**/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras B
starring Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster
screenplay by Steve Niles and Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson, based on the graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith
directed by David Slade
by Walter Chaw The dialogue is woeful and the scenario is stretched at feature-length, but there's a lot to like about David Slade's graphic-novel adaptation 30 Days of Night. As high concepts go, it's a pretty good one: What if a band of vampires was enterprising enough to head north to Alaska--where some towns experience the titular month-long blackout--to live it up in luxurious dark? It makes so much sense that it's a wonder it hasn't been done before, really, and a few glacial, arctic moments in the film gave me a thrill of anticipation as to what might be possible should Dan Simmons's The Terror ever receive a proper, big-budget treatment. The gore is good and plentiful--not explicit to the point of exploitative, but packed thick with unequivocal suggestions of child murder, cruelty, and the wholesome goodness of a satisfying, old-fashioned decapitation-by-hatchet. And in a fall that sees the flicker of resurrection of the early-Seventies/late-Sixties western, it's easy to place 30 Days of Night in the context of another revision of that hoary American genre, complete with exit music suggesting that the way to salvation lies in the assumption of the enemy's tactics and identity. Explanation at last of what our government is thinking when it tears up our Constitution to fight people wanting to tear up our Constitution.
Sheriff Eben (Josh Hartnett) and his estranged girl Stella (Melissa George) reside in remote Barrow, AK, which for thirty days a year gets shrouded in the long goodnight. Mountain man Beau (an awesome Mark Boone Junior) embodies the strange stock that would choose to live somewhere like that, thus it comes as something of a surprise that a weird stranger (Ben Foster) limping into town would cause anything like a ripple in the townsfolk's day-to-day. He's the harbinger/familiar/Renfield of a pack of feral vampires led by toothy Marlow (Danny Huston, typecast; his character's name a reference to Stephen King's vampire Barlow? To Raymond Chandler's debased dick?) who speaks in a scary Vampire tongue and stalks around like an animatronic dinosaur. It's cool, but the bulk of the runtime after the initial mayhem is an endless loop of people hiding, taking unnecessary risks for the sake of a little excitement, and making sacrifices that ultimately seem excessive. Worse, the film isn't about anything much: its vampires aren't the puerile rock star analogs they usually are (they're more like evil badgers, making it truly a mystery why Foster's "stranger" wants so much to be their blood puppy), and the small town under supernatural siege doesn't seem representative of any particular thing. It's set in Barrow because it has to be--and the characters are what they are because, again, it's just what serves the mechanical procession from A to Z.
If it results in a couple of moments that remind of Near Dark, well, who am I to complain? 30 Days of Night is a pretty good video game adaptation of a pretty diverting graphic novel. Kudos to Hartnett for dropping himself off the A-list in pursuit of compelling B-pictures (I like him in almost everything he's done post-Pearl Harbor), and glad to see George getting work, seeing as I've had a hopeless crush on her ever since her three-minute cameo in Dark City. Foster's geek act is wearing thin, Huston's growing on me, yadda yadda yadda. There's stuff about losing family and the suggestion that Eben and Stella are done because they can't have kids, all ladled over this idea of unnatural procreation--yet none of it has any weight, emotional or allegorical; with tepid heroes and largely indistinguishable villains, it all becomes a life support system for a few passable action sequences. Not a disaster by any stretch, its epitaph is that it's sort of boring and fairly forgettable, doomed to have its best scenes mistakenly remembered as parts of better movies. Saying that it's an improvement over Slade's feature debut Hard Candy is the model of faint praise: If Slade isn't pulling as many punches here, the ones he's landing are a lot softer. And so it goes. Originally published: October 19, 2007.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Sony brings 30 Days of Night to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that is the very model of how to preserve the integrity of a dark image at home. Shadow detail is phenomenal and crush never becomes an issue despite the often-steep drop-off into black. (I imagine that in standard definition the film will feel more like 30 Days of Murk.) Grain, meanwhile, has blessedly not been filtered out. Alas, a tiny bit of edge-enhancement not only dilutes the purity of an otherwise spectacularly filmlike presentation but also gives an unnatural gleam to shiny objects, pointing up the banality of the picture's metallic colour scheme. (Another gripe while I'm at it: the picture's burned-in subtitles have been replaced by player-generated ones.) I'm going to go out on a limb and call the attendant Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio unimpeachable even though I could only listen to the DD 5.1 tag; the mix itself is aggressive without sacrificing intricacy or transparency and voices never get lost in the shuffle. Extras begin with an OK commentary teaming actors Josh Hartnett and Melissa George with Sam Raimi's long-time producer Rob Tapert, who reveals himself to be the most plugged-in of the three in his proclivity for industry sidebars. Hartnett seems vaguely displeased with the final product--nursing a grudge, in particular, about how the hours he spent in the makeup chair for the film's closing scene were rendered null and void by CGI--while George cheerleads in lieu of having much to say. Director David Slade's absence is conspicuous but some of his unrealized ambitions for the film are discussed, such as his initial interest in Forest Whitaker for the part that would eventually go to Mark Boone Junior.
Also on board as a BD-exclusive is "30 Images of Night", a screen-filling gallery of artwork culled from the pages of IDW's graphic novel that lets you toggle back and forth between the film's recreation of key panels from the comic and the panels themselves. It's neat, I guess, if sort of unremarkable post Sin City and 300. The highlight of the special features is an 8-part behind-the-scenes documentary running 51 minutes in total and rendered here in full HD. Overcut, overscored, and kind of amateurishly shot and recorded, it nevertheless manages to gather a head of steam as it progresses (it's especially good at conveying the drudgery of night shoots), with Danny Huston proving a reliable point of interest. I felt a little of the old religion when Huston spilled a trade secret that his performance was largely informed by the fact that he couldn't see out the sides his contact lenses, thus necessitating those snarling pivots of his head; one thinks back to the Universal monsters, all of whom were significantly shaped by the physical discomfort of the actors playing them. I should add that nothing's changed since the Hard Candy DVD: I still can't understand a word Slade says, though he seems like a nice enough bloke. Perhaps the most stunning revelation of the piece is that whole exteriors were shot day-for-night in New Zealand. (Ah, movie magic.) HiDef previews for Sleuth (2007), Steep, Walk Hard, Fearnet.com, and The Messengers round out the disc, with a superfluous Blu-ray promo cuing up on startup. Aren't they preaching to the converted? Originally published: February 4, 2008.