The same reason that I could never be a habitual smoker is the same reason that I wouldn’t make a good big screen vampire.
This occurred to me while watching 30 Days of Night, the latest adapted entry in Hollywood’s favorite source material of the moment, the graphic novel. The film’s
vampires are really inefficient when one gets right down to it. After
all, if it’s blood one craves, why would you puncture a jugular, enjoy
only a quick pint (or less) in orgiastic fashion, and then simply leave
the body? This, to me, seems terribly wasteful — the genre equivalent
of lighting a cigarette and flipping it away or stubbing it out after a
quick, single drag. While 30 Days of Night doesn’t exactly encourage such pause
for thought, the fact that I had time to reflect on such matters is
indicative of how at least somewhat botched a rendering of a great
concept the movie is.
30 Days of Night
unfolds in the isolated northern town of Barrow, Alaska, 80 miles away
from the next closest civilized enclave. Each winter, as the title
hints, the icy burgh is plunged into a state of complete darkness that
lasts a full month. It’s a time of hunkered-down communal survival,
with liquor and beer taps turned off at the local bar in order to temper tempers.
free rein, a group of bloodthirsty vampires, led by Danny Huston,
arrive to take advantage of the situation by feeding on the helpless
residents. It’s up to Sheriff Eben Olemaun (Josh Hartnett), his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George) and an
ever-shrinking group of survivors to do everything they can to
last until the next daylight. If this means going Anne Frank and holing
up in an attic to much bickering discord, so be it.
Penned by Steve Niles (the co-author of the original graphic novel), Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson, 30 Days of Night is directed, improbably enough, by David Slade, who most recently made the indie two-hander Hard Candy. As in that film, Slade here trades heartily in tight close-ups, though of
course dialing down the color saturation to play up the surrounding
darkness. Early on, this tack suits the material, as the movie is a quickened-pace, Dawn of the Dead-style
re-imagining of pure, streamlined genre material. Vampires
swoop around in quick bursts and speak in a subtitled dialect of
phonetic clicks and high-pitched shrieks; you can see why the town’s inhabitants are crapping their pants. Much more an exercise in
horror than action, the movie dashes through its moral quandary
checklist — a violent attack by an infected kid, the assisted suicide
of another infected person — and gets some of its ya-yas out via the
group assault of a young woman used, to no avail, as bait to try to
lure humans out from hiding.
vampire aficionados and source text fans will appreciate much of the
film, and it definitely plays better in the intimate confines of one’s own home, as well as earning points for a bleak ending that doesn’t
try to put an unrealistic shine on things. Still, 30 Days of Night remains essentially a somewhat
shrug-inducing vessel of unfulfilled potential, consisting of solidly
executed attack passages followed by great stretches of relative
tedium, or at least overly familiar genre dawdling (the waylaid
re-supply trip, the infected survivor). The great potential of its concept never takes full bloom,
partially because of wanly sketched supporting characters, but chiefly
because the restrictive conditions of space and passing time are
communicated in such a fuzzy, haphazard fashion.
Housed in a regular Amray case with a cardboard slipcover, 30 Days of Night is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen on DVD, with matching English and French language 5.1 Dolby digital audio tracks and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. Producer Rob Tapert — who sounds a bit like Wallace Shawn, actually — sits for a feature-length audio commentary track with Hartnett and George, a pairing that is good in theory (actors plus a behind-the-line guy) and practice, as they exhibit a warm rapport with one another that stands in stark contrast to the chilly weather on display. Among the anecdotes shared is the fact that Slade originally wanted to cast Forest Whitaker in Mark Boone Junior’s role, and that George is… a former rollerskating derby champion?! Hartnett also points out the scenes in which he is noticeably sick, the result, he claims, of a globe-spanning flight to the film’s New Zealand set straight from another production.
The big bonus feature selling point comes in the form of eight top-notch, behind-the-scenes featurettes, which can be played separately or together, at a total running time of around 50 minutes. Shot in a loose, very off-the-cuff style and compiled in a manner to at least partially mimic the movie’s comic book roots, these segments cover all manner of detail with regards to the movie, kicking off with a look at pre-production, before Slade, Tapert and company decamp to New Zealand and an abandoned equestrian facility to mock up their version of the town of Barrow. The interviews herein are brief, but informative, and well interspersed with edifying information that illustrates what’s being discussed. Stunt coordinator Allan Poppleton talks about wire work on one of the roof jumps in the movie, while — perhaps most interestingly — we glimpse production designer Paul Austerberry’s work with production illustrators and model makers. Though the production shot “day for night” and worked with interiors for as much of its production as possible, an infusion of funds for a car chase and fiery finale dictated five weeks of night shoots (and an accompanying 20,000 cups of coffee!), which is amusingly captured in the last behind-the-scenes segment. Slade, who at one point mutters, “Help me die!” seemingly only half-jokingly, evidences plenty of wear and tear, but really gets into showing his vampires how to strut their stuff, and has nothing but high praise for the talented base of creature performers that the Lord of the Rings series has left in New Zealand. Apart from the aforementioned commentary track, this ample slate of featurettes and the savvy inclusion of a half-hour episode of the forthcoming Japanese anime release Blood+, the only other supplemental feature is a vast collection of preview trailers — mostly genre product like the Resident Evil flicks and (gulp) the awful-looking Zombie Strippers, starring Robert Englund and Jenna Jameson — but also other Sony films like Across the Universe. C (Movie) B+ (Disc)