (Nighy). Lucian endures his everlasting life in chains, catering to the toothy Death Dealer hand and paw, until one enchanted evening when he meets Viktor's shapely spawn, Sonja (Rhona Mitra).
Suddenly the wolf-man has reason to want to be free… I guess it's not easy doing it doggy-style under lock and key. After a slo-mo, sappy love scene showing the star crossed pair do their thing, we watch as moonstruck Lucian decides to seize control over his own destiny. As the tale unfolds, our poor, hairy hero gets whipped even more than the title character in The Passion of the Christ; rouses a badass human called Raze (Kevin Grevioux) to assist in the lycan rebellion; and finally shows us what he's made of as the full moon waxes and the claws come out.
Since both types of beings can only strut their sharp-stuff under the cover of darkness, it should go without saying that the midnight color palette that makes up the iconography of the Underworld world is used to its best advantage here. It's quite grand. And blue. The third installment has the same grainy, gothic, gritty look and feel of its predecessors, and astute fans will especially appreciate the nuances in the lycans' less-evolved appearance as well as the subtle differences in the vampires' countenance. Tatopoulos goes into great detail on the DVD commentary about this, and for the true fans it'll surely be a treat to get all the gory design details.
While I personally missed Beckinsale's presence in the movie, it is a prequel and it does do a good job of setting up the story for Underworld (still the best of the lot) and some of the motivation behind the gloomy goings-on in Underworld 2 (still the worst). The script lacks panache, but it does head from Point A to Point B in a stylishly pretty linear fashion. Sometimes the CGI is a bit much — I prefer the lycan animatronics and use of prosthetics on actors and stuntmen to the outright cartoons.
There are a few lapses in logic, but if you're watching a movie about mythological creatures and buying into that in the first place, those 'huh?' moments shouldn't prove too worrisome. For my taste the performances are rather too serious for the subject matter — I prefer Nighy as the over-the-top megalomaniac he was in his previous Viktor incarnations, and Mitra is rather too down in the mouth to be as sexy as she should. Sheen fares best, making Lucian a werewolf you can kind of care about.
Blood-letting, eviscerations, impaling, throat-tearings and limb-rippings are here in spades, taking place mostly during battle scenes and when titans Viktor and Lucian finally clash during the intensely harsh, violent climax. (Tatopoulos' commentary is key here: it's interesting to learn how the ending might have been something else altogether. And by the way, it's not a solo rambling — writer/producer Len Wiseman, executive producer James McQuaide, and producers Richard Wright and Gary Lucchesi all chime in as well.)
Special Blu-ray Features:
* Underworld: Rise of the Lycans – From Script to Screen. Text.
* Recreating the Dark Ages – The Look of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. making-of featurette with actor and filmmaker interviews from the set.
* Cinechat - If you're really bored and don't want to break out the beer and potato chips, you can trade MST3000K-style IMs to your friends who are also plugged in and watching the movie.
* Behind the Castle Walls – Picture-in-Picture.
* Origin of the Feud - History of the Characters.
* Lycanthropes Around the World – Interactive Map.
* William Controll's 'Deathclub' Music Video.
The disc is also BD-Live enabled and includes a separate digital copy.
Also in this Blu-ray Boxed Set:
Underneath the city streets, amid the labyrinth of subway tunnels and gothic ruins, the two most notorious creatures of the night are embroiled in an all-out war that has been going on for centuries. It is the culmination of a blood-thirsty battle between the vampires and their mortal enemies, the werewolves. Rated R version.
The saga continues as the battle rages on between the death dealers and the lycans in this fast-paced modern-day tale of deadly action ruthless intrigue & forbidden love all leading to the battle to end all wars as the immortals finally face their retribution. Rated R version.
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