Be sure to check out our other coverage for the many, many the Blu-ray releases in this series! We have solo reviews for 'Underworld,' its sequel 'Underworld: Evolution,' and the series prequel 'Underworld: Rise of the Lycans,' as well as a different opinion on the films and discs in our compilation release coverage of the trilogy box set or the newer trilogy release including the anime 'Underworld: Endless War!'
In late 2003, 'Underworld' was released in theaters to moderate success. For a two week period, the DVD was in my player, as day after day I fell asleep trying to finish the damn thing. When I finally did, I was hooked. Three years after the first, a second film came out, and the story got excessively convoluted by the time it was finished. With no obvious way to go forward, three years later, a prequel to the film series was released, tying the mythology of both vampire and Lycan into the tale, showing us the events that were teased and referred to so many times. It feels like it has been forever since that film came out, but, guess what? Three years after its release, another 'Underworld' is upon us, moving the present-day story forward by flashing ahead a good dozen years. The war between vampire and Lycan is far from over, and a new species is in the middle of the eternal battle: humanity.
Love it or hate it, the anime 'Underworld: Endless War' sets the stage for the newest film in the series: 'Underworld: Awakening.' Humanity is no longer a victim to be fed on, as they lead the fight in eliminating both bloodsuckers and werewolf from their planet. The leather-clad Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a former vampire Death Dealer who turned on her own kind, and her lover Michael (Scott Speedman), a hybrid of both supernatural species, are attacked in the midst of the first "cleansing," and are cryogenically frozen at the Antigen labs, their DNA used for research to create a cure. Thawed into a whole new world, Selene must come to grips with a child she never knew she had while battling a formidable foe lurking in every shadow. The threat has never been greater.
'Underworld: Awakening' is an interesting sequel, and it does what I thought no film in the saga could accomplish: move forward after the nightmare that was 'Evolution.' The new setting is ideal, as there are finally real stakes added to the series, real tension and threats, as the underground dwelling, diseased Lycan leftovers, the heavily armed humans, and a new threat make for plenty of opportunities for action sequences...and when I say action sequences, I mean the same death-defying, utterly outrageous gun-kata that 'Underworld' is known for.
Action is the focus, more so than ever before, and the result makes up for the way the story is underutilized. I'd not go so far as to say the excessive combat is the reason the story is stilted, but the mere fact that this vampire vs werewolf story has done so much already left very few opportunities. With no surviving elder vampires and the over-powering of Selene due to her run-in with the originator of both clans in 'Evolution,' there were only so many opportunities and avenues 'Awakening' could take. Still, the way the police element and hidden vampire coven come across as one-dimensional, underdeveloped entities is not what one remembers about the film when it's all said and done, even if they strike as glaring flaws as the movie rolls along.
'Awakening' is a film that tries to survive on an adrenaline high for the majority of its runtime. From the opening escape from Antigen, to the mystery of what has changed over time, the connection between Selene and her child (whose traits are strikingly similar to Michael's), the random clashes with Lycans (including one utterly massive beastie), and then the lengthy climax raid, everything really keeps your eyes on the screen. While the film is less moody and gothic, it's more up-tempo and brutal, with some grisly kills and plenty of gore to keep one's bloodlust up.
The biggest flaw in this film, the major shortcoming, is the lack of a real lip-smacking villain or leader. Before, we had ancients and rules and cycles and longstanding blood feuds come to life through the presence of fine actors like Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, Derek Jacobi, or the infinitely-deep voiced Kevin Grevioux. Twelve years in the future, though, Speedman is hardly on screen. Michael Ealy plays the main police character, and is entirely forgettable. Theo James is our new vampire hero, and he's impossible to empathize or relate with. India Eisley does a good job for a child actress, and Kris Holden-Ried has a nice supporting baddy feel, but Charles Dance is a failure as the only elder vamp, and Stephen Rea seems entirely uninterested in the flick, despite being the most prominent newcomer. In an uncredited role, Wes Bentley shows up and gets the film death his shitty acting deserves, but the scene and character are entirely unnecessary.
'Underworld: Awakening' offers a throat-ripping good time, but it's shamelessly devoid of the substance that makes the first film so memorable. The mood and atmosphere are so changed, this feels much more like a 'Resident Evil' flick (particularly the later ones) than it does an 'Underworld' offering. The philosophical implications are far less intriguing and are much more blatant, the need for exposition far too great. While this film may be the first in a new angle on the franchise, there's not much to build on, aside from around 100 minutes of Beckinsale in skin-tight leather. Not that I couldn't (or wouldn't) sit through a ten hour marathon of that, mind you, but it's not enough when you figure not every scene gives one the opportunity to ogle properly.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Underworld: Awakening' is available in both Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D releases. The 3D version, reviewed here, is a one disc 2D/3D combo, packaged in a clear case under a lenticular slipcover, on a Region A/B/C BD50 disc. Pre-menu, four 3D trailers play for upcoming Sony 3D titles. Funnily enough, when playing this disc on a 2D set, the same trailers play, complete with the "pop out" green band card. There are a few FBI warning screens, including ones new to me. They're a bit overkill.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: done right, a Blu-ray 3D release doesn't need a separate disc for the 3D video, regardless of what some studios think. Sony, who have flip-flopped on how they release Blu-ray 3D titles, packs 'Underworld: Awakening' on 3D on one disc along with the full supplement package and 2D version, and it's hard to say that the picture suffers at all for it. Presented in 1080p using the MVC encode, this flick has moments of near-demo-worthiness, and plenty of eye-catching moments, with only a minor smattering of technical issues over the runtime.
The movie doesn't start with any 3D, as we go through flashbacks telling the tale and some video recorder-like footage, but once the RED camera is obviously in play, all bets are off, as the layering in the picture from the very first moment is almost breath-taking. Minor picture elements like flying cinders, blood splatters, silver nitrate remnants, and water splashes leap from layer to layer seamlessly, instantly filling the picture, while bullets and air bubbles in an underwater sequence punch you right in the gut as you're trying to get air back in you. Kinda makes you want to punch whoever at Paramount keeps converting the Marvel films instead of making them natively 3D in the first place...
The 3D effect works quite well, as objects moving towards the viewer are as believable as those that move away, and there are no odd moments where any item in the picture seems out of place. The obvious 'Underworld' color scheme of black, blue, and white doesn't negatively affect the picture (either in detail or 3D effect) all that much, and the way blood reds are emphasized reminded me of black and white films that have that one splash of color for effect, they look that damn good. Black levels are utterly amazing throughout this film, and it's easy to notice this when one spends the film staring at Beckinsale, which I did, and it was quite the marvelous experience!
This disc does have its hang-ups, though. Hair can often times seem matted and doesn't define itself very well, strand to strand, and there's some minor crush that pops in and out of the picture. Ghosting can be noticeable in any shot using yellows or oranges, no matter the size or purpose, so lights and flames look a bit ugly. Another annoyance, while minor, sees a few sequences that have an overly digital look to them, like shots in the Lycan car chase, that can draw you out of the picture. It's not the quality of the special effects for the beasts, either, as other areas of the picture look just over-processed. Ah well. The above gripes are just that. This disc did impress me, and even if it isn't as stunning as, say, 'Resident Evil: Afterlife,' it's still a winner and worth the small price increase over the 2D only edition.
The video leaves some room for improvement and debate. The audio, on the other hand, is absolutely freaking flawless, start to finish, with some of the coolest effects I've heard in some time. It's all about the way the film uses the side and rear speakers, as localization and movement are frequent, awesome contributors, dragging you into the film no matter how much you resist. Dialogue even localizes in a number of sequences, and it's hard to not get amped up and excited when the rolling heat from flamethrowers fill a room. Dynamics are impeccable, gunfire has solid pop, and bullets themselves move and impact wonderfully. Bass levels start light, but bring some serious thudding power for simple things like mega-Lycan footsteps. This DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track brings the awesome sauce to the table, providing a demo-worthy sound experience that can be used as a great selling point for those additional two speakers. Thumbs up, Sony, for not skimping on the awesome.
The DVD release of this fourth film in the 'Underworld' series has only one extra. The rest of the content is exclusive to the Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D releases.
The 'Underworld' series takes a jump forward after taking a massive leap backwards, as the story surrounding Selene gets a new up-tempo chapter in 'Awakening.' This sequel is heavy on action, thin on story, and unapologetic about it. Filmed with a 3D RED system, the video on this Blu-ray 3D release is easily up-to-snuff with titles that get their own separate disc, and the audio is an early front-runner for the best of 2012. The supplement package isn't too thick, but offers over an hour of features, a commentary, a 3D bonus, and more. This flick isn't as effective as 'Underworld' at its best, but it's far, far better than 'Underworld' at its worst. Just accept it for what it is, and be thankful for what it isn't. Recommended.