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Friday, January 20, 2012

Underworld Awakening

There is at least one worthwhile film coming out this week but I can promise you this, it ain't the fourth Underworld flick, that's for damn sure.

Also at Channel24

What it's about

Skipping right past the third film (a prequel), this fourth entry into the Underworld series sees Kate Beckinsale back as Selene, the leather clad vampire outlaw, who finds herself caught up in a world where humanity has discovered the existence of vampires and werewolves. 

What we thought

The Underworld series has always been one of the most mind-bogglingly unbelievable franchises ever committed to celluloid. Not in a hyperbolic, that's-so-good-it's-unreal kind of way, you understand, but in the sense that it boggles the mind how a series based on the seemingly foolproof premise of Kate Beckinsale, dressed from neck to toe in skin-tight leather, kicking all kinds of ass in a centuries old war between vampires and werewolves, could be so relentlessly and unrepentantly dull. And yet, here we are: the first Underworld film was incredibly boring, the second even worse and the recent prequel, Rise of the Lycans, seems to have been ignored by just about everyone. All too predictably, Underworld: Awakening does little to right the ship.

A six-year break and a fresh new pair of directors might have suggested a new hope and new direction for the series – even I went into the film hoping that they might finally have gotten it right – but, if anything, the ironically titled Awakening is even more of a dud than its predecessors. Admittedly, it isn't quite as head-pulverisingly stupid as the second film but Awakening takes all of the series' many, many problems and amplifies them a million-fold through the prism of some seriously headache-inducing 3D. 

The film could certainly have used another dimension or two in terms of its woefully under-developed characterization and plotting, to be sure, but the literal added dimension of 3D stereoscopy has done nothing but make a bad film into one that is nigh unwatchable. The two most obvious drawbacks to modern day stereoscopy (aside for the silly glasses, of course) is a) its inability to deal with rapid movement and b) the colour loss and darkening of the image on screen. The two things that the Underworld series is known for are a) its hyper kinetic action scenes and b) its pitch-black colour palette. Put the two together and you have nothing short of a truly unbearable viewing experience that could only possibly be made worse by hiring someone to simultaneously throw popcorn at you, rest their smelly feet on your lap and blather on to their cellphone at the top of their voice for an hour and a half.

Of course, even if you are fortunate/ smart enough to catch one of the film's few 2D prints, you may be spared the most moronic use of 3D to date, but you will still have to deal with the film itself. While the basic plot is actually smartly simplistic and there is even a twist or two along the way, the execution falls flat at every turn. Beckinsale's Selene might look great but her inconsistently drawn character is hard to root for – and the rest of cast somehow fare even worse – and even when the basic story is at its most engaging, the lack of interest in the characters make it very hard to care about anything else going on on screen. 

The storytelling is also once again, at its very best, shoddy with herky-jerky pacing and overly-involved plot contrivances overshadowing any potential interest that the film's premise might have otherwise provoked. It doesn't even work on a technical level as action scenes are hard to follow and its relentlessly dark colour palette is somehow confused for stylish moodiness. Most damningly of all though, is its complete and utter lack of a sense of humour – hogwash is one thing but hogwash that has no understanding of its own hogwashiness and has its characters spout dialogue as if its from the pen of Billy Shakespeare himself is quite another. 

Underworld: Awakening is saved from an even lower score by a final act that gains focus by its straightforward, rescue-mission simplicity but it's the sort of vampire film that makes you gain a new found appreciation for the Twilight series – and that's not something to be taken lightly.

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