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Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, The Beach) has teamed up with writer Alex Garland (The Beach) to bring a terrifying vision to life. A sleeper hit in the US, this UK import finally makes it way to region 1 DVD. The package, almost identical to the region 2 version, contains a crisp picture, great sound and an adequate supplements package.  

28 Days Later: Widescreen Special Edition

Before any real review of this movie can be done, there needs to be some clarification on the genre of the picture. The film was marketed as pure horror in the United States. While this angle definitely worked to pack the theaters, it was not a completely accurate summation of the nature of the movie. The movie is first and foremost a post-apocalyptic drama. There are horror aspects, yes, but it is not a scare-a-minute zombie film by any means. This distinction is what makes the film so great.

A group of animal rights activists raid a primate research lab. In doing so, they release an infection that turns its victims into raging murderers. The infection is carried in blood and will infect a person in less than thirty seconds. A brutal opening to the movie leads into the haunting title of the movie and takes us ahead 28 days later when we meet our hero, Jim (Cillian Murphy).

Jim, a bicycle courier involved in an accident the day the infection was released, has just awoken from a comatose state. As Jim begins to discover that he is quite possibly alone in London, the audience is treated to dazzling shots of an empty, abandoned city. This sequence also highlights perfectly the amazing use of music found throughout the film.

Jim eventually finds himself under the care of two other survivors. Mark (Noah Huntley) and Selena (Naomie Harris) have been living on the run and have managed to stay alive.  It is Selena who explains to Jim that the world as he knew it the day of his accident is gone.  Everyone she, Mark and Jim have known and loved is dead and anyone left alive is left to run from the infected that roam free.  The group makes its way to Jim’s home and there is an extremely touching series of scenes that take place.

Jim also meets a father and daughter pair. The father, Frank (Brendan Gleeson), and daughter, Hannah, have caught a signal from an army officer that proclaims an end to infection. As the group sets off to find these soldiers the movie takes its first major shift in tone as it becomes a road movie for a bit. There will be one more shift in tone after the road trip is over, but it is this tone that most will find surprising and the acceptance of the change of events in the movie is what will determine if you enjoy the movie or not.

I found this movie to be brilliant for unusual reasons. The script itself is nothing new, amazing or all the clever in itself. What makes the movie work so well is a combination of the paranoia found in the first and last sections of the movie, excellent actors that bring a scary sense of believability to the screen and the use of digital video to enhance the raw nature of the events onscreen. Danny Boyle has been, for my money, a very hit or miss director, but has always managed to bring clever and ultimately engaging images to the screen. In 28 Days Later, Boyle takes his digital images and enhances them to make almost every shot memorable. This, combined with several fine examples of how to use music to enhance emotion, makes for a film that goes above and beyond its source material to create more of an experience than a film.  

28 Days Later was mainly faulted for its third act and its theatrical ending. The third act takes a turn as the group of survivors end their road trip and meet up with the soldiers claiming to have the answer to infection. While this is an unexpected direction for the movie, I don’t fault the film for it. The scenes found in this final section of the film contain the best dialogue and some quality horror elements. I may also be one of the few that actually enjoyed the ending as seen in the theaters. I do, however, understand and am frustrated by a few unanswered questions.

28 Days Later: Widescreen Special Edition

The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is very good. The digital video and intentionally grungy look make it hard to judge just how “good” the picture here is. Based on what I saw in the theater and in comparison to several other DV films I have seen on DVD, I can honestly say this is an accurate transfer. The only major issue to be found is a few scenes that have some noticeable edge enhancement. These scenes are few and far between and due to the nature of the raw DV picture, it is less likely this edge enhancement will be noticed by casual viewers.

A very quick summation of the sound found on this disc would be: the quiets are quiet and the louds are loud. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix has amazing range in sound volumes. The range serves to make the more intense, unexpected scary moments that much more terrifying. Throughout the entire movie, all channels are used to full effect. In a movie where the sound and music are so much a part of the experience, a good mix was required. Here, Fox delivered.

28 Days Later: Widescreen Special Edition

First on the list of extras is a feature-length commentary with director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland. The pair have an excellent rapport that lends itself to a wealth of information revealed. The two relay a good bit of information in between a few annoyingly long pauses. This is a good listen for fans and anyone else wanting to know about some of the creative choices that were made.

There are 6 deleted scenes found on this disc, each one surprisingly interesting. Most of them were understandably cut, but I can see good reason for each of the scenes (except for maybe the “Taxi/Sweden” scene) to have been left in the movie. My personal favorite was the “Abandoned Train” scene which had the potential to be a very engaging snippet of the film. Each scene has optional commentary with Danny Boyle and Alex Garland.

Following the deleted scenes is a trio of alternate endings.  The first ending is a polished, fully-produced version of the “Alternative Theatrical Ending”. This is the ending that many others I have heard from have said to be the preferred ending.  It is darker than the one chosen for the final cut of the film. There is also an “Alternative Ending” that is a rough but fully edited alternate ending that is a really nothing more than a combination of the final cut’s ending and the “Alternative Theatrical Ending”. These two are both offered with optional commentary. Finally, there is what is called the “Radical Alternative Ending” (it is located on the second page of the “Alternate Endings” section and is easily missed). This is a interesting alternate take on almost the entire second half of the film. This ending is shown through a series of “animated” storyboards and has director Danny Boyle acting out all the voices. Watch this to see a completely different direction that the movie could have taken.

There is a documentary included here called “Pure Rage: The Making of 28 Days Later”. The documentary starts of with a warning of the plausibility of the scenario presented in 28 Days Later. A few scientists come out to say that there is a major outbreak on the horizon and we should all prepare for the worst. While I do not question the integrity of the scientists that have chosen to speak on this documentary, I do question the integrity of a documentary maker that does not bring in any opposing viewpoints. Beyond this, there is some good information on the making of the film through interviews with the cast and the crew and some limited behind-the-scenes footage. However, based on the low detail of the information provided (not to mention the cheesy narration), this documentary may have been better placed in the “Marketing” section of the DVD.

There are two galleries of photographs, one containing production stills and the other containing Polaroids. Each is an automatically progressing slideshow with commentary from Danny Boyle. The commentary is quite interesting as it explains the pictures we are seeing and their ultimate importance in making and marketing the film.

There is an entire gallery of marketing materials. There is the theatrical teaser as well as the theatrical trailer for the film. Animated storyboards from the films original UK website are included.  Finally, there is a music video from Jacknife Lee that is simply the entire movie condensed into the length of a music video.

28 Days Later: Widescreen Special Edition

A noteworthy film comes home to DVD in a better-than-average package. Fox has seen to it that the picture and sound quality are excellent so that viewers can enjoy the drama and the horror at home in its glory. While the extra features do contain a good bit of interesting deleted material and decent commentary track, the overall package is not overly impressive. Aside from the lack of a high quality making-of featurette, though, there is not an abundance of features left to be desired. Worth much more than just a rental, 28 Days Later will become part of many people’s collections due to its engaging presentation and its blend of genres.