If you live in Australia then names such as Carl Williams, Mark, Jason and Judy Moran, Mick Gatto, Andrew "Benji" Veniamin and Tony Mokbel are probably household names. If you don't live here then all you need to know is that these were the main players in what is arguably Australia's most violent, and yet interesting, criminal period - the Melbourne Gangland War. Lasting for around a decade the war ended up costing the lives of some 36 people before it came to an end.
Underbelly is the compelling dramatisation of Melbourne's infamous gangland killings, which also depicts the rise and fall of career criminal Carl Williams who sought to be the king of Melbourne's underworld.
Shown on Australian TV screens in 2008 (except in Victoria where a Supreme Court order bans it from being shown or sold to this day) Underbelly was a phenomenal success for Channel 9, and had millions around the country glued to their TV sets. This Uncut version doesn't add in too much new except some additional nudity - perhaps a few minutes here and there - not no major scenes as far as we can tell.
Despite a couple of minor changes from actual events this 13-part series follows the events of the gangland war fairly closely. Despite their ultra-violent nature it's hard not to have some emotion for the characters, be it a pure hatred, or twisted admiration, for them. Aiding in this cause is the brilliant cast who nail the characters perfectly and you can totally believe they are the real people.
In terms of storyline, well you can't write something as lengthy and twisted as this - at least not with so many great characters and twists and turns. Direction from Tony Tisle is impressive with the series being fast paced, and also somewhat unique looking as well. End result; this is a 13-part series that will have you hooked from start to finish, and probably more then once.
Underbelly is one of the greatest mini-series ever shown on Australian TV screens - or at least those on which it was permitted to be seen (its banned in Victoria). While the two more recent seasons have been a bit slicker in their presentation, Melbourne's gangland war is something which not even Hollywood could think up. The characters are engrossing, and at times very likable despite their actions, the actors not only look like their real-life counterparts, but act the part too.
Underbelly Uncut is presented on Blu-Ray in the TV series' original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 using the AVC MPEG-4 codec and it's a pretty nice looking release. Colours look natural, and fine detail is present as you would expect from a 1920 x 1080i resolution transfer. The fact that this release isn't 1080p (progressive) may disappoint some, however this matches the original airing quality, and given the higher bitrate this looks better then we recall the original airing (which at the time was one of the best looking TV shows on my new 46" 1080p LCD TV). It must also be said that this Blu-Ray release is much improved over the DVD release.
Any disappointments beyond that have to lie with the original source material. At times contrast levels are blown out, especially when looking from inside to exteriors. Shadow detail occasionally seems a bit lacking, but overall this transfer, which often hits around 30Mbps, far exceeds what one would expect from a TV series.
In any case the Dolby Digital 2.0 track, with a 640kbps bitrate certainly sounds fantastic and as good as one could expect from a stereo mix. Each episode also has a third English Audio Descriptive audio option, again, each of which is encoded with a Dolby Digital 2.0 track encoded at 640kbps.
There are only a couple of extras on this, both to be found on the third disc in the set including the "Day of Reckoning" documentary which wasn't on the original DVD release. As expected there is nothing on this set which covers Carl Williams death in custody only a couple of months ago on April 19. Let's see what you can expect then...
Behind The Scenes: The Underside (31:26/HD): Presented in High Definition with Dolby TrueHD 2.0 audio, this is a decent half hour look at the creation of this TV series. It replays the scenes a little too much, but offers some decent insight into making this massive production.
Carl Williams: Day of Reckoning (35:01/HD): Hosted by Peter Hitchener this National Nine News Special is a brilliant look at what has happened to Carl Williams and where he would have spend the majority of his remaining life (had he not been killed earlier this year) in Barwon Prison. It's a pretty decent featurette which was filmed on the night Carl Williams was jailed.
Review By: Dave Warner