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SCREEN GEMS

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Måns Mårlind, Björn Stein
Cast:
Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Michael Ealy, Theo James, India Eisley, Sandrine Holt, Charles Dance, Kris Holden-Ried
Writing Credits:
Len Wiseman (and characters, story), John Hlavin (and story), J. Michael Straczynski, Allison Burnett, Kevin Grevioux (characters), Danny McBride (characters)

Tagline:
Vengeance Returns.

Synopsis:
Ultimate Vampire Warrioress Selene (Kate Beckinsale) escapes imprisonment to find herself in a world where humans have discovered the existence of both Vampire and Lycan clans, and are conducting an all-out war to eradicate both immortal species.

Box Office:
Budget
$70 million.
Opening Weekend
$25.306 million on 3078 screens.
Domestic Gross
$62.321 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 7.1
English Descriptive Audio Service
French DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
Spanish

Runtime: 89 min.
Price: $35.99
Release Date: 5/8/2012

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, Producers Gary Lucchesi and Richard Wright, and Executive Producer/Visual Effects Supervisor James McQuaide.
• “Cracking the Underworld” Picture-in-Picture Experience
• Five Featurettes
• Blooper Reel
• Music Video
• Previews


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Underworld: Awakening [Blu-Ray] (2012)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 2, 2012)

Surprising realization number one: 2012’s Underworld: Awakening marked the fourth entry in the franchise. I actually thought it was the fifth or sixth film in the series, but it turns out we’ve gotten a new Underworld like clockwork every three years since the first one in 2003.

Surprising realization number two: I never saw any of the other sequels. I thought that I’d checked out at least one of the other films over the years, but nope – I viewed the original 2003 movie and that was it.

I figured that Awakening offered a good chance to catch up and revisit the franchise nine years after its start. A prologue reminds us of the eternal war between the vampire and werewolf/”Lycan” species and how the undead Selene (Kate Beckinsale) became a top-notch warrior. We learn that mankind eventually discovered the existence of the non-humans and took measures to eradicate the “infected”. This led to all-out war between the humans and both the Lycans and the vampires.

Along the way, Selene got injured and captured by the humans, and this caused to her cryogenic imprisonment for 12 years. Much changed over that span, and by now, the humans have nearly won the war. The lab lets Selene go so they can use her to find the escaped “Subject Two”. We follow her adventures and the twists that ensue when she discovers “Subject Two”: Eve (India Eisley), Selene’s daughter who possesses her own unique skill set.

Going into Awakening, I worried that the fact I’d missed 2006’s Evolution and 2009’s Rise of the Lycans would make it tough to follow or dig into the new film’s story. After all, with two full films of development since the original Underworld, you’d expect a viewer to feel a little out of place.

However, that’s not the case, as the prologue brings the neophyte – or simply under-experienced – viewer up to snuff. I’m sure it leaves out some of the nuances that received exploration across the three prior films, but it acts as a more than capable recap.

And as it turns out, the backstory barely matters in the paper-thin narrative that comes from Awakening. Experienced viewers can toss out what they learned in the first three films, and everyone can essentially ignore my plot synopsis as well, for none of that matters. While Awakening maintains its connection to the rest of the series, it does so little to develop the themes or characters that they’re nearly irrelevant. The film could’ve simply come as part of the Underworld universe with no continuation of characters and it would’ve worked the same.

Yes, I know that the Selene/Eve story would’ve had to be explained in an alternate way, but it still wouldn’t have functioned any differently. That’s because nothing in Awakening serves to explore the characters, the backstory or much of anything else. Narrative elements exist in the most threadbare manner and fail to engage the viewer. They’re there to set up action and that’s about it.

Which becomes a major flaw, partially because the action’s not really any good. Awakening pours on quite a few set pieces, but none of them satisfy. They feel generic and without any real spark or sense of excitement; they’re completely rote and uninventive.

Without strong action to carry the day, we’re left with the story and characters, and they don’t fly. As I noted, they’re flat and lifeless throughout the movie, so if the action doesn’t dig its hooks into us, nothing else will. The character scenes feel like little more than fodder to lead us into action sequences, so we simply find one leaden segment after another, without anything to enliven the proceedings.

I must admit I feel surprised at how little the mother/daughter subplot adds to the film – and by “how little”, I mean “not at all”. Perhaps the producers thought this theme would add a nice Ripley/Newt sensibility, with all the ensuing emotions. It doesn’t; instead, the Selene/Eve sequences come across as dull and gratuitous.

Add to that effects that remain dodgy after all these years – with Lycans who look like they’re made of plastic most of the time – and the Underworld series shows no signs of life with Awakening. Perhaps this is par for the course – I didn’t think much of the original film, either – but it still comes as a disappointment. I thought the franchise had promise nine years ago and still feel that way, but Awakening delivers a bland action experience.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A/ Audio A-/ Bonus B+

Underworld: Awakening appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Across the board, this was an excellent presentation.

At all times, sharpness looked terrific. I noticed no signs of softness or tentative visuals here, as the movie was consistently tight and well-defined. Moiré effects and jagged edges remained absent, and I failed to discern any edge haloes, artifacts or print flaws in this smooth image.

In terms of colors, expect an exceedingly blue palette here. The movie came bathed in blues from start to finish, with hardly any other hues on display. Within those parameters, the tones seemed solid. Blacks were deep and dense, while low-light shots demonstrated nice clarity and delineation. I felt impressed with this top-notch visual presentation.

You’ll find more positives from the engulfing DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack of Awakening. With a lot of action scenes at its disposal, the movie boasted many opportunities for immersive action, and it made the most of these. From various supernatural creatures to vehicles to explosions to gunfire, a variety of action elements filled the room and created a great sense of place. The elements seemed well-placed and blended together in a clean way to occupy all the front and rear channels with lots of engaging information.

I also felt the quality of the audio satisfied. Speech was distinctive and crisp, without harshness or other concerns. Music appeared vivid and full, while effects came across as dynamic and bold. We got plenty of tight, deep bass response in this consistently strong soundtrack.

Awakening comes with a pretty sizable roster of extras. We open with an audio commentary from directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, producers Gary Lucchesi and Richard Wright, and executive producer/visual effects supervisor James McQuaide. All five sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion of story/character subjects, various effects and visual design, cast and performances, action and stunts, sets and locations, and shooting 3D.

Expect a peppy and reasonably informative chat here. The various participants mesh well and ensure that the commentary moves at a brisk pace. It’s not the richest movie discussion I’ve heard, but then again, Awakening isn’t exactly a deep flick, so the track covers it fairly well.

Next comes a picture-in-picture experience called “Cracking the Underworld”. This isn’t quite as exciting as one might expect from this sort of feature. Most provide interviews and behind the scene footage, but this one is essentially a glorified trivia track.

Throughout the film, we get occasional text notes about the Underworld series, as we learn about the species and history of the franchise’s universe. We also see snippets from the prior Underworld films along the way. All of this adds up to a decent text commentary but not a particularly involving one, especially because the blurbs don’t pop up with great frequency; they’re not terribly sporadic, but it would’ve been nice if “Cracking” used the dead space for filmmaking details.

Five featurettes fill a total of one hour, two minutes, 55 seconds. These include “Selene Rises” (12:14), “Casting the Future of Underworld” (12:33), “Resuming the Action” (8:52), “Building a Better Lycan” (10:20) and “Awakening a Franchise: Building a Brutal New World” (18:53). Across these, we hear from Lucchesi, Wright, Mårlind, Stein, McQuaide, producer Tom Rosenberg, screenwriter/producer Len Wiseman, costume designer Monique Prudhomme, 2nd unit director/stunt coordinator Brad Martin, executive producers David Coatsworth and David Kern, makeup FX supervisor Todd Masters, Lycan performer Dan Payne, Celluloid visual effects Andreas Gutsche, stereographer Kasimir Lehto, production designer Claude Pare, and actors Kate Beckinsale, India Eisley, Theo James, Michael Ealy, Charles Dance, Stephen Rea, and Kris Holden-Ried.

The featurettes cover bringing Beckinsale back for another film and aspects of her character/performance, additional notes about the narrative and participants, cast and acting, stunts and effects, shooting 3D, creature design and makeup, locations and various visual elements.

If you choose to watch these featurettes, you can safely skip “Selene” and “Casting”; both are little more than fluffy puff pieces. Matters improve substantially with “Action”, however, and both “Lycan” and “Building” work pretty well, too; all three offer good facts about the film and throw in nice behind the scenes footage.

Normally we get outtakes for comedies, but even the humorless Awakening delivers a Blooper Reel. It runs three minutes, 21 seconds and shows a mix of mistakes and silly moments from the set. It’s typical fare that becomes theoretically more interesting just due to the contrast between the somber movie and the goofiness of the blooper concept.

After this we find a music video for “Heavy Prey” by Lacey Sturm Featuring Geno Lenardo. This comes with the standard complement of film clips, but it almost sorta kinda attempts its own storyline. Mostly it acts as an excuse to show us lots of the film and Sturm’s relentless emoting. She’s attractive but too annoying to make this a watchable video. The song’s an overwrought mess, too.

The disc opens with ads for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, The Woman in Black, Starship Troopers: Invasion and the Resident Evil: Damnation video game. These also appear under Previews along with clips for The Raid: Redemption and 21 Jump Street. No trailer for Awakening pops up here.

With four films under its belt, the Underworld series continues to chug along, but not with compelling results. Awakening feels like a regurgitation of ideas from other, better action flicks and lacks personality and excitement. The Blu-ray delivers excellent picture and audio as well as a reasonably useful compilation of supplements. Maybe die-hard Underworld fans will like Awakening, but it bored me.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.25 Stars Number of Votes: 4
25:
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main