Blu-ray Review: Underworld Awakening



Underworld Awakening is the fourth installment in the Underworld franchise, and the third to star Kate Beckinsale as the leather-clad, ass-kicking, Lycan (werewolf) hunting vampire Selene. It’s been six years since Beckinsale has made an appearance in the series, (the 2009 installment, Rise of the Lycans, was a prequel) and she has never looked better. The same could be said about the series itself – at least from a technical standpoint.

Awakening is set not long after the events of Underworld: Evolution, where Selene and her hybrid (half vampire, half lycan) lover, Michael, had just defeated their enemies once again, and could finally be together. Unfortunately for them, the humans have now found out about the existence of vampires and lycans and set out to exterminate them all. That’s where this film starts, and right away things feel a bit different from its predecessors. While the look is slick, and cool, it’s also a little to clean, and lacks the gritty, gothic tones that helped give the lore of the world some credibility.

Though that’s likely because it’s a new world now. At the start of the film, Selene is going to meet Michael so that they can “get away.” Wherever it is they were planning on going is never revealed, as the humans intervene and take them down. In the next scene, alarms are going off and Selene breaks out of a prison she learns she’s been kept locked up for twelve years. During her search for Michael, Selene comes across another hybrid: a young girl named Eve (India Eisley). Now, with the help of a rebellious vampire named David (Theo James) Selene must protect Eve from a pack of lycans that are bigger and stronger than any lycan she’s encountered before, who plan on using Eve’s DNA to help make their species immune to silver.

Fans of the series will be sad to see that Scott Speedman doesn’t reprise his role as Michael. Of course, Michael has but a few scenes in this entry, and no lines, so one could argue that Speedman likely didn’t want to be a part of it; however, according to an interview he was never asked. Here’s hoping that they change their minds for future installments, as even though Selene is the central focus, and it’s hard to always have something for both of them to do, Michael is a major character that the fans love. And with the series going in a different, more fast-paced action oriented direction; it’d be better to just write the character off instead of replacing Speedman with another actor.

The new direction I speak of is one that delivers a film full of explosions, car chases, shootouts and bloody battles. This isn’t a bad thing for the most part, as the film is definitely entertaining as far as action films go; however, it’s the 89-minute run time that leaves more to be desired. The back story, lore and character depth (to a degree) that helped beef up the previous entries is nowhere to be seen in this installment. The new faces never really leaving an impression outside of Eve, simply due to the fact that she’s so integral to the new story.

The focus this time out is definitely the action, with some really great battles taking place throughout. The opening scene where Selene is ripping through soldiers on her way to meet Michael is incredibly well done, as is the equally impressive escape scene from the laboratory when she awakens 12 years later. There are also a couple of great encounters between Selene and a lycan that represents the new breed the species is fighting for. All the action flows incredibly well, and is fun to watch, and if that’s all you’re looking for, odds are you’ll be quite satisfied by the time the film is finished.

As far as storytelling goes, it seems Underworld is going the route that the Resident Evil franchise has been living off of for the past decade. Resident Evil has come out with a new installment every two or three years since 2002, with the fifth chapter coming this September. Resident Evil films have a built in audience and they know it, and with that knowledge, it allows them to end each film on a cliffhanger note that will lead into the next chapter a couple of years later. Fans know this, and eagerly await it, which is why that franchise has done so well. It can be argued that Underworld has that same guaranteed fan base, though whether or not they’ll continuously show up every couple of years for what little story was laid out this time around remains to be seen.

As far as acting goes, Beckinsale is fantastic once again as Selene, and as fit as ever. There aren’t many action franchises that have a female lead (Resident Evil may actually be the only other one at the moment) and Beckinsale has helped prove that women can do backflips while unloading duel wielding pistols into her enemies just as good as the next guy – and even better in some cases.

Directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein both do a great job here, really giving the action a slick, smooth feel to it that helps the film flow together quite well. While the story isn’t great by any means, there are a couple of great emotional moments they’re able to fit in; though Beckinsale’s terrific delivery in these scenes doesn’t hurt either. With the series likely continuing on, it wouldn’t be surprising to see these two behind the lens once again, as they seem to have the new formula down pat.

Underworld Awakening is a fast, fun action film – with an emphasis on fast. Fans of the series will either love or hate the new direction, and that will likely determine its fate heading into the future. And while fast and fun is always good when it comes to action flicks, when all is said and done, Awakening may leave some viewers wishing there was more to sink their teeth into.

The video transfer for Underworld: Awakening is superb. It’s got some brilliant cool colour tones and the blacks come through quite strong where needed. Overall, it definitely delivers the eye-candy that a film like this requires. The audio is also just as good, with some awesome sound effects and music helping to excel the action sequences as far as their intensity is concerned. Definitely a great transfer through and through.

The special features found on the disc are actually incredibly thorough and cover a lot of ground as far as returning to the series is concerned, as well as multiple creation processes. There’s over an hour of behind-the-scenes featurettes that can be played together or watched individually.

Selene Rises – This featurette runs at just over 10 minutes in length, and sees the directors, producers, actors and Kate Beckinsale herself all talk about the character of Selene, and Beckinsale’s portrayal of her.

Casting the Future of Underworld – This twelve and a half minute featurette is a bit more proof that the franchise is heading down a “chapter” type route with recurring characters. Here we have the filmmakers talking about the new characters, alongside the actors who play the parts.

Resuming the Action – This is the shortest featurette, coming in at just under nine minutes in length and we hear from the directors, and producers, as well as Beckinsale who all talk about the stunts and action sequences in the film. There’s also a lot of focus on the 2nd unit director and stunt coordinator Brad Martin, and what everyone thinks of working with him.

Building a Better Lycan – This is an interesting featurette that runs at just over ten minutes in length and goes into the making of process of the lycan costumes, how they’ve changed from the previous installments, and the shooting of their scenes.

Awakening a Franchise: Building a Brutal New World – This is a feature that comes in at just under 19 minutes in length, and it covers how the filmmakers went about creating this new world for the franchise to take place in. There’s a lot of interesting technical information here, and how they used real city landscapes to craft the world, and how 3D makes it so that cutting corners isn’t so easy, as the depth has to be there to enhance the viewing experience.

Aside from these behind-the-scenes features, there’s also:

Filmmakers’ Commentary – There are actually five people involved in this commentary, and it works and flows quite well. Fans will definitely want to hear what everyone has to say, as they go into quite some detail throughout regarding many of the scenes and what went into them. Those involved are directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, producers Richard Wright and Gary Lucchesi, and executive producer and visual effects supervisor James McQuaide.

Blooper Reel – Three and a half minutes of the crew having fun with their mistakes.

“Heavy Prey” Music Video by Lacey Sturm featuring Geno Lenardo

And a Blu-ray exclusive:

Cracking the Underworld: Picture-in-Picture Experience – Which allows you to watch the film while trivia and pieces of history and lore about the franchise pops up.

Underworld: Awakening has a lot going for it as far as a fast-paced action film goes, though those looking for a deeper story that adds to the lore as the previous installments have will find it lacking.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Underworld: Awakening. Directed by: Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein. Written by: Len Wiseman, John Hlavin, J. Michael Straczynski and Allison Burnett. Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Charles Dance, India Eisley, Stephen Rea, Michael Ealy. Running time: 89 minutes. Rating: R. Released on Blu-ray: May 8, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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