This week’s pick is one I must confess to being not 100% on...but I might as well tell you a bit about it and let you make up your own mind.
30 DAYS OF NIGHT
It’s too bad this adaptation of the vampire comic book needed to be made right now – waiting for Zack Snyder or Robert Rodriguez to become available might have been a more prudent move since, not unlike 300 and SIN CITY, the primary appeal of the comic was its stylized artwork that really can’t be duplicated in live action, though some imaginative CG artists could probably come close working with a green screen, like maybe the artists who worked on MIRRORMASK, which brought Dave McKean’s style to the screen in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible. The only stylized touch that remains in the movie is the design of the vampire mouths, like mini-Sarlaccs without tentacles, gaping maws with layers of sharpened teeth for ultra-swift blood-gorging. And then the movie adds its own aesthetic quirk by having the vampires speak in what seems to be a mixture of German and dolphin shrieks. And yet sometimes our American protagonists seem to understand them anyway. Must all be in the body language.
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The story is set in Barrow, Alaska, northernmost town in the U.S., where winter brings 30 straight days of darkness. Ideal vampire buffet. There are some beautiful images at the film’s opening, during the final hours of daylight, including one of a large, possible abandoned battleship that one might think is the vampire’s daytime lair...but we never come back to it. Nor is it ever said where they’ve been hanging out until now, though they’ve apparently been around for hundreds of years, and only at this moment figured out the whole 30 days of night thing. Hell, why aren’t they in Scandinavia? Aren’t there even longer nights there? Maybe there’s no word for “Scandinavia” in ultrasonic Shriek-German.
And then there’s Josh Hartnett as the town sheriff, and Melissa George as his estranged wife, and they bicker, but you know the vampire battle will bring them back together again (screw marriage counselors – scrapes with the undead really bring back the sizzle!). This relationship stuff is kind of tedious, and there are long brooding stretches where nothing much happens. Then the vampires kill some people, occasionally in hi-speed shaky-cam, and usually cutting away right when a particularly brutal blow is about to land. Although the best shot in the movie is an overhead aerial shot of the entire town as the vampires go around eating people – it’s reminiscent of mid-90s overhead-shooter games like Loaded or Postal. Very cool.
What’s tough here is the tonal inconsistency. You never really feel the fatalism of the human prey, despite slow scenes that seem intended to make that happen. And then shit can get really campy. Josh’s only weapon is an ax, so when people start to turn into vampires, he has to chop off their heads with it, which usually takes a few blows and is so over the top you gotta laugh. Also Mark Boone Junior is here (you know, the guy Batman hangs upside down and says “SWEAR TO ME!” to in BATMAN BEGINS), driving a JCB truck with what looks to be a giant chainsaw on the front. Bruce Campbell could have used one of those back in the day.
If the comic book had never existed, this would be pretty cool. As is, it’s a slightly missed opportunity with enough fun parts that it doesn’t feel like a total waste. Decide accordingly.