Underworld: Awakening (UK - BD RB)
Selene's back for another Underworld outing, so our Marcus tags along...
A plague has broken out across the world. People are becoming sensitive to the sunlight and turning into creatures of the night. A second strain turning people into wolf-like beasts also erupts and the decision is made to purge the infected, Vampires and Lycans alike. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) makes the decision to leave the city but when she is captured (along with Michael the Vampire / Lycan hybrid) her plans are put on hold while she’s held frozen in a lab for twelve years.
So the Underworld franchise is relaunched. With the return of the franchise’s star and some jazzy 3D photography. I can’t lie, I have a fondness for the first Underworld. It was one of the few films coming off of the back of The Matrix that I enjoyed and given the great visuals of Kate Beckinsale in skin tight rubber, brandishing two hand guns and doing all sorts of anime inspired jumps, flips and stunts, I really warmed to Selene as a character. Well for the first film at least. The sequel, Underworld Evolution was pretty bad, with a more action orientated spin on events and a Selene that went from being a cool customer that takes no shit from anyone to an almost damsel in distress. As for the third Underworld (which was a prequel about Michael Sheen’s character) I quite enjoyed it at the time. I couldn’t tell you the specifics but I remember coming away surprised by the fairly good story albeit a forgetful one.
So, anyway, Underworld is back. Selene gets defrosted from her ice block, which raises a question. She’s a vampire and to stop her they froze her in the sea yet now she’s naked, so at some stage did they thaw her, at which time she didn’t remember it or try to escape and then they stripped her and then re-froze her? This all seems a little like an excuse to get Beckinsale naked and laid bare(ish) for a cool visual to me and of course that is where Underworld: series is most comfortable. This is, once again a series of action set pieces with some just about cool images cobbled together with a flimsy screenplay and dialogue delivery that is neither dramatic or interesting enough to lift the franchise anywhere exciting.
That said, I’m not knocking the set pieces totally. For the most part they work. For starters the fights are pretty goddamn bloody and violent (like 18 certificate violent). Selene kicks a whole lot of ass and the Lycan’s and super Lycans ain’t afraid of getting their paws dirty. Of course this is Underworld so all the set pieces come with the expected slow motion jerk off shots of Lycan’s jumping through traffic or Selene sliding her way through the devastation she’s caused. It’s expected. It gets tired real fast but it’s expected.
The story for this relaunch unfolds quite quickly. With the search for Michael, the updates on the state of the Vampire clan, a Chris Martin-a-like Quint (Kris Holden-Ried) the super Lycan / Darth Maul of the story and Eve (India Eisley) the genetically created daughter of Selene and Michael, who slowly starts to feel like the future of this franchise. So expect Underworld 6 or 7 to be a direct to DVD sequel featuring a grown up Eve in the next ten years or less. At just under 90 minutes, this sequel is over pretty fast and by the end you realise this is just a big set up for the next Underworld sequel, which is a little cheeky but I guess it shows a confidence in the franchise to know another sequel can and probably will get made and at $160,112,671 worldwide taken at the box office balanced against a budget of only £70 million (the lowish budget is felt in the piss poor sets by the way) expect another Underworld next year.
Underworld may be a relaunch but it’s not doing anything to mix up the visuals. Underworld is still largely a cool mix of blue, black and white and while that’s getting pretty boring as it makes all other colours, like red decidedly dull and unnatural it carries well in HD and has many impressive elements. For starters blacks are solid with Beckinsale’s costume looking inky black and darker scenes still managing to look pretty striking. Detail and edges can get lost in the darkness from time to time. But given the right lighting small elments can look incredible. For example the red of the mangled dead body in Selene’s visions is strikingly detailed and grisly, especially when the cops investigate the body and some of the Lycan models have moments of looking pretty great too.
Textures on faces and largely blasted out with lighting, only offering hints at contours. The odd character has a vein or some stubble to increase the detail and older faces, especially Charles Dance’s, highlight the benefits of high definition better than others. This is certainly the best I’ve seen an Underworld film look. Sure the sharper image can highlight some of the ropier effects, dodgy shot for 3D backgrounds and CGI Lycans but considering the dark tones of this movie, the Blu-ray ray does a fantastic job of prettying up a largely bland looking flick for the most part.
The strong but snoozy generic score flits between just being there and ramming itself down your throat with power. Adding to that there’s a whole lot of swish, boom, rat-a-tat-tat sound effects that sound crisp and strong. The cracking ice in opening set piece sounds absolutely amazing and Selene’s visions are an attack on the senses. There’s always something to create ambience. Generally an airy wind sound to fill up underground lairs and what not or bassy giant Lycan’s running around but in amongst the strong machine gun fire, strong dialogue, lazy score and thumping bass is the odd clever effect to widen the sound scape. Even if you have to wade through the aggressive waves of sound to pick up on it most of the time. Make no mistakes, this is a hella strong audio track but nothing about it is all that pleasant, it’s just a full on attack.
Well for starters you get both 2D and 3D version of the film housed on the disc. I don’t have a 3D set up – so they’ll be no review for that her I’m afraid.
The commentary with producers Richard Wright and Gary Lucchesi, directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, and Executive Producer and Visual Effects Supervisor James McQuaide big up the return of Underworld and all the new additions 3D brings. The big group keep the commentary flowing nicely but really this one will only get die hard Underworld fans entertained.
The featurette selections are all pretty generic stuff. ‘Selene Rises’ (12:15 HD) and ‘The Cast’ (12:34) talk about the faces in the films. ‘Resuming the Action’ (08:52 HD), Awakening a Franchise, Building a Brutal World (18:55 HD)’ talk about the style of the film and 3D. There’s also a nice bit on the 3D Red cameras used, shooting at 120 frames per second which makes Underworld better apparantly. ‘Building a Better Lycan’ (10:21 HD) finishes the freaturettes talking about the model work and the CGI raising the bar.
There are also six 'Previsualizations Sequences' and three of those come with optional 3D.
The Blooper Reel (03:23 HD) is amusing and shows off the great Lycan suits better than the final film does. And finally we get the Heavy Prey. - Lacey Sturm of Flyleaf feat. Geno Lenardo music video. (03:26) and previews for The Grey, Pirahna 3dd and Lockout
Underworld Awakening or Underworld: The Lycans Strike Again as I like to call it isn’t too bad a movie. It puts Selene back in the driver’s seat and makes her more like the character from the first film which is a good thing but the flimsy, done a million times before plot struggles to be anything interesting even with the mountain of action set pieces attempting to prop it up and the feeling this is the first part of a bigger story left the end of this Underworld relaunch feeling a little underwhelming. Even so, the disc looks and sounds pretty great and there’s an okay splattering of pretty typical extras so fans should be happy with this one.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 14th May 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English
Extras: Commentary, Featurettes, Animatics, Music Video, Previews
Easter Egg: No
Director: Måns Mårlind & Björn Stein
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Charles Dance, Sandrine Holt, Theo James
Genre: Action and Thriller
Length: 88 minutes
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