Judge Clark Douglas was once forced to stay awake during surgery. It wasn't being performed on him, but still...
Our review of Awake, published March 4th, 2008, is also available.
Every year, 1 in 700 people wake up in surgery. (The remainder of this tagline has been omitted to prevent spoilers)
"Am I supposed to still hear you?"
Facts of the Case
Wealthy businessman Clay Barrisford (Hayden Christensen, Shattered Glass) and his lover Sam (Jessica Alba, Fantastic Four) are seemingly a very ordinary couple. As the day begins, it seems to be yet another ordinary day. The couple makes love in the bathtub, exchange some sweet words, and move along to begin their day. Then we are given a key piece of information. Clay is not doing very well physically, and he is in need of a heart transplant. He's just waiting on a heart. An O negative heart often takes a little bit longer to find, but Clay is confident that one will turn up soon. Jack (Terence Howard, Iron Man), Clay's doctor and best friend, tells Clay that he should probably make an attempt to live life to the fullest…just in case.
Clay agrees, and asks Sam to marry him. She happily says yes. The honeymoon is a very short one. On their wedding night, the hospital calls. The heart has arrived, and Clay needs to come in as soon as possible for surgery. It's a little disappointing that it comes right at that particular moment, but Clay is glad to finally have a new heart waiting for him. Clay is given the anesthetic, the surgery begins—but something goes wrong. Clay is knocked out, but still conscious of everything that is happening. He can hear, feel, and smell the entire process, and there is absolutely nothing he can do about it. He is trapped inside his own body. Will he be able to endure this living nightmare?
Awake is one of many recent horror/thrillers that were not screened for film critics when they played in theatres. In most cases, these films are dull and predictable affairs that recycle a bland assortment of clichés. When a studio does not screen a film for critics, it is because they are confident that the film will receive horrible reviews, and 99 times out of 100, they are correct. But every once in a while, a movie slips through that actually deserves some critical consideration. I'm not saying that there are any genuine masterpieces that have been hidden from the critics, but there are a few decent flicks in this category. Awake is one of those films.
The movie has indeed received terrible reviews from many who have reviewed it, but I found it to be a respectable little thriller with an interesting concept. The idea of a being trapped inside your own mind is one that I find genuinely frightening, even moreso when the doctors are…ah, but I almost slipped up a little. I won't give away as much as the ad campaigns did. Don't you hate it when the trailers take you through the first 4/5ths of a movie? That certainly happened with Awake, and it's a shame. The less you know about this film before you see it, the better your viewing experience will be.
Awake was written and directed by Joby Harold, who apparently knows how to make a movie. The most striking thing about the film is how calm and steady it is. Awake, quite astonishingly, actually lets the camera linger on the actors. We aren't given the usual hyper editing, jerky handheld camera shots and desaturated footage. The film is made in rather traditional and old-fashioned manner, which I found particularly pleasing. It's considerably more ominous, when a creepy tale is told with level-headed clarity.
The film stars Hayden Christensen and Jessica Alba, two actors who are pretty easy to pick on. It's not hard to look at Christensen's scenes of brooding here and remember his largely unsuccessful turns in the Star Wars prequels. Alba does not really have a lot of dramatic range as an actress. But you know what? The roles here are well within the range of Christensen and Alba, and they do a perfectly fine job of playing them. Even better are some of the supporting turns. Terence Howard is quite good as the doctor performing the operation, and Lena Olin has some fine scenes as Clay's mother.
The hi-def transfer here is very solid. Blacks are rich and deep, colors are well balanced, flesh tones are accurate. Facial detail is generally very good, and the film's color scheme of blue, gray, white, and black is rather easy on the eyes. Audio is very strong as well. The piano-dominated score by Samuel Sim (based on moody themes by Graeme Revell) is very well distributed, and blends quite nicely with the sound effects and dialogue. It's a fairly immersive audio experience. Technically, Awake is not the sort of film that I would expect to benefit from the Blu-ray format, but the excellent audio and video here is certainly worth noting.
Supplements are ported over from the previous DVD release. First up is a commentary with Joby Harold, who is a reasonably engaging and smart guy. He helpfully points out the many ways in which this film is like a "Miss Marple" tale. We also get the standard-issue 13-minute making-of featurette, which offers some slightly engaging interviews with all the primary members of the cast and crew. There are also some deleted scenes, a storyboard-to-film comparison, and the spoiler-heavy theatrical trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
You know, there is nothing wrong with any of the supplemental material included here, but I really do wish that more of these Blu-ray releases would deliver some substantial new stuff in the special features department. As long as studios are asking folks to fork over 25-30 bucks to simply purchase a hi-def replica of an older DVD, Blu-ray is going to have trouble growing significantly in popularity. Either the prices need to take a significant dip or the releases need to be accompanied by more whistles and bells. I would kind of prefer the former, but the latter would make the price tag easier to swallow.
The movie itself is a pretty decent flick, but I honestly could have done without the dreamlike conversational scenes that appear towards the end of the film. You'll know what I'm talking about when you see them. These feel a bit hokey, and I wish the conclusion could have been reached in a manner that felt a bit more credible.
Awake is not a great film, but it's a good film that is worth seeing. I found it a surprisingly engaging viewing experience. The hi-def transfer is excellent, and so is the audio. If that's enough for you and you have the money, go ahead and pick this up. For most viewers, a rental will probably be sufficient. Recommended viewing for most, a recommended purchase only for those with lots of extra spending money.
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