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BIG READ: Making of UNDERWORLD AWAKENING

Published February 7, 2012 on Vancouver is Awesome

The return of Kate Beckinsale and her cat suit powered supernatural thriller Underworld Awakening to a weekend North American box office win of $25 million+ for its late January opening but critics blasted the fourth installment of the franchise for its weak storyline. U4 box office halved for its second weekend and then halved again last weekend. I saw the film last week in 3D and enjoyed watching Beckinsale and her stunt double playing kickass-cool vampire Selene and Simon Fraser University as its unmistakable self playing nefarious bio-tech company Antigen.

Vengeance Returns is the Underworld Awakening tagline. Here is a plot synopsis with spoilers: Not long after the events of Underworld Evolution, vampire Selene and her hybrid vampire/Lycan lover Michael Corvin are captured during The Purge, a crusade by humans to rid the world of vampires and Lycans (evolved werewolfs who can shift between wolf and human form). Twelve years later, Selene is freed from cryogenic suspension in Antigen headquarters by her and Corvin’s vampire/Lycan hybrid daughter Eve — a daughter Selene never knew she had with a lover who appears to be dead. Antigen claims to be developing an antidote for the virus that creates vampires and Lycans, but is really run by Lycans who are injecting Eve’s hybrid blood into themselves to create a race of super Lycans, impervious to silver and with enhanced abilities and size.

Unfortunately Scott Speedman declined to return as Selene’s lover Michael Corvin in the fourth film so we only see him in flashbacks or as a blurred figure in Underworld Awakening. New to this Vancouver-shot movie franchise about vampires and werewolves that predates the Twilight craze is human Detective Sebastian played by Michael Ealy of The Good Wife (see photo below).

After a brief recap of the Underworld saga so far, the new film opens with scenes of a genocide of not one but two species — vampires and Lycans — that was filmed mainly downtown. For example, crew set up a security checkpoint with police/SWAT extras on Hamilton Street outside Pappas Furs for filming on May 1st last year. And earlier, filmed vampires and Lycans trying to escape armed guards in the alley beside the Rogers Building on Granville for three nights in mid-March. Production assistants wouldn’t allow spectators to look down the alley so I never saw the controlled fire effect of a pyre burning or a minor special effect explosion of a mannequin.

Next up, scenes on the North Vancouver waterfront of Selene and her lover Michael Corvin being captured.

Twelve years later, Selene is freed from a cryogenic suspension chamber by the daughter she does not know she has, tumbling naked onto the floor. Strategically-placed fog protects Kate Beckinsale from viral see-her-naked screen caps. Selene then fights her way through Antigen headquarters and up onto the top floor where she escapes through a window and jumps down to a moving truck below. Underworld Awakening actually began its filming in Vancouver with this 2nd unit stunt work at Simon Fraser University in early March last year. On Thursday, March 3rd, Selene stunt double, the blonde Alicia Vela-Bailey, did some camera test jumps off the SFU library’s top floor to the entertainment of watching students (even though Kate Beckinsale was not on set that didn’t stop some male students from yelling “Kate” at the film crew to see if anyone would turn around). Although the crew had planned to do three jumps that day, a roll of thunder claps delayed the third one, Vela-Bailey told me. Then a sudden snow squall on Burnaby Mountain forced the crew to pack up entirely to return the next day for the last camera test jump on the Friday ahead of filming that night.

At nightfall on Friday, March 4th, crew lit up the east side of the grey concrete library. Alicia Vela-Bailey put on Selene’s black cat suit and a black wig to do two decelerated jumps — one after another — onto the roof of a moving truck, the camera following her from above. She finished to a burst of applause from crew and a few bystanders.

Following Selene’s big escape from Antigen in the film, we see scenes of her walking across the top of the Skywalk (stunt double) above Seymour Street to the Bay downtown and across the Hastings overpass (Kate Beckinsale) above Hastings to Oceanic Plaza. U4 filmed the Hastings overpass scene on April 12th. All I saw of it was Oceanic Plaza lit up since crew wouldn’t let anyone near filming.

Plagued by strange visions which Selene thinks are linked to her true love, Michael Corvin, she returns to the pier where she lost him in the water twelve years before and encounters local actor Robert Lawrenson from Sanctuary as a security guard. The visions eventually lead her to a building where she meets vampire David played by Theo James and to her daughter Eve played by India Eisley.

Enter Michael Ealy as Detective Sebastian, first seen kneeling down in dirt under the Georgia viaduct between Stadium station and Costco near Rogers Arena a in a scene filmed on March 18th. You can see Ealy in a gap between the scrims and also a door from one of the cartoon-style police cars used in the film.

Detective Sebastian makes his way to Antigen headquarters, which is SFU’s Convocation Mall (Convo Mall) lit with floating balloon lights and dressed with Antigen flags, signs, a large grey corporate reception area on the dais and fake Antigen entry doors covering a stair case entrance to the Academic Quadrangle. Crew had to shovel leftover snow off Convo Mall on Monday, March 7th, to film Detective Sebastian parking his car near the fountain at the west end of Convo Mall and walking up to the Antigen reception desk. There is also a scene, which I didn’t see being filmed, of him walking with Stephen Rhea as Dr. Jacob Lane, who tries to convince the detective that Antigen is working on a cure for vampire/Lycan infection. Sebastian — whose wife was bitten at work, became a vampire and then decided to kill herself rather than be hunted — is not buying what Lane is selling.

Meantime, David, Selene and her rescued but injured daughter Eve are careening around town in a van, some of it filmed in and around Burrard and Pender (I swear I saw the same garage parking sign several times in the driving scenes) and some of it in Stanley Park. The crash scene along Pender near Burrard was filmed on March 28th, and more of the chase scenes in the 1000 blocks of West Cordova, Hastings and Pender in early April.

The movie then returns to Antigen headquarters for a scene of secret Lycan Dr. Jacob Lane, played by Stephen Rhea, and human Antigen scientist Lida, played by Sandrine Holt, talking on the steps as torrential rain falls in the background. Crew had installed rain towers on the roof of the rotunda at the west end of Convo Mall to film this scene on Tuesday, March 8th. “It’s so sad they had to make rain at SFU,” quipped one student about a rare dry night on the notoriously wet campus. From the rotunda commons room, I spied Swedish director duo Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein down below watching the stunning scene unfolding on their monitors.

Next in the story, David takes Selene and the injured Eve back to his vampire coven, which appears to be located somewhere in or below the Cleveland Dam in North Vancouver judging from the scenes of Kate Beckinsale walking beside a fenced off path along the Capilano canyon with the water cascading in the background. It gave me a small thrill to see that another classic Brit actor Charles Dance played the leader of the coven and David’s father. He later proves himself unworthy of me by giving up Eve to save his coven from attacking Lycans, led by some kind of oversized super Lycan.

After the coven attack, Selene goes to meet Detective Sebastian in a downtown Vancouver parking garage to bring him on side in her fight to save her daughter from Antigen. Later we see Detective Sebastian looking through files at a study carrel, either at SFU or perhaps at the University of British Columbia, where U4 filmed on May 18th during the Stanley Cup playoffs. I found the crew gathered around a TV screen in a tent on campus during their “Lunch” break to watch the Vancouver Canucks game.

Back at Antigen headquarters, we learn that the super-Lycan who defeated Selene at the coven is Dr. Jacob Lane’s son Quint, played by Lost Girl’s wolf detective Kris Holden-Reid in an instance of perfect casting. And somewhere in the next sequence I spotted the Marine building in a shot.

Then it’s time for Selene to return to Antigen headquarters to rescue her recaptured daughter, with help from human Detective Sebastian and vampire David. Crew rebuilt the Antigen sets on Convocation Mall for a mid-May multiple-day shoot in the rain — real rain this time. The Antigen entrance doors at the Academic Quadrangle appear blackened from fake explosions and silver gas smoke.

On the Sunday afternoon, Michael Ealy and Kate Beckinsale took turns being interviewed by a camera crew, possibly for the DVD/Blu-ray or for entertainment show segments ahead of the film’s release.

Dr. Jacob Lane tries to move Eve out of Antigen but is thwarted in the Antigen parking garage in the climatic showdown between our heroes and the evil Lycans. This must have been filmed in a lot of different concrete parking garages (possibly SFU’s that weekend and Costco’s downtown earlier), but eventually starred the Coal Harbour Community Centre parking lot below the park at Jerivs and Hastings. U4 filmed there from May 11th until the main unit wrapped somewhere around May 22nd. I did a walkby one day but didn’t hang around so never caught a glimpse of Theo James as David, India Eisley as Eve or Kris Holden-Reid as Quint in Vancouver.

The final scene in Underworld Awakening is of Selene, Eve and David running up to a helicopter pad on the roof of Antigen only to find that very-much-alive Michael Corvin (he’d been in a third crygenic suspension chamber) is gone. If you look at the top right corner of my photo below you’ll see scrims around the fake helicopter pad on the roof of the SFU library.

 

On the roof, Selene vows to find her lover Michael Corvin and take back the world from the humans who declared war on them and the evil Lycans. If she does, I really hope Scott Speedman returns for it.

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