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Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 6, 2009 by  



“The Gothic, dark tale of  the feud between the vampires vs. werewolves and what started it all!  The prequel to the ‘Underworld’ films, ‘Rise of the Lycans’ is a dark, tragic love story.  Featuring plenty of action and violence, this High Definition transfer definitely projects the dark, brooding atmosphere of the film in conjunction with its awesome audio quality.  If you enjoyed the first two films, ‘Underworld: Rise of the Lycans’ is a Blu-ray worth adding to the rest of your ‘Underworld’ collection.”

Images courtesy of© 2009 Lakeshore Entertainment Group LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

DURATION: 92 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Language(s): English 5.1, French (Canadian) 5.1, Spanish (Latin Am) 5.1, Portuguese (Brazil) 5.1.  Subtitles(s): English (US), French (Parisian), Portuguese (Brazil), Spanish (Latin Am).  Aspect Ratio: 2.40

RATED: R (For Bloody Violence and Some Sexuality)

COMPANY: Lakeshore Entertainment/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RELEASE DATE: May 12, 2009

Directed by Patrick Tatopoulous

Screenplay by Danny McBride, Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain

Story by Len Wiseman, Robert Orr and Danny McBride

Characters by Kevin Grevioux, Len Wiseman and Danny McBride

Executive Produced by Beth DePatie, James McQuaide, Eric Reid

Produced by Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg, Skip Williamson, Len Wiseman, Richard S. Wright

Co-Produced by Kevin Grevioux and David Kern

Music by Paul Haslinger

Director of Photography: Ross Emery

Edited by Peter Amundson, Eric Potter

Production Design by Dan Hennah

Art Direction by Brendan Heffernan and Gary Mackay

Costume Design by Jane Holland

Starring:

Michael Sheen as Lucian

Bill Nighy as Viktor

Rhona Mitra as Sonja

Steven Mackintosh as Tannis

Kevin Grevioux as Raze

David Ashton as Coloman

Kate Beckinsale as Selene

Jared Turner as Xristo

Tania Nolan as Luka

The prequel story traces the origins of the centuries-old blood feud between the aristocratic vampires known as Death Dealers and their onetime slaves, the Lycans. In the Dark Ages, a young Lycan named Lucian (Michael Sheen) emerges as a powerful leader who rallies the werewolves to rise up against Viktor (Bill Nighy), the cruel vampire king who has enslaved them. Lucian is joined by his secret lover, Sonja (Rhona Mitra), in his battle against the Death Dealer army and his struggle for Lycan freedom.

In 2003, the action-horror film “Underworld” starring Kate Beckinsdale as the vampire Selena came out to theaters.  Known for its stylish, Goth presentation and dark, brooding environment, the film would spotlight on the war between the vampires aka “Death Dealers” and the human/werewolf hybrids known as “Lycans”.  Directed by Len Wiseman, the film would spawn a sequel in 2006 “Underworld: Evolution”.

But the creators of the film wanted to explain how the feud between the Death Dealers and the Lycans started.  Although the first film briefly shown a little bit of that history, due to the rapid and shrinking budget of the first film, the creators were not able to effectively do what they wanted.  And thus the third film, “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans”, a prequel to the first two films, was created and released in theaters on January 2009.

Director Len Wiseman who was responsible for the first two films had come off directing the fourth “Die Hard” film “Live Free or Die Hard” and needing the time to rest,  decided to contribute as a writer and producer for the “Underworld” prequel.  Writing the screenplay for “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” was Danny McBride (who played Mason in the first film), Dirk Blackman (who written “Outlander”) and Howard McCain (who wrote and directed “Outlander”).

The producers decided to tap into one of their own crew to direct “Rise of the Lycans” and thus Patrick Tatopoulos, known for his special effects and creature design for the previous “Underworld” films but also for blockbusters such as “Independence Day”, “Godzilla”, “I Am Legend”, “Silent Hill” and “10,000 BC” (to name a few) was selected to direct the latest film.

The film debuted at #1 in the box office in Jan. 2009 and has grossed nearly $90 million worldwide.

The film begins with the the vampires (Death Dealers) who have  raided a group of werewolves and has killed a female werewolf.  Before the werewolf was slain, it had given birth to a human baby.  The leader of the vampires, Viktor (Bill Nighy) decides not to slaughter the baby but use it to create a race of hybrid werewolf/humans known as Lycans.  The Lycans can be used as slaves during the night but during the daylight when the vampires are unable to be out in the light, the Lycans can keep guard.

As Lucian grows older, many humans bitten by Lucian have become Lycans and are slaves.  Many who are tortured by the vampires.   All of them, including Lucian wears a metal collar which it inhibits them from turning into a werewolf and attacking back.

One night, a warrior clad in the armor of the vampires is being chased by many werewolves.  The warrior manages to attack and kill most of them except three.  Lucian (Michael Sheen) above the castle grabs a crossbow and manages to shoot and kill each of the werewolves thus saving the warrior.

The warrior happens to be Sonja (Rhona Mitra), daughter of Viktor and her job is to do night patrols to protect the Coven.  Meanwhile, Viktor asks Lucian how it feels for him to kill one of his own, which Lucian replies that he doesn’t mind.  But whenever Lucian is around and sees the slaves being mistreated and tortured, you learn that he does mind.

Lucian, known as a blacksmith, finds a tunnel heading down below the castle.  He secretly makes it to an area where Sonja has been waiting for him.  The two are in love and have kept their union as secret.  If anyone finds out that a vampire is together with the enemy Lycan, both can be killed.  As the two are making love, they do not know that the vampire Tannis (Kevin Grevioux) has been watching them. Lucian tells Sonja that he loves her and can’t live without her but he wants to be free and not live like a slave.  He also reveals to her that he has the key to free him from the necklace that prevents him from turning into a werewolf.  Sonja tells him to promise her that he would never use it but he can’t.

Meanwhile, a group of humans who have a deal with Viktor for protection from the vampires seek their help during a transport of a family.  Despite warning from Tannis that her father said that Sonja is not to leave the castle, she defies the order and her group rides off to protect them.  Meanwhile, Tannis tells Lucian that he knows their secret.

While Sonja manages to arrive to the protect the humans that may be in danger, Sonja and her group and the group of humans are ambushed by the werewolves.  Lucian can hear all of them from a distance and fears for Sonja’s life.  He immediately beats one of the vampire guards and steals a horse to go off and save her.

Sonja and her group, along with the humans which include a muscular man named Raze (Kevin Grevioux) and his group try to survive and fight back against the werewolves.  Lucian gets there in time to fight them but when they become outnumbered and many of the humans and vampires are lost during battle, Lucian uses the key and unleashes himself.  He immediately turns into a werewolf and unleashes a tremendous roar.  All the werewolves stop attacking and leave.  Meanwhile, Viktor and the vampires arrive and because Sonja and Lucian defied orders, they will be punished.  Meanwhile, Raze and the living humans will be turned into Lycans.

Lucian is tortured after defying the vampires and is imprisoned.  Raze and the humans have been bitten by a werewolf and while imprisoned, he and Lucian develop a respect for each other.  Lucian tells them to not fight within themselves.  He will find a way to have them released and escape their prison.

Sonja comes to quickly visit Lucian and he tells her to talk to Tannis (since he hasn’t revealed his secret to Viktor).  She meets with Tannis and he agrees to help her free Lucian, but in return, she would have to give up her seat in the council, a position he desperately wants.  So, she agrees.

Tannis gives Sonja the key to the prison cells and while escaping, Tannis gives Lucian the key to free him from his collar.  Immediately, Lucian frees the majority of the slave Lycans and immediately the vampires go off on a major hunt inside the castle for the Lucian and the Lycans.  Lucian, Raze and a few others manage to escape the castle but the majority of Lycans are caught.  Lucian promises that he will come back and save them.

As Viktor does his investigation of who may have freed Lucian, he starts to suspect that it may have been Sonja.  He takes a bite into her and her memories are then intercepted by Viktor who now realizes that his daughter is responsible for freeing Lucian but worse, she has been having sexual relations with a Lycan.

Now Viktor wants revenge and knows that the only way he will succesfully get back at Lucian is to let him know that if he doesn’t come back to the castle, Sonja will be killed.

Lucian’s love for Sonja is strong and despite the Lycans not understanding why he would protect a vampire, he tells him that she would never turn against him and decides to go to the castle himself and he will rescue Sonja.

Will Viktor get his revenge against Lucian or will his love for Sonja give him enough power to rescue her in time?

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” is featured in 1080p High Definition with an aspect ratio of 2:40:1.   It’s important to point out that “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” is a film that is featured in primarily blues and blacks.  The film showcases the darkness of that area and if there are any other colors that are utilized, those are reds and the golden and bronze colors.  It is what Tatopoulos wanted and I think that the emphasis on the darker colors brings out the brooding feeling of the land, the castle, the forest, etc.

Picture quality was well done.  I did not see any artifacts, scratches, dust but I did see grain.  Especially in one scene that featured Sonja laying on bed, which was brief but grain/low light noise was noticeable.  But other than that, I just felt that the film utilized blacks effectively.  Red typically are colors that are seen during the most violent or bloodiest of scenes but the color does stand out due to everything being so blue and black.

As for audio quality, “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” is presented in English and French Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and also in Spanish and Portuguese 5.1.

I enjoyed how the action sequences utilizes each channel in my home theater setup.  For one, when hearing the Lycans and the wolves as they run, to when they howl, one thing that audiophiles will notice is the effective use of low frequency bass coming from the subwoofer.  That caught my attention immediately and when my subwoofer is utilized in such a manner, it makes me happy!

But the sounds of spears flying and hitting its victim, hearing the various action sequences constant and fluid and the noise of metal upon metal, slicing and clanging, those are noises that sound crystal clear as it comes out from your front channel speakers.

Dialogue is easily understood and so does the growls of the werewolves.  There’s nothing to fault about the audio, audio was well done!

As for subtitles, subtitles provided are in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” includes a second disc (digital copy) while the first disc includes special features that are in High Definition for video and for audio, presented in Dolby Surround & Stereo. Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are also included.  Special features included are:

  • Filmmaker Commentary – Commentary features Director Patrick Tatopoulos, three producers and the visual effects supervisor.  I actually found the commentary quite informative and also entertaining.  The guys talk about the choices they had with this film and how they were on a really strict schedule because of talent schedules, they needed to make sure that certain shots were done in 1-2 period.  The guys also talked about how they wanted to do more but they had to stay strictly around the budget they had.  But one of the most important tidbits was the footage from the first “Underworld” film which utilized a blonde Sonja and then of course, with this film having a dark haired Sonja. A large majority of the decisions made were done due to lack of money in the budget and I would think that if they were to recut the first “Underworld”, they can now utilize footage from this this prequel for it.  A very informative commentary that “Underworld” fans will no doubt enjoy!
  • Cinechat – A two minute intro to Cinechat and of course, if you have BD-Live, you can chat with a friend or other people while watching the film.
  • Behind the Castle Walls: Picture-in-Picture – While watching the film, you can get a picture-in-picture screen featuring actual shooting of the footage and also interviews with the Director, cast and crew.
  • Lycanthropes Around the World Interactive Map – This is a map featuring Lycanthrope sightings in North America, Europe and Asia.  Personally, I don’t know how much of this is factual but I did bring up one about two children who were raised by wolves and when I checked on Google to do a search for the names.  The names came up for Geocities and Lycos sites dedicated to werewolves but no Wikipedia or news sites.  But an interesting, dark and kind of macabre stories of people who believe they were wolves and some that killed and resorted to cannibalism.
  • Underworld: Rise of the Lycans: From Script to Screen – (9:13) Interviews with the producers and the Director in regards to how the script was written in 4 weeks and pretty much these guys who worked on the previous two films knew what they wanted for this prequel.  But most importantly, when the previous Director Len Wiseman was unable to direct due to his involvement with the fourth “Die Hard” film “Live Free or Die Harder”, he became the writer and producer while they tapped Patrick Tatopoulos to direct.  Patrick is well-known for his work in special and creature design and effects for many blockbuster films and because this film utilizes plenty of effects, creatures and knew that this film would emphasize that, how the producers felt that he was perfect to direct this film.
  • The Origin of the the Feud – (19:58) This is the primary featurette in regards to “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” with interviews with the cast and crew.  The cast talk about their characters and what they wanted to bring to their own character and more.
  • Recreating the Dark Ages – (13:01) Interviews with the Director and Production Designer in creating the look and feel of the set, especially the castle and also the werewolves.   How their intention of utilizing blacks and blues but also the reds and bronze/gold.
  • Music Video: “Deathclub” By William Control – Fans of the band Aiden, will know lead-vocalist wiL Francis’s side project aka William Control and their music video for “Deathclub” is included on the special features.
  • PS3 Wallpaper

One thing that I enjoy about the “Underworld” films is the sense of its dark, goth style in conjunction with its brooding storyline of the vampires and the werewolves feuding against each other.   “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” is the dark “Romeo & Juliet” storyline of two lovers from two sides that despite and hate each other.

If there is one thing that people are familiar about the “Underworld” films, there is not much time for thorough character development.  These characters may have a brief time of happiness but immediately they are trying to survive or somehow ripped away from any happiness that they seek.  By no means is “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” a happy everlasting storyline.  It’s a tragic story about Lucian and Sonja and what intensified the feud between the vampires (Death Dealers) and the Lycans (werewolves/human hybrids).

Lucian’s story of being used by Viktor against humans and against his own kind is established but much is not said about Sonja, all the writers want you to know is that aside from being Viktor’s daughter, she’s madly in love with Lucian.  And that is all you should know.

But I enjoyed this film because it kept things simple.   No convoluted or ridiculous storyline that would go astray or become incomprehensible.   The storyline features characters that are quite interesting.  The Lycan Lucian and his lover, the vampire Sonja and Viktor, the father who will try to deny his daughter or the Lycan baby he raised to become a man any form of pleasure.

Michael Sheen (“Frost/Nixon”, “Blood Diamond”, “Underworld: Evolution”, etc.) did a great job as a Lycan who will not let any side tell him that being in love with a vampire is wrong.  It will be interesting as the actor will be part of another popular vampire film “The Twilight Saga: New Moon”.   Sheen plays that passionate but tortured person effectively, especially as his character has undergone so much, but is strong because of his love for Sonja.

Rhona Mitra (“The Practice”, “Boston Legal”, “Nip/Tuck”) as Sonja was good, I felt that she could have been used a bit more in the film.  We know that she is a strong vampire but it was more interesting to see her as a compassionate vampire.  It would have been nice to get a little back story of how her relationship with Lucian had started but nevertheless, the focus was not so much on their evolving relationship.  The film quickly establishes her love for Lucian and like Juliet, her father would deny her any happiness.

Which leads me to Bill Nighy (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”, “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”, “Valkyrie”, etc.) as Viktor.  Nighy does a magnificent job of playing the cold, elder vampire and as he was great in the first two “Underworld” films, you do see that compassion that he had felt for his daughter and to see how he changes after he discovers the relationship.

The storyline was well-planned and executed, first time Director Patrick Tatopoulos just had to take that screenplay and make the overall setting believable.  And because of his well-documented experience on special effects and creature designs, he was able to accomplish that gritty, gloomy world of vampires and werewolves, to make sure that the castle of the vampires looked effectively real and the final cut worked for me.

“Underworld” are films that have never been appreciated by the majority of the film critics but one thing that is consistent is that the intended audience who have enjoyed these films since the beginning have been passionate about it and continue to support it.   For me, I have always enjoyed films about vampires and werewolves and I actually dig the overall presentation and characters of the three films.

With that being said, if you enjoyed the first two films, “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” is a prequel that is just worth watching and worth owning on Blu-ray.






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