Following the exploits of Kate Beckinsale's death-dealing Selene in the middle of a millennia-long battle between the stylishly gothic undead and the wooly, uncouth Lycans, the Underworld franchise remains a mildly entertaining horror-action series that unfortunately grows worse with each successive installment. The horror-fantasy soap-opera saga takes a bite out of Ultra HD as a five-movie, ten-disc Limited Edition Collection featuring satisfyingly good 4K presentations, bombastically engaging Dolby Atmos tracks, and the same set of supplements mixed with a few new surprises on each UHD disc. Overall, this collector's box set is recommended for loyal fans and looks great in the 4K library.
[Excerpt from our Underworld Blu-ray Review]
"On the surface, Underworld has a lot to offer action-horror fiends — it features plenty of shootouts and tussles, stuntwork galore, and a nice dose of seamless effects work. The storyline is well developed and keeps things clipping along at a welcome pace, while the script itself isn't weighed down by heavy-handed dialogue. Last but not least, its lead actors are engaging (particularly [Bill] Nighy and [Kate] Beckinsale), and the film's visual aesthetic provides an eye-pleasing, post-modern take on gothic designs through and through.
"Unfortunately, a number of issues undermine these selling points, at least for a hardcore genre fan like myself. First off, in its most obvious nod to The Matrix, most of the action in Underworld is disappointingly limited to bullets and other weapons. While this would arguably be fine if there were a glut of vampire-vs-werewolf films already out there, I personally felt robbed of the opportunity to finally see a big-budgeted toe-to-toe clash that involved the natural abilities of both creatures. On the few occasions where the beasts do fight hand-to-hand, the results are short and uninspiring." (Movie Rating: 3/5)
"Underworld: Evolution sees the return of just about the entire creative team behind the first film, which is certainly to its benefit. Not only stars [Kate] Beckinsale and [Scott] Speedman, but also director Len Wiseman (Beckinsale's real-life husband), screenwriter Danny McBride and many key production personnel. That helps give Evolution a sense of continuity oftentimes lacking in other horror franchises (such as the Blade trilogy) and in some ways, helps make it superior to the first film. The pacing is more consistent, the action more sustained and the actors all seem more comfortable in their roles though not yet bored with the characters. Wiseman's direction, too, is more assured — he knows this mythology well enough now, so gone is a lot of the draggy exposition of the first film (though there still is too much) and he handles the stunts and action with panache.
"Still, I can't help feel the same about Underworld: Evolution as I do about most of these action-horror flicks. The big problem is that there is just no real emotional dimension to the characters or the story. We just don't feel that much empathy for Selene and her plight and even less for the Lycan dramas of Michael. It's all CGI action scene after CGI action scene — good looking, but a bit soulless (odd, for a film about immortals). The film's almost fanatical mix of genres doesn't help either. Oftentimes, Wiseman seems so weighed down by trying to hit so many different beats — action, suspense, horror, romantic, tragedy, drama, comedy — that no single moment is given enough time to breathe. Perhaps that is the albatross every action-horror film must bear — in the race to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing much to anybody. Ultimately, that's the way I ended up feeling about Underworld: Evolution." (Movie Rating: 2.5/5)
"Rise of the Lycans is, more or less, an expansion of Underworld: Evolution's prologue, which was pretty much the coolest thing about Evolution (besides the winged guy). That short sequence flashed back to medieval times and, well, it showed pretty much what the original Underworld movie portrayed — vampires and werewolves killing each other, except this time they were in armor and had crossbows instead of automatic weapons.
"Amazingly, they managed to convince Michael Sheen to return as Lucian, the first of the Lycans, who are sort of like werewolves except they can mimic human form. (Straight up werewolves are just scary monsters all the time.) From birth, he's immediately enslaved by the snooty vampire upper class (led, once more, by a hammy Bill Nighy as Viktor), and so begins a kind of Spartacus/Gladiator slave revolt story that culminates in a Harryhausen-esque werewolf siege of the vampire castle." (Movie Rating: 3/5)
[Excerpt from our Underworld: Awakening Blu-ray Review]
"Underworld: Awakening is an interesting sequel, and it does what I thought no film in the saga could accomplish: move forward after the nightmare that was Evolution. The new setting is ideal, as there are finally real stakes added to the series, real tension and threats, as the underground dwelling, diseased Lycan leftovers, the heavily armed humans, and a new threat make for plenty of opportunities for action sequences...and when I say action sequences, I mean the same death-defying, utterly outrageous gun-kata that Underworld is known for.
"Action is the focus, more so than ever before, and the result makes up for the way the story is underutilized. I'd not go so far as to say the excessive combat is the reason the story is stilted, but the mere fact that this vampire vs werewolf story has done so much already left very few opportunities. With no surviving elder vampires and the over-powering of Selene due to her run-in with the originator of both clans in Evolution, there were only so many opportunities and avenues Awakening could take. Still, the way the police element and hidden vampire coven come across as one-dimensional, underdeveloped entities is not what one remembers about the film when it's all said and done, even if they strike as glaring flaws as the movie rolls along." (Movie Rating: 2.5/5)
[Excerpt from our Underworld: Blood Wars Blu-ray Review]
"Reprising her role as the infamous Death Dealer responsible for killing hundreds of Lycans, [Kate Beckinsale's Selene] explains that fans should pretty much give up on ever seen Michael Corvin — you now, the very reason for this franchise's creation — alive. Not for anything that makes logical sense, but because producers need a convenient excuse for Scott Speedman refusing to return to the franchise. After the first sequel, the actor decided to finally lay the character to rest six feet under, but the filmmakers cleverly exhumed him from his grave by keeping him in cryogenic sleep while introducing the unnatural couple's love child, Eve (India Eisley), who is also momentarily placed in her coffin for this slapdash continuation. But all that is neither here nor there because the only thing needed for resuscitating the series and keeping it from dying is Selene's magical blood, which now grants the lucky drinkers the ability to enjoy the warmth of sunrise. One such lucky bloodsucker is the ominously-named David (Theo James), setting up the crux of the movie's central plot and the not-so-subtle meaning behind the title.
"Our beautiful undead Selene is being pursued by both vamps and howlers this time around. No, wait! Isn't that the same plot of every Underworld movie, including the second sequel prequel where a Beckinsale lookalike is also hunted for her Romeo & Juliet romance with the family pet? So, we're basically watching the same recycled plot reshaped into another battle where crystal-blue eyes stand in between two warring clans. Thankfully, Selene and David's budding relationship stays in the friend zone where it belongs. But the ruthlessly power-hungry Semira (Lara Pulver) wants to drive a stake in between them by pretending to hire the pair to train an army of bloodsuckers against a large pack of shaggy, grubby dogs, led by Game of Thrones star Tobias Menzies. Given all the melodrama, backstabbing and underhanded dealings throughout, I'm surprised the villains didn't pass each other notes to learn they want the same thing." (Movie Rating: 2/5)
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
After the first and fifth films were released as standalone 4K Ultra HD releases, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment packages the entire five-movie franchise into a convenient ten-disc box set, dubbed Underworld: Limited Edition Collection. Each installment is given its own dedicated black, eco-vortex keepcase with glossy slipcovers, and all five movies are housed inside an attractive steely blue and golden box that opens from the top. A single flyer tucked in between the cases comes with five separate digital codes for each installment, unlocking 4K Dolby Vision HDR with Dolby Atmos streaming playback. Both the theatrical and extended, unrated cuts of Underworld are on a triple-layered, region-free UHD100 disc while the other four come in dual-layered, region-free UHD66 discs. On the opposing panels of each respective case is a dual-layered, region-free BD50 copy of the film, except for Evolution, which comes in a single-layered, region-free BD25 disc. At startup, the disc goes straight to an interactive main menu screen with the usual options, full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
Werewolves and vampires clash in the streets of Ultra HD equipped with a strong, mostly satisfying HEVC H.265 encoding, showing slightly better resolution mixed with its share of soft, blurry moments and several instances of mild aliasing. Struck from a 2K digital intermediate, the 2.40:1 image is awash in a thin layer of natural, film-like grain, but more significantly is the improved contrast balance and the intensely glowing whites. The light gleams off the latex outfits, water and spots of moisture with brilliant luminosity while specular highlights along the metallic edges of guns, cars and various other objects of silver pop with realism. Brightness levels are accurate and true, providing inky-rich blacks and deep, penetrating shadows without sacrificing minor details. The heavily stylized photography, unfortunately, doesn't allow for a varied palette. Nevertheless, the HDR10 presentation is showered in fuller reds and more vivid blues while the few bits of gold and yellow shine with better brilliance than its HD SDR counterpart. (HDR10 Video Rating: 72/100)
The sequel causes a raucous on UHD sporting an excellent HEVC encode that was struck from 2K digital intermediate. The upscaled 4K video enjoys a welcomed uptick in overall definition and clarity, showing distinct, clean lines in the surrounding foliage, Macaro's yacht hideout and the costumes. Some moments fall a tad shorter than others while the sharpest edges occasionally waver a tiny bit, but all in all, the picture is stable and consistent, offering a nice improvement over the Blu-ray. Notably, an enhanced contrast and brightness balance shower the action in vivid, eye-popping whites, intensely dynamic, crisp specular highlights and lots of deep, velvety blacks while shadow delineation maintains outstanding visibility within the darkest corners, providing 2.35:1 image with appreciable dimensionality. As with its predecessor, the heavily-stylized cinematography doesn't leave much room for colors except for a variety of blues, which notably looks fuller and more saturated than its HD SDR counterpart. The few other visible colors, particularly the reds and yellows, appear more spirited and animated, making this HDR10 presentation, which is awash in fine layer of grain, a great step-up. (HDR10 Video Rating: 80/100)
Underworld: Rise of Lycans
The third chapter in the series raids the UHD fortress with another great-looking 4K video that was upscaled from a 2K digital intermediate. The HEVC-encode picture enjoys sharper details in the costumes and the stage design. Beneath the stylized photography, viewers can still plainly make out the grim and dirt of the Lycan prisoners as well as the pits and pockmarks in the stones of their cells. It's not a significant jump from its Blu-ray predecessor, but the uptick is nonetheless noticeable. However, the more noteworthy improvement comes by way of the enhanced contrast and brightness balance, showering the visuals in luxuriously rich, velvety blacks and excellent visibility within the darkest, murkiest shadows, providing the 2.35:1 image with an appreciable depth and lovely cinematic appeal. Specular highlights add a dramatic, vivid glow to all the watery surfaces and a realistic sheen to various metallic objects. As with the previous two, the limited color palette only leaves room for warmer tones, like the fiery, marigold orange of torches and the deep, crimson red of blood. Nevertheless, the bluish tint of the cinematography now appears bolder, more pronounced than its HD SDR counterpart but also better variation between the entire spectrum, making for a satisfying watch. (HDR10 Video Rating: 78/100)
The fourth installment awakens Ultra HD with an exceptional, near-reference HEVC H.265 encode, making it the best-looking disc of the entire set. Coming from a 2K digital intermediate, the upscaled 4K transfer arrives with razor-sharp details, exposing every wrinkle and crease in Selene's latex-leather outfits. While boasting spot-on contrast and brightness balance, viewers can plainly make out every nook and cranny within the darkest, murkiest shadows and the finer aspects of the vampire's underground lair. Black levels are silky rich from start to finish, and specular highlights provide a dynamic, radiant brilliance in the hottest spots without washing over the finer details while still supplying various watery, metallic or latex surfaces with a narrow, sparkling shine. Similar to its UHD brethren, the HDR10 presentation comes out of hiding with a limited monochromatic palette that favors the bluish-steely aesthetic with the occasional splashes of scarlet reds and fiery orange blasts in the gunfire, offering the most impressive upgrade in the entire lot. (HDR10 Video Rating: 92/100)
Underworld: Blood Wars
The fifth and final chapter in the series lands with the same strong and mostly satisfying HEVC encode as the 2017 standalone release. Coming from a digital source, the native 4K transfer displays razor-sharp lines in Semira's baroque house, the elaborate gothic furniture and the shiny, sterile gym where young vamps train to fight. We can also distinctly make out the intricate details, jewelry and ultra-fine threading in the highly ornate costumes, and the tiny wrinkles and creases in Selene's tight latex suit are plainly visible. As a result of the stylized photography, black levels are noticeably rich and luxurious with inky, velvety shadows and a stygian shine in the clothing, latex outfits, luxury cars and various furniture. However, this appears to be at the sacrifice of the finer details, making it very difficult to see the smaller items in the darkest portions of the 2.40:1 image. In spite of a heavily subdued contrast balance, specular highlights are radiant, revealing excellent detailing in various sources of light and gunfire while giving Selene's latex outfits and cars an attractive, realistic shine. As with the others in the series, there is little color to speak of in this deliberately dark and gloomy movie, but the few flashes of blue are electrifying and blood is a scarlet red while gunfire and explosions add fiery blazes of orange. (HDR10 Video Rating: 76/100)
Supernatural soldiers raid home theaters armed with an excellent Dolby Atmos soundtrack that makes great use of the ceiling speakers with pleasing directionality and movement across the entire room. The second half, in particular, erupts with the sounds of combat while a barrage of gunfire reverberates from every direction, and specific skirmishes are discretely heard overhead, layered with debris flying everywhere to create a satisfying dome-like effect. A majority of the atmospherics travel along the sides and into the rears. Imaging has a broad, highly-engaging soundstage with a variety of background activity fluidly moving into the front heights, generating a huge, half-dome wall of sound. Only gripe is an oddly limited mid-range, with the loudest segments coming off too bright and ear-piercing with mild hints of distortion in the upper peaks. Nevertheless, conversations remain well-prioritized and intelligible, and a thunderous, commanding low-end provides palpable weight to the action, even dipping into the ultra-low depths well 10Hz at extremely high decibels (bass charts). However, the bass can occasionally sound muddy, sloppy and unnecessarily loud in some spots. (Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 84/100)
Compared to the first movie, the Atmos track for the sequel is both better and similar all at the same time with the most disappointing aspect being an average if not also rather disappointing low-end. If its predecessor ran a bit too hot in the lower frequencies, the follow-up feels somewhat lacking by comparison, which is not to say there is a shortage of bass. In fact, the soundtrack comes with a strong, ample mid-bass that occasionally hits hard and with plenty of couch-shaking force. It's not quite at the level as the first movie, but it is nonetheless impressively robust with a hard-hitting mid-bass (bass charts). Nevertheless, the object-based track makes outstanding use of the heights, consistently filling the room with a variety of ambient effects, like the leaves and trees blowing in the wind or debris raining down from above, generating an immersive hemispheric soundfield. The mid-range is not particularly extensive or noteworthy, but it is nonetheless clean and well-defined, maintaining excellent detailing during the loudest segments. All the while, dialogue is precise and crystal-clear above the chaotic visuals, making a fun and engaging listen. (Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 88/100)
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Once again, we're met with the same prevailing issue as the previous two where the Dolby Atmos soundtrack has its positives along with some mild disappointments. Thankfully, the low-end is not of much concern here, as it delivers a strong, powerful mid-bass and provides the action with a commanding, weighty presence that dips as low as 22Hz on a few occasions, namely wherever the Lycans make an appearance (bass charts). However, this time around, the ceiling channels are not quite as active as the first two movies, leaving several scenes where mild ambient effects would be expected feeling noticeably silent and somewhat lackluster. Occasionally, a few sounds convincingly travel from the surrounds to the heights, generating a wider, more expansive soundfield here and there, but overall, it's not as immersive as the others. Nevertheless, the design exhibits an outstanding mid-range with appreciable distinction in the upper frequencies while providing the music with a great deal of warmth and fidelity. All the while, vocals are well-prioritized and consistently intelligible from start to finish. (Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 84/100)
Since first hitting Blu-ray ten years ago, the lossless audio of the fourth installment served as a phenomenal demo disc for hardcore bass heads, and this new Dolby Atmos soundtrack continues to deliver that wonderful, room-shaking bass. As with its HD predecessor, the highlight demo scene is when the huge "Super-Lycan" makes an appearance, and the entire room shakes with each pounding footstep, pushing the low-end below the 20Hz depths and hitting 25Hz at impressive decibels. At the same time, the couch vibrates with each gunshot fired from Selene's full-auto Berettas (bass charts). All the while, the mid-range maintains crystal-clear definition in the higher frequencies, delivering impressive distinction in the loud clanging of metal, the high-pitched roars and the crackling, mood-setting thunder. Speaking of which, little bits of debris are distinctly heard flying in every direction, the drops of water shower down directly above and various other atmospherics flawlessly pan overhead, generating an immersive hemispheric soundfield that stays fairly consistent from start to finish. Dialogue is clear and well-prioritized amid the loudest moments, making for a fun and highly-engaging object-based mix. (Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 96/100)
Underworld: Blood Wars
Like the previous entry, the fifth movie in the series crashes into home theaters with another bombastically engaging, reference-quality Dolby Atmos soundtrack, as a variety of activity fills the entire room the loud clap of thunder in the distance, the echoes of growling Lycans invading the coven and a barrage of bullets fly in every direction. Generating an amazing and splendidly immersive dome-like feel, the visuals are constantly layered with the loud clap of thunder in the distance, the echoes of growling Lycans invading the coven and a barrage of bullets flying in every direction. The three front channels display lots of background activity and convincing movement to create expansive, spacious imaging, exhibiting crisp, sharp detailing during the loudest, most ear-piercingly chaotic moments while vocals remain distinct and precise at times. As with other installments in the series, this fifth entry arrives with a thunderous, wall-rattling low-end, providing each gunshot, explosion, punch, and stomp of a Lycan's paw with a heavy, potent feel. And with a couple moments here and there reaching the ultra-low 20Hz depths (bass charts), this lossless mix delivers a monstrously satisfying listen. (Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 96/100)
The same set of bonuses from previous home video releases of each film have been recycled for this Ultra HD edition of the franchise but are available on the Blu-ray copy while the UHD discs feature various throwaway supplements, some of which are new to this collection.
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Underworld: Blood Wars
The horror-fantasy soap-opera saga Underworld follows the exploits of Kate Beckinsale's death-dealing Selene while also detailing the millennia-long battle between the stylishly gothic undead and the wooly, uncouth werewolf Lycans. Unfortunately, each successive chapter fails in resuscitating this pulse-challenged series after the first initial entry and slowly descends it to its eternal slumber in that last and final installment. The popular horror franchise takes a bite out of 4K Ultra HD as a five-movie, ten-disc Limited Edition Collection where each film is given its own keepcase with separate slipcovers, all of which are housed inside an attractive, highly-stylized box. Featuring 4K HDR10 video presentations that range from satisfyingly good to excellent and bombastically engaging Dolby Atmos soundtracks, each case comes with the same set of supplements as their Blu-ray counterparts along with a few new surprises on each UHD disc. Overall, the collector's box set is recommended for loyal fans and looks great in the 4K library, but others will likely want to wait for the eventual individual releases.
All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about the gear used for this review.