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Blu-ray Review: Underworld – Awakening

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Nearly 10 years ago the first Underworld arrived in theaters and introduced us to a new goth-flavored look at war between vampires and werewolves or lycans. Over the course of the series we have learned the war has been going on for centuries without humanity ever knowing. We also learn the story of the first vampire/lycan hybrid, a conspiracy between the races, and how our hero, Selene, became a target of pretty much everyone. A prequel film provided insight to the start of the war by taking us back to the beginning. Now, with the fourth film we get a story that simultaneously furthers the war and also feels a bit like a reboot, or at least a new beginning.

As Underworld: Awakening begins it is revealed that humanity is now in on the fight. Humanity has learned of these heretofore unknown races’ existence and have united in their efforts to exterminate them. If the creatures appearance has done one thing, it is to unite humanity against a common enemy (perhaps this is what the real world needs? Some crazy supernatural species to force us all to work together for a change). Human forces engage in a series of purgings and cleansings in an effort to wipe out the vampires and lycans.

Voice over accompanying a montage of scenes show the human forces are doing a pretty good job of wiping out the non-human creatures. Frankly, I think this story would have made a pretty entertaining film on its own, but that is not what this movie is about. As the montage ends we see Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and Michael (Scott Speedman) preparing to flee the city to escape the nearing human forces. Unfortunately, they are not fast enough and are captured.

Twelve years pass and Selene wakes up in a some sort of cryogenic freeze chamber in a scientific facility. As soon as she awakens from her prison slumber, she is set upon by a horde of security guards. She manages to escape only to discover the world has changed; the vampires are in hiding and the lycans are even worse off, reportedly near extinction.

With that information, what is this story about? Well, it is one that sees Selene adjusting to this new and dangerous world and discovering that she has a daughter, dubbed Subject 2 at the lab. It turns out the little girl is very important to the scientists at the lab, especially Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea). She is a hybrid child and is being used by Lane to develop a “cure.” As it turns out, this cure is really a serum to enhance lycan strength and size.

In any case, Selene is still known among the vampires as a turncoat who murdered the elders years earlier. So, she isn’t exactly welcome in the few remaining covens. No matter, she finds enough support to head back to the facility to rescue her daughter and maybe learn a little more of the truth, and perhaps where Michael is. Now, if that isn’t enough, there is also a human detective, Sebastian (Michael Ealy), who is tracking the vampire and lycan activity. He knows something big is going down and Selene is at the heart of it.

Underworld: Awakening is definitely a fun entry in the series and certainly more entertaining than the prior movie, Rise of the Lycans. It gets back to the story that started in the first two, tweaks it some, and gives us what feels like a fresh start for the franchise. We have a new direction for the franchise for a few more sequels.

Now, while I certainly enjoyed this movie, I think it could have been a bit longer. It almost feels like the we got the Cliff’s Notes version. The runtime clocks in at 89-minutes and I think it could have used a little more fleshing out. Perhaps a better look at this new world and what they’ve been up to, maybe more exploration of the animosity between the vampires and Selene, a little more with the daughter would have been nice, even more of Michael Ealy’s story. I don’t know. I liked it, the action was well done, Kate Beckinsale is great in the role, and the universe is fun. Perhaps the next one will give us a little more?

Audio/Video. The movie is presented in a ratio of 2.4:1 and looks really good. For a movie with such a limited color palette, this is a rather vibrant looking movie. The movie is drenched in blacks and what isn’t black is tinged blue. Everything is sharp and finally detailed. Faces look great, and even smaller details like damage to walls and weapons is accurately reflected. Something that I thought looked particularly good were the scenes with smoke in them; they just really look good. Another thing that helps are all of the reflective surfaces, including Kate Beckinsale’s costume, help bring some life to the darkness. However you look at it, this is a good looking transfer.

The audio track is a DTS-HD MA 7.1 affair and it is very, very active. This highly active track is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it is very immersive, surrounds are used a lot throughout the majority of them, as if they were intent on putting you right in the middle of the action. The problem is that this very active track often gets a little annoying with all of the bass rumbling through the majority of the film, enhancing every footstep, every gunshot. It is good and bad at the same time.

Extras.

  • Commentary. Producers Richard Wright and Gary Lucchesi, Directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, and Executive Producer and Visual Effects Supervisor James McQuaide populate this track and do a very good job discussing the production. This is a good track worth spending some time with.
  • Selene Rises. Exactly what the title says. This is about Selene and Kate Beckinsale, her importance to the series and return to the role.
  • Casting the Future of Underworld. This takes a look at the story and potential sequels as well as the introduction of new characters played by Theo James and India Eisley.
  • Resuming the Action. This looks at the bigger action sequences and the implementation of 3D technology in that action.
  • Building a Better Lycan.This looks into furthering the effects used to create the lycans.
  • Awakening a Franchise, Building a Better World. This looks at the sets and some of the bigger sequences, technology, effects, shooting in Vancouver, and other aspects of the shoot.
  • Blooper Reel. I always get a kick out of these. It is nothing more than your usual flubbed lines and various action bits.
  • Music Video. The song is “Heavy Prey” by Lacey Sturm and Geno Lenardo. Typical gothy sounding rock track from the soundtrack. It is all right but not terribly memorable.
  • Cracking the Underworld: Picture in Picture Experience. This feature is pretty cool with an onscreen trivia track that utilizes text bits and video clips from the rest of the series to give background information. It is nicely realized.

Bottom Line. It is rather interesting how much this feels like a reboot. Sure, we have the same main character, but a lot of the surrounding information has changed to the point where it isn’t necessary to know the first three movies. I think this was the right direction to go as it breathes some new life into the franchise. This is an enjoyable movie, but it could have used a longer runtime and a bit more content.

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