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An overview of Underworld Awakening

This 2012 film is directed by Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein. It stars Kate Beckinsale and Stephen Rea. Underworld Awakening is the fourth in a series of fantastical American horror/action films about a long running feud between humans, vampires and lycans (werewolves). The vampire female warrior Selene, protagonist of the first two films, escapes imprisonment to find herself in a world where humans have discovered the continued existence of both vampire and lycanthrope clans, and are conducting an all-out war to eradicate both immortal species.

Kate Bekinsale as vampire warrior Selene, awakens from her frozen prison

Underworld Awakening was submitted to the Classification Office because of its content

As Underworld Awakening was restricted in Australia (MA15+) and the United Kingdom (15), the distributor submitted it to the Film and Video Labelling Body (FVLB), who forwarded it to the Classification Office for examination and classification.

The film was examined by Classification Office staff

When a film is submitted on 35mm or digital print, it is screened in a cinema and viewed by a group from the Classification Office usually made up of the Chief Censor, the Deputy Chief Censor, Senior Classification Officers and a Classification Officer. It is viewed by a group because we can't rewind or re-watch parts of a film in this format. The Classification Officer notes down plot points and content in the film as it is viewed. These notes form the basis of the classification decision-making process.

During the examination of a publication, Classification Officers weigh up what is presented in the publication against the criteria in section 3-3B of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. The criteria must be used to determine what classification a publication should have.

The classification criteria

Selene draws her gun against a male opponent

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The Classification Officer identified content relevant for classification

When considering what content in Underworld Awakening would be relevant to the classification decision, the Classification Officer decided the film dealt with the following:

  • Violence
  • Horror
  • Offensive language

In deciding what classification to give a film, it is not just a matter of whether or not the film contains certain things - what is important is how these things are presented, or the context in which they're presented.

Underworld Awakening includes a number of fast-paced battle scenes between vampires and werewolves. These are mostly choreographed martial arts battles involving either hand-to-hand combat or weapons. There are some close-up shots of torn flesh and of blades going into and coming out of bodies.

The strongest scenes of violence in the film are vicious and show a lot of blood. For example, a character explodes in a cloud of blood and flesh after a grenade is forced inside his body, and a man's arm is broken in a manner that leaves the bone visibly protruding the skin. The Classification Officer decided that the film "showcases violence in a manner intended to thrill the viewer".

There are several uses of offensive language in Underworld Awakening. When considering this aspect of the film, the Classification Officer determined that if the film was made unrestricted (available to anyone), there was a risk of harm to children who may unknowingly use offensive language out of context, unaware of the potentially negative social ramifications.

Selene shows her true vampire nature

The Classification Office is required to examine the entire film

The Classification Officer determined that Underworld Awakening's dominant effect is:

...an atmospheric and dark fantasy film about the conflict between humans and two mythical races. While the film's narrative holds a sense of mystery and romance it is essentially an action film laden with fight sequences...

Many of the battle sequences are shot in a way that would make violence seem attractive and glamorous, and are likely to play a part in desensitisation of more impressionable young teenagers' attitudes to violence in real life.

Office of Film and Literature Classification summary of reasons for the decision for Underworld Awakening
Selene walks alone

Underworld Awakening was classified 'R16: contains graphic violence'

The purpose of assigning a restricted classification is to prevent injury to the public good that may come from the film being made available without restriction (for example, to anyone of any age).

The Classification Office made Underworld Awakening R16 because the unrestricted availability of the film was likely to be injurious to the public good due to its treatment of matters of violence, horror and offensive language. In the summary of reasons for the classification decision, the Office concluded:

For mature viewers, the film's fictional premise and clear genre traits greatly affect the manner in which they are likely to interpret the content. Older teenagers and adults are more likely to remain conscious of the fact that the film is entirely contrived for entertainment's sake, making it significantly less likely to affect their attitudes elsewhere.

Office of Film and Literature Classification summary of reasons for the decision for Underworld Awakening

Underworld Awakening's descriptive note 'contains graphic violence' is intended to give further information about the content of the film to help people make informed decisions about whether it is something they want to see.

The R16 classification means it is illegal for anyone to make Underworld Awakening available to someone under the age of 16.

R16 classification label
R16: contains graphic violence