Underworld: Extended Edition (2003)
After seeing and enjoying the sequel Underworld: Evolution on its theatrical opening weekend, I decided to give the original film a second chance with the extended edition. It was clear then that I should’ve given Underworld a second viewing quite a while before then. With that viewing, things became more enjoyable, and more importantly, coherent in a second viewing (even with two solid years between viewings). Anyway, this version of the film has 12 minutes of additional footage with 11 minutes of replacement footage. The audio commentary with director Len Wiseman and cast members Kate Beckinsale & Scott Speedman help to mark the new footage (quite important to me only seeing the theatrical version once). More back story is revealed on our leads, and a few other tidbits are injected. Now, there’s really no extra gore here, and so, don’t let the “unrated” moniker get you excited. It’s just a marketing tool for horror fans, plain and simple. Now, I will endeavor to make a far briefer synopsis this time out.
A war between vampires and lycans has raged for numerous centuries, but the reasons why there ever was a war is unknown to most everyone. Digging into the past is forbidden amongst vampires, and that’s just the least of what’s forbidden. There are many unknowns that none question, but the vampire death dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) soon raises all those questions. After tracking a pair of lycans and subsequently engaging in a shootout in a subway station, she becomes convinced that they were after a human named Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman). She persists in unraveling this mystery, even more so when met with resistance from the decadent second-in-command Kraven (Shane Brolly). He pushes so hard against her that she becomes even more suspicious, and goes to desperate measures. She awakens elder vampire Viktor (Bill Nighy) a century ahead of schedule, and seeks his help. With his power of command and physicality, he easily reaffirms control of things. Meanwhile, the lycans’ plan slowly is revealed, but not fully until far later in the film. In any case, this plan has everything to do with Michael’s bloodline, and with the survival of the lycan species. Selene soon becomes Michael’s only ally when it seems all are gunning for him, and neither of them know why, not truly. Ultimately, all the lies, deceit, deception, and secrets are made known, and the consequences of them all will change everything for both species.
When I first watched this film, it was very confusing and tiring on a mental level. There were so many plot twists and turns that from one scene to the next I didn’t know who was a villain, an ally, or a hero. I was completely lost on the geography of this plot, let alone where these characters stood within it. By the end, nearly everyone you believed was a protagonist or an antagonist flipped sides, and it was all very confusing. I felt like Michael Corvin wondering just, “what the fuck is going on?” This time through, I was fully aware of where the plot was going, and everything made much more sense. A second viewing allows you to be “in the know” about the intentions, schemes, and treachery of all. It allows you to enjoy the film more since you are not trying to re-decipher the plot every few minutes.
Now, I still find the action sequences to be lacking. A shootout is a shootout – practically every action flick has one. Granted, it would be silly for the vampires and lycans to be doing battle with swords and battle axes since these are technologically evolved times, but after seeing the sequel, Underworld: Evolution, there are other ways to create multiple action sequences unique within one film and make them exciting and dynamic. Since I had already seen this movie, I knew what to expect from the action sequences, and so, I was able to enjoy them more. But still, they could have been much more impressive and unique.
I still give major praise for the effects in this film, both practical and computer generated. They are exponentially better than the cheesy, third-rate CGI in Van Helsing, and nothing here comes off cheap. It’s all wonderfully designed and executed. After watching some of the featurettes on disc two of this set, I got to appreciating the development of this film even more than before. I do retain the belief that this film could have benefited from a bit less dreary visuals. The desaturated colors really bring down the potential beauty of this motion picture. The Crow absolutely had an insane amount of darkness, and a heavily gothic look to it, but it is a beautiful film. It didn’t use desaturated colors, but instead used the contrast of light and dark. I believe the same could’ve been done here, and made the visuals much more compelling. Still, the cinematography is fabulous, and the production design is deeply intricate.
The music as well as the costume design is directly in line with that of The Matrix – industrial rock remixes and tight black leather n’ latex. Yes, it’s been done to death, but it certainly works fantastically well here. Kate Beckinsale looks all the more beautiful and sexy the more you see her. The lycans have a far more down n’ dirty look as they live a more low class lifestyle than the aristocratic vampires. I guess leather attire will always be some indefinable symbol of coolness. So, despite my previous negative attitude towards said choice in costume design, I really won’t knock it now. It’s cool, and I’ll leave it at that.
The quality of the acting doesn’t change in this extended cut, we just get more of it. I speak nothing negative about it, and knowing where things ultimately lead up to not only in this film, but the next, I truly understand the coldness of some characters. Those that survive this film definitely show far more depth in the sequel. Still, I still have to praise Michael Sheen for bringing such a great character like Lucian to life. He does an incredibly intriguing job with him, and by far, proves Lucian to be the most in-depth and emotionally invested character here. The rest of the cast has acting chops to spare, and while Speedman may seem miscast in this film, I think him coming into his own in the sequel really makes up for anything he may appear to lack in this film.
Again, what this extended cut gives us is more character moments. These are nice extra elements, but don’t change the complexion of the story or characters much at all. They just add some additional depth and back story. The pace of the film was already pretty slow, and thus, this only elongates the existing pace. There is a sex scene between Kraven and Erika, but there’s nothing gratuitous about it. It’s sexy and lustful, but no real nudity Beyond that, there are a few bits and pieces of scenes added back in that were likely just cut for time originally.
All in all, with two years later and a fresh perspective along with the knowledge of the sequel with me, I appreciate Underworld much more. The story does drag in the middle (even more so in this extended cut), but it really picks up near the end. I recommend that anyone who may have disliked or was disappointed with this film should give it a second viewing. Being aware of the plot and its progression will allow you to appreciate the overall film much more. Your mind is more free to enjoy it instead of trying to keep up with plot twists. Simply put, you’ll spend much less time being confused, and more time enjoying yourself. Checking out this extended cut should be an option for you, but it doesn’t offer anything greatly important regarding the plot, let alone the action, but does offer more on the characters themselves. Theatrical or extended is perfectly fine for a second viewing.