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The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 3/4/2008
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/26/2008
Over the years, many films have attempted to portray our most deeply-rooted primal fears. Movies featuring the dark, strangers, small spaces, snakes, spiders, and all manner of disturbing things attack the audience with familiar, frightening topics. Then, there are films which present us with something which we probably should be afraid of, but of which we may not be aware. We are introduced to an idea, object, or creature which is offered as a potential primal fear. The medical-thriller Awake offers such a situation.
Hayden Christensen stars in Awake as Clay Beresford, a wealthy young man who runs the capital investment firm which he inherited from his father. He is concerned one of the most powerful men in Manhattan. He lives with his mother, Lilith (Lena Olin), who is somewhat controlling. Clay is engaged to Sam (Jessica Alba), whom he's been seeing for a year. But, as Sam is not a member of high society, he's hidden their relationship from his mother. We learn that Clay has had a heart attack, and through this, he learned that he is in need of a heart transplant. He's become friends with Dr. Jack Harper (Terrence Howard), who was the attending when he had his attack, and if the transplant is to happen, he wants Jack to do the procedure. Fearing that he doesn't have long to live, Clay has Sam marry him in a secret ceremony. That night, he gets word that a donor heart is ready. Clay is prepped for surgery and administered the anesthesia. However, the medication doesn't work correctly and, despite the fact that he can't move or speak, Clay is awake during the procedure. He can feel his chest being cut open. As he lays there in agony, he overhears conversations in the operating room and begins to realize that he is in danger.
Writer/Director Joby Harold makes his feature film debut with Awake, and he seems to be working against himself here, as he counters every good idea with a questionable one. Let's get something clear, the thought of being conscious and aware during a surgery is certainly a scary thought and a pre-credit title card alerts us to the fact that this actually happens to thousands of people each year. However, Harold made a mistake by having Clay undergo a heart-transplant. While the "anesthetic awareness" thing is certainly terrifying, throughout the graphic surgical scenes, my only thought was, "I hope that I never need a heart transplant." He could have chosen a less frightening procedure and still kept the story intact. Once Clay is paralyzed on the operating table, we hear him through a voice-over. If you've having trouble imagining how the film remains interesting after that, don't worry, Harold has it covered. We see Clay rise from the table, don a pair of scrubs, and wander the hospital. That way the action keeps moving along. But, is this only happening in Clay's mind, or is he in some kind of limbo? (The film's finale hints that the latter is true.) Either way, it takes the film out of the medical-thriller realm and has it moving towards fantasy or science-fiction. I feel certain that this will confuse some viewers, as it makes Awake feel more likeThe Invisible or the episode of Supernatural where Dean has his out-of-body experience.
Awake is yet another film was The Weinsteins which was shot, completed, and then had its release delayed. (It was shot in late 2005 and was released for another two years.) And like many of the films on that list, it's not that bad...or at least, it's better than some films which make it to the theater on time and rake in the money. Obviously, the idea of Clay being awake during his surgery gives the film a semi-original idea, but that is only part of the story. Knowing that this plot-point couldn't sustain a feature film (even one which is only 84 minutes), Harold has wisely chosen to make it the event which leads Clay to learn that he is in danger. This introduces a totally new plot into the film and makes it much more of a thriller. And while many will see the plot twist coming, there is a nice The Usual Suspects-esque montage which illuminates the subtle cues in some scenes. If anything, the problem with the movie is the pacing. It takes too long for Clay to get into the operating room, and as we aren't supposed to know what's going to happen, the build-up doesn't create any suspense or tension. However, once the surgery begins, thing continue to lag, and then suddenly, an eventful finale occurs!
With so many medical procedural shows on TV, we don't get as many medical-thriller films as we once did. Awake certainly isn't going to revive the genre, but it's worth a rental.
Awake can feel the scalpel piercing the flesh on DVD courtesy of The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer looks good, as the image is sharp and clear. The picture shows basically no grain and there are no defects from the source material. However, the image was somewhat dark at times. The colors looked fine and I only noticed minor examples of artifacting. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This track gives us some very nice stereo effects and surround effects during the surgery sequences when we are hearing exactly what clay is hearing. There are also some nice "boom" sound effects where which bring the subwoofer to life.
The Awake DVD contains an assortment of bonus features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY by Writer/Director Joby Harold, who speaks at length throughout the movie. As both writer and director, he talks about the story and the research which went into the film, but he also mentions the shooting locations and what it was like to work with these actors on his debut movie. His talk never gets overly technical. The DVD contains 7 DELETED SCENES which can be viewed with an optional commentary from Harold, and run about 9 minutes. Most of these play more like extended versions of scenes which exist in the film. A few of them contain extra details, but for the most part, the finished film wouldn't have been different had they stayed. "Under the Knife & Behind the Camera: The Making of Awake" (14 minutes) contains a fairly in-depth interview with Writer/Director Harold, as he talks about the origins of the script and his personal connections to it. He then talks about the story and the characters. We also get comments from the actors and a good deal of on-set footage. There are "Storyboard-to-film Comparisons" for four scenes. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for Awake, which has been letterboxed at 2.35:1, but is not 16 x 9.
On November 18, 2008, The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment brought Awake to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The video is a study in dichotomy. It's very sharp and clear, but the white environments of the hospital reveal an unmistakable sheen of grain on the image. However, there are no defects from the source material. There is also some video noise at times, which I rarely see on Blu-ray. But, the colors look good and the image is highly detailed -- we can see every pore on the actor's faces. There is also a very nice depth to the image; while that white background in the hospital may magnify the grain, it help to give the image a great depth of field. The transfer is uneven, but the good outweighs the bad. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track provides some very impressive stereo effects, most notably during the third act with Clay's out-of-body experience. The surround sound effects are good as well, as we hear very detailed street sounds and the noises of the operating room. There are some nice instances of deep bass effects during the finale.
The Blu-ray Disc contains the same extras as the DVD.
Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long