Towards the end of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, audiences are treated to another shot of thousands marching towards a castle before clashing with their enemy. It sets a wonderful sense of scale for this final conflict between werewolves and vampires, but then once inside the castle doors, it seems as if the battle is significantly smaller, losing its epicness and cheating the audience out of the large fight.
It seems cheap, and that’s because it is. Whereas the first two films could work around their budget constraints, Rise cannot. The intercutting between CG werewolves and men-in-suits is jarring. Plus, the suits are far more convincing.
Locations are few, with the film set in a few castle walls and a forest. The action, so kinetic and varied in the first two films, now seems to sell itself on decapitating as many werewolves as possible. Director Patrick Tatopoulos, best known for designing numerous creatures (including the wretched Godzilla ’98), cuts away regularly and uses the aggravating shaky cam to showcase the fights.
In fact, even during dialogue scenes, the movie is consistently moving. The camera never stops, whether panning down, panning up, spinning around, or shaking. It’s almost nauseating, and while common to modern film, it stands out here.
Fans of the franchise will appreciate the story (leaving everyone else out in the cold), one that details the start of the vampire/lycan war in an unspecified medieval age. The lycans, serving as slaves to the vampires, break from their confines with the help of their leader, Lucian (Micheal Sheen, reprising his role). Along for the ride is Rhona Mitra, fitting nicely into the female role dominated by Kate Beckinsale previously. She’s able to convey power while handling her own in the various sword-swinging brawls that ensue.
It’s odd to think a prequel doesn’t serve as character development, which is why the film singles itself out to the fanbase. Whereas the Star Wars prequels could introduce newcomers to Darth Vader, Rise needs the previous films for full development.
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is a disappointment only in that it’s the third film in the franchise, and it’s one that still has yet to find legs. There is a fine mythology at work, and the action is always energetic, yet these films fail to generate enthusiasm one the end credits roll. Each is forgettable, but mildly fun while they last. It’s a shame they don’t strive for anything more.
In tune with the previous films, Rise is blue. Very blue. Aside from the exaggerated red blood, you could call them B&W (blue and white). That doesn’t exclude them from looking spectacular, but it’s something to be aware of.
Sony delivers a razor sharp AVC encode, one loaded with fine detail, and outstanding blacks. Contrast does run hot obscuring detail, although these moments are small or brief. The encode is free of banding or noticeable artifacting. Image depth is spectacular, adding a wonderful dimensionality few films can match.
Shadow delineation is excellent, with a hint of black crush that seems intentional given how sporadic it is. The various blue hues look wonderful, bright and vibrant. Some light noise is evident in few brief scenes. Grain is left intact.
A 5.1 TrueHD mix suffers when it comes to dialogue. Quieter sequences, especially the romantic ones between Lucian and Sonja, are ridiculously low compared to the action, if not inaudible entirely. Unless you have the ability listen to your films at a theater-like volume, prepare to either play with the audio or turn on subtitles during these scenes.
That said, directionality is superb here. Swords clanging together result in a crisp, high pitch in all channels. Werewolves howl in each channel, and blood splatters across the sound stage. Bass is spectacular, accentuating the roars and footsteps of beasts. As the slaves work on the castle structure, hammers can be heard pounding away in each channel. It’s wonderful material.
A commentary from Patrick Tatopoulos, writer Len Wiseman, and producers James McQuaide, Richard Wright, and Gary Lucchesi is the first of a brief selection of bonus features. A picture-in-picture mode allows the viewer to see various art and interviews. These clips are not available anywhere else on the disc, annoyingly forcing the viewer to watch the entire movie again to see them.
Three featurettes run for 42 minutes, delivering the usual self-praise about the work done on the film. There’s little of interest here, although the feature on the look of the film is mildly enjoyable, explaining how Tatopoulos wouldn’t deviate from the style set by the other films.
A Lycanthrope interactive map details various werewolf sightings over the course of 5,000 years across the world, failing to include how much alcohol might have been involved in each of these sites. A music video is followed by Sony’s generic BD-Live support.
CineChat is a feature used here that lets fellow Blu-ray owners set up an online instant messaging chat while they watch the movie. Of course, the chat window takes up a lot of the screen, and couldn’t you just talk after the movie? It’s another one of those features created to push the interactivity of Blu-ray, yet serves little or no purpose. Just sign up for Twitter and talk there. That way, even people with the DVD can join in.