Underworld: Awakening Review

Underworld: Awakening is the child of the franchise in that it’s jumping up and down while screaming for attention. It’s immediate, the prologue bringing non-followers into the fold and the gunshots begin to fire. Here’s the thing: the prologue is leagues ahead of the full narrative on the interesting scale.

Awakening begins after the “purge,” wherein vampires and werewolves were outed to the humans and systematically eliminated. Why is that not this movie? How awesome would a scrum be between three different leagues of animalistic existence smashing and bashing heads in during the war to end all wars?

Instead, we’re given a brisk 76-minute action fest in which the pacing is damning to any interest. Awakening isn’t interested in this universe so much as it is dying to blow things up and splatter the screen with awkward special effects, the type that the 2001 original best by a lightyear. Whoever is responsible for the green screened environments should not be working on a movie of this budgetary caliber.

There’s no threat in the film, at least not one that’s established as any sort of dominating figure. It’s a toss up between a handful of faces and all of humanity, or the faceless werewolves who charge at Selene (Kate Beckinsale) aimlessly as if they never saw the previous films. Stephen Rea is the closest, a rogue scientist with a twitchy mind, all the while the dreadful, cheeky dialogue and a sluggish, dull performance diminish his presence.

The film centers around a child, born from the womb of Selene without any explanation as to how. Virgin birth? Human testing?Awkward werewolf fight? It’s never divulged, leaving this brutally violent kid as an enigma in the series, the connection forced. Think of it as the tradition of movie sequels, i.e., Meet the Parents morphing into a series that focuses on the kids, or a sitcom when the writers get desperate. Out of ideas? Baby time!

The charm of this series has been lost. What was once kinetic and weighted in mythology has now eroded into a claustrophobic, 3D money grab. Much of the financial side was probably linked to Beckinsale’s bank account, otherwise baffling as to why she returned at all. The skin tight leather suit can’t be all that comfortable either.

Movie ★★☆☆☆ 

Short of the glaring imprecision in the visual effects, Awakening is almost imperceptible visually from the prior films. Keeping with tradition are the heavy, weighted blues that suffocate any other colors that may escape. Outdoors in a city? Blue. Flesh tones? Blue. Light sources? Blue. Offices? Blue. Blood? Bl… err, well, that’s red, but still.

The switch to digital in the prequel becomes tradition here too, the Red Epic producing images that are on as often as they’re off. Close-ups will delineate extensive facial detail, while it disappears into a plasticine fog in medium shots. Actors look like action figures glazed with a matte finish.

Most of the detail in the set design remains hidden by overbearing black crush, another one of those franchise staples that has wore out its welcome. So much information is lost it’s a wonder why anyone bothers with intricate carvings or object placement in a movie like this. Granted, it’s also easier to hide the mistakes too, or look better budgeted. The audience, meanwhile, is being played.

A handful of technical flubs include shimmering and aliasing on angled objects. Even Selene’s suit will exhibit some of these imperfections. The AVC encode handles some tough material without fault, from heavy sparks to ridiculously fast motion where the CG is concerned. Noise is kept in check. It looks like an Underworld movie, and the expectation isn’t going to deviate much. 

Video ★★★★☆ 

Imagine if bass married bass only to have an affair with bass. Then, that affair led to more bass and all of the bass’ came together for a holiday get together where all they did was argue for 76-minutes. That’s this disc.

Awakening is nothing short of obnoxious. This isn’t sound mixing so much as it is a drain on the air in the room and the stability of the structure you’re living in. Everything has LFE so deep and active, that it completely overwhelms anything else going on. Footsteps pound like a headache. Explosions pop like an airplane taking off. Gunfire mimics a nuke. Cars smashing into each other mirror hitting yourself with a hammer. The score is like a drunken abusive father. It’s a wonder why mere words don’t systematically rattle the core of the planet.

Short of bass hounds who thump music so loud in their cars they can’t even keep their trunks closed, this isn’t going to appeal to many people. It’s not fun to listen too because you can’t appreciate the wealth of sound being projected elsewhere. The soundstage is probably superb if it could be heard. The balance is off track, off course, and off kilter. Those minor moments where the film is sedated enough to produce something else are a reprieve. Then, it’s broken down because it’s time for more bass. Awful.

Audio ★★☆☆☆ 

A commentary mixes directors, producers, and the visual effect team together for a chat. The picture-in-picture Cracking the Underworld is the meatiest piece here, and since the film is so short, it’s easy to digest. Five featurettes total an hour in length, filled with raw behind-the-scenes footage and plenty of chatter from cast and crew. A blooper reel has a priceless moment between two suit actors that won’t be spoiled here, followed by a music video and trailers.

Extras ★★★★☆