That's kind of the weird thing about this fourth -- fourth! -- installment in the vampires-in-this-corner-werewolves-in-the-other franchise. If you asked me to rattle off a laundry list of all the stuff
The problem is...well, everything, I guess. I appreciate the fact that Underworld: Awakening shies away from the overplotting that's bogged down so much of the series to date, but instead, there's not much of a story at all. Seline awakens after being held captive in suspended animation for twelve years, only to find that she's somehow spawned a vampire/lycan hybrid daughter that the sinister scientists of Antigen believe could spawn a new race of Über-Lycans. That's pretty much the entire movie in one very awkwardly worded sentence. There are conspiracies and betrayals and lots an' lots an' lots of
Underworld: Awakening toys with what used to be the status quo -- the existence of lycans and vampires is now a matter of public record, vampires no longer enjoy the prestige, power, and wealth they once commanded, and the lycans now secretly reign supreme from their towers in the sky as the once-proud vamps cower underground -- but the movie never really figures out how to use any of that to its advantage. Seline is the only holdover from the rest of the franchise (well, minus forty seconds of a CG-double for Scott Speedman), and she's joined instead by a small army of newly-introduced characters. The actors and actresses behind them vary wildly in terms of talent. India Eisley, who plays Seline's hybrid daughter, is terrific, at least when she's not caked in that embarrassingly amateurish fright makeup. Others, like vampire coven lord Charles Dance and moustache-twirlingly-evil scientist Stephen Rea, seize every possible opportunity to ham it up and gnaw on the scenery. There's very little about these characters that's engaging or memorable either, and even the whole mother/daughter thing between Seline and Subject #2 falls flat. Since Awakening doesn't give me much of a reason to care about anything that's going on or anyone it's happening to, the
This is a movie that's gory, brutal, and frequently unrelenting -- bigger and bloodier than any of the other three Underworld movies -- and yet it's not even a little bit of an adrenline rush. Even worse, the moments in between are excruciatingly static sequences of people standing around and talking, stomping all over any energy or momentum Awakening ought to have built up. An hour and a half of werewolves-fuckin'-up-vampires really shouldn't be this tedious to watch. The production design is considerably less inspired as well, with the bulk of this sequel taking place in crumbling, underground lairs or cold, sterile labs. No matter where Seline goes, though, the lights overhead always seem to be flickering. Wonder why that is. Underworld: Awakening features lycans that are the size of a single-family home, and Seline's powerset has been cranked up to match. It's mentioned in the disc's audio commentary that Seline is put through the ringer more in Awakening than in either of the first two flicks in the franchise, but I felt the complete opposite; she's so off-the-charts superpowered that absolutely nothing seems like a credible threat to her. I can't shake the feeling that these are the worst-looking lycans the Underworld series has delivered either, and that sure doesn't help matters much.
The Underworld series has always been a guilty pleasure for me, but Awakening kinda seems like it wants to be a Resident Evil sequel instead, and...yeah, that's a franchise I never exactly warmed up to all that much. I mean, I don't hate Underworld: Awakening. It's totally watchable. It's less of a waste of time than pretty much every other genre flick I've reviewed over the past couple of months. Yeah, that's not exactly what I'd call high praise, though. Unless you're some frothing-at-the-mouth completist or something, you can probably get by with a rental. Rent It.
At least as far as the strictly technical end of things goes, Underworld: Awakening looks phenomenal on Blu-ray. Contrast in a movie this dark and shadowy is expectedly robust, bolstered by deep, substantial black levels.
If you're willing to put up with me bitching about more subjective stuff, Underworld: Awakening quickly starts to feel bland visually, thanks to less-than-dazzling production design, an overreliance on strobing lights, and the same stale cyan tint that's defined the franchise to date. Crisp and richly detailed though the photography may be, it is distractingly digital, not looking even a little bit filmic, and that doesn't play to my tastes so much. A technically flawless presentation of a fairly routine looking movie.
Underworld: Awakening and its gaggle of extras span both layers of this BD-50 disc. The movie's theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 has been preserved on Blu-ray, and the video has been encoded with AVC. There's a separate 3D release as well, but I don't really have anything to say about that.
More channels; lower bit-depth. Underworld: Awakening features eight discrete channels of sound, but this is a 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio track rather than the 24-bit audio you've gotten used to hearing on Blu-ray. Then again, unless you're staring dead-eyed at a bitrate meter, chances are that you wouldn't be able to tell much of a difference anyway. The sound design throughout Underworld: Awakening is unrelentingly aggressive: sprays of gunfire pinging around from one channel to the next, a fifteen foot tall über-lycan encircling his prey outside of the camera's gaze, the gutteral growls of these creatures reinforced by a thunderous LFE, and...well, damn near everything in the movie getting blown to holy hell. It's also appreciated that even with as chaotic as the mix can get, the movie's dialogue is unwaveringly balanced cleanly and clearly throughout. It can be aurally exhausting, sure, but I kind of love it. If you're watching Underworld: Awakening in plain-jane stereo with the speakers built into your HDTV, you're doing it wrong.
A 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in French has also been included, and a descriptive video service track is there for good measure as well. Subtitles are offered in English (traditional and SDH), French, and Spanish. Since there's a little Russian and stuff lobbed around in Underworld: Awakening, some occasional English subtitles kick in by default. Owners of constant image height projection rigs can rest easy that these subs are rendered entirely in the image of the movie proper rather than spilling over into the letterboxing bars.
Oh, and a code for an UltraViolet digital copy is tucked inside too.
The Final Word
Shameless cash grab or no, Underworld: Awakening seems like it ought to be a step in the right direction. The bloated runtimes of the other flicks are trimmed down to seventy-something minutes minus credits, and the glowering self-seriousness and uninvolving, dense mythology of the franchise make way for pretty much wall-to-wall action. Awakening takes that all too far, though. What's supposed to pass for characters and a story are all wafer-thin, the pacing grinds to a screeching halt whenever something's not getting gunned-down or blown-the-hell-up, and even the intense emphasis on action rarely gets my pulse racing. The first couple of Underworld movies are overwrought and ridiculous yet still kind of entrancing, and this one just doesn't deliver those same sorts of "wow-exclamation-point"s. Unless you're a completist, Underworld: Awakening isn't one you're likely to want to come back to over and over again, so the smart money says you're better off with a rental. Rent It.