Wednesday, October 24, 2007

30 Days of Night

(2007) ***

30 Days of Night began as a comic written by Steve Niles with art by Ben Templesmith. Vampires take advantage of a 30 day nightfall by feasting on the northernmost city in North America. I know: freaking sweet premise, right? This kick-ass idea is bolstered by Templesmith's fabulous color and shading. Dig how much the red of the blood pops out of the frame. Check out the marbled black and grey on the clouds in the background.

The makers of the film should have taken a cue from the success of Sin City and used the comic as a storyboard. The color scheme or the patched settings could have been translated to screen pretty easily considering the film was shot in digital anyway.

The translation of the look of the vampires to screen isn't bad. Like their comic counterparts, the vamps all have kind of a bulging rockiness to their faces. The teeth have a brown picket fence look which suggests they'd be far more suitable for gnawing things than standard vampire fangs. And that's their attack, lunge and gnaw. Nasty.

Unfortunately, the coolness of the vampire look is offset by all the stupid mugging the vampires do. No time seems to have been spent coming up with anything truly creepy for the vampires to do when they're not attacking something. When they walk around, they do a lot of sticking their head forward and hissing. It's like the Extreme Sports Punks from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. After a minute of watching them lumber around hollering, "That's so fucking extreme!" you're begging for the camera to be on something else.

Also, the look of the vampires itself is offset by the fact that we never really see them clearly in action. There's an excellent aerial tracking shot of a few dozen attacks taking place over the span of a few blocks in the center of town -- but on the few occasions we get to see an attack up close, it's all shaky-cam. We get a dim idea of how the vampires move -- it's fast; that's about all we know. There's a dearth of mouth to neck shots. Mostly we just see the tops of vampire heads gnashing side to side, their faces are hidden.

We don't just miss the action, we miss the aftermath as well. It'd have been nice to see the effects of the mayhem around the town of Barrow. A town that small, attacked completely by surprise in the dark, there should be bodies everywhere. Maybe there are, but we never see any because we never really get to explore the town -- almost inexcusable given how small Barrow is. This would be more than an opportunity to show off some special effects. These sorts of shots are necessary to give us any appreciation of the real magnitude of the attack. How many people made it? 1,000? 100? Or is it just the 8 or so we spend most of our time with but still barely get to know?

Contrast the way 30 Days handles the attack with the zombie onslaught from Dawn of the Dead (2004). In Dawn, the first attack we see is very intimate. We see the zombie actually biting Sarah Polley's husband very clearly, mouth to skin -- we can really grasp the horror because it's well lit and the camera isn't bouncing around like it's on springs. Our introduction to what's happening on the rest of the block is a wonderful jolt -- Sarah Polley's neighbor gets ploughed by that ambulance. Then we get a slow panoramic of the rest of the block and the level of awfulness hasn't been diluted one bit by the change in scope. We pull back even further and see that the zombie menace is causing mayhem all over Milwaukee. Let's also not forget that we get an even wider sense of scope during the credits when we learn, through news clips, that the whole world is falling apart. Barrow has less ground to cover, but 30 Days reveals depressingly little of it.

In addition to the poor sense of scope, we get a poor sense of timing as well. We get markers at day 7, and I think 17, 24 and 29. The shift to day 7 comes so abruptly I found myself turning to Johnny Sweatpants, who I joined for a Pleasant Hill AMC screening, and asking, "Wait, weren't we just on day 1? What happened?" To which he replied, "Yeah, I dunno." Mr. Pants, incidentally, was so impressed with 30 Days of Night, he fell asleep before the halfway point of the movie. Dude had like 3 energy drinks beforehand, too.

I enjoyed the graphic novel and all of the comic book sequels it spawned, so this was a pretty big letdown. The coolest thing JSP and I saw all evening wasn't even a part of the movie. It was the number on the "Spaces Available" sign outside of the parking lot.

I saw this and thought my night was going to be so much more fun than it turned out to be.


JPX said...

"The teeth have a brown picket fence look" awesome

I'm disappointed to hear that this wasn't very good. I heard some good buzz on this but that's what I get when I listen to non-Horrorthon people's opinions.

Yeah, Johnny has a bad habit of falling asleep during movies and then later giving the film a bad review!

DCD said...

Excellent review. I had read a review that kind of said the same thing - great premise, lame execution.
Of course this review was much better!

Johnny Sweatpants said...

That review was so spot on, I almost felt like I watched the movie!

JPX is so right! I miss it, then I dismiss it!

Can't stop using exclamation points!