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Digital technology has undoubtedly brought about many great stories which would have remained hidden had it not been for the possibilities opened up by the advent of digitisation. Editors can now create like never before, computer generated images continue to push the boundaries of realism and filming techniques have become more sophisticated than ever before. It is ironic, then, that a step backwards in terms of visual quality has given life to one of the most intriguing and effective films of 2003.

Shot almost entirely on digital video (a late scene involving a cottage was shot on 35mm film), 28 Days Later makes best use of the portability of digital video cameras by being able to set up a desolate London without the logistical nightmare that would usually come with it.

After a rather horrific opening scene involving scientists, monkeys and a whole heap of blood, we pick up the story in a hospital, where a man named Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakes quietly in his hospital bed and proceeds to wander around naked. It soon becomes apparent that there isn’t anyone in the hospital, so like any curious human being Jim ventures outside. There he finds, well, no one. There’s not a soul in sight and the streets of London are completely lifeless, only mountains of rubbish lining the streets. Naturally poor Jim is a little freaked, though not as much as one would come to expect.

28 Days Later
Some of the shots of the barren city are amazing as Jim, now dressed in typical green hospital get-up, roams the streets in search of life. This has to be one of the best openings to a feature film in recent history, all done without the use of special effects, a blaring soundtrack or anything startling from the characters or script. Just pure, simple, eerie tension thanks to some nifty ideas an a handheld camera. It’s creative filmmaking at its best.

After encountering some very nasty looking, disease-ridden humans in a church, including the priest, Jim finally stumbles upon some uninfected humans while running for his life. He meets Selena (the brilliant Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley), who seem to know exactly how to get rid of the “infecteds” after dealing with them for some time. Mark doesn’t last too long but Selena and Jim run into father/daughter team Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and Hannah (Megan Burns), knowing full well the pair will be delighted to team up and try and figure out their next move. And after tuning into an impassioned radio broadcast by a group of soldiers they at least have some direction among the madness.

There’s much more to the story, of course, but it would be wrong of any reviewer to deny you the pleasure of seeing it all for yourself without much prior knowledge of the story’s direction. Let’s just say there’s plenty more gore to come, some human company for Jim and an interesting military outlook on life by a bizarre group of men. However, 28 Days Later doesn’t fit into your traditional horror story. Instead of trying to keep you on the edge of your seat for the duration, the film is intent on slowly moving through locations and characters as the devastating situation gets the better of them. It’s every bit emotional as it is horrific, which makes this a balancing act of the highest order.

Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, The Beach) caused a stir when rumours of an accomplished new horror flick surfaced early last year. The buzz continued around message boards and internet film sites as word passed around that this one was a winner. It was not only from slasher fans, either. Critics and mainstream audiences, while scared to their wits’ end, were equally impressed with the thought-provoking storyline, characters firmly grounded in reality and visuals which were as amazing as they were disgusting. Boyle used all his nous to capture the streets of London without any form of movement whatsoever; policemen blocked off the freeway for a few minutes at a time so they could film the solitary car making its way down the road and crew members patrolled the streets to stop early risers from wandering on to the set in the early morning.

28 Days Later
This is definitely one hell of a ride, and I’ll guarantee you’ll be scared to death for most of it. The trick about this one, however, is that much of the tension comes from the anticipation of what will happen next, rather than any out-and-out horror thrills. What has been done with a limited budget using digital video is remarkable. And thankfully a relatively unknown cast was hired, even after the likes of Leonardo Di Caprio and Tilda Swinton were reportedly offered roles in the film. What could well have been just a simple horror film has been transformed into a rock solid thriller that will knock your socks off, one that is certainly deserving of a spot in your best of 2003 lists.

It’s difficult to assess this transfer because of the use of digital video. On the one hand you’ve got the director’s intention of making things look a little less pristine than usual, highly fitting for a film of this ilk. On the other hand you’ve got an inherent loss of sharpness and detail that comes along with shooting on video, digital or otherwise. The 1.85:1 transfer fares quite well regardless, though if anything the quality of the DVD brings out the flaws in the degraded format. Softness is the biggest issue, with most of the wide establishing shots suffering badly from lack of detail. Nevertheless, you’ve got to look at it in terms of the director’s intentions, so on the whole there’s really nothing wrong with any of it.

The soundtrack for horror films can really make or break the effectiveness of the major scares. Too often thing sound artificial, particularly if several effects are bouncing illogically around the rears instead of sounding lifelike. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track included on this disc builds the tension brilliantly, using atmospheric sounds through the front and rear speakers to begin with initially, then moving on to swinging bats, gunshots and the snarls of the infected all moving around the stage quite well. In between all this is a very subtle musical score, headed up by a haunting version of Ave Maria during various scenes. In all there’s a lot to like about this soundtrack without it being too intrusive, giving the listener maximum effect to ensure they’re scared stiff by the sounds as much as the visuals.

A relatively small but very interesting extras package has been assembled here, starting with a commentary track with director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland. One thing to note is that the section devoted to special features doesn’t mention the commentary track. It’s only when you look in the languages section that there’s the option to turn the extra soundtrack on. Some people might miss this so it would have been good to have it in the extras menu as well.

The track itself is very informative. There’s nothing like listening to the filmmakers talk about how they achieved different aspects of the production on a limited budget. With blockbuster films there’s nothing that money can’t buy, but when you’re challenged by limited funds creativity plays a big part in the film’s success. Boyle and Garland let us in on some secrets of how they created the scenes in London, the use of student volunteers instead of traditional extras and their literary and historical influences which shaped some of the shots and decisions on the film. This is a great track to listen to, one which will please fans of the film and film fans in general.

28 Days Later
The deleted scenes package carries on the trend and is definitely worth a look. There are seven scenes in total, all of which are accompanied by a commentary from Boyle and Garland. Each scene could well have fitted in to the finished film. Highlights include the characters stumbling upon a train used as a temporary hospital, an untreated look at the carnage on the motorway and a strange scene involving the main characters taking turns acting like taxi drivers as they drive along the freeway. There is also the alternate ending which was shown at the end of the credits during the film’s theatrical run, providing a much more bleaker outlook than the one we get in the final version.

In the alternate endings section we get another different cut of the finale, this time omitting one of the characters to remain in line with the other alternate ending in the deleted scenes section. It’s hard to explain without giving anything away, but be sure to check it out. There’s also a storyboard version to look through as well. But this isn’t your average storyboard gallery. Boyle opens up with an explanation, calling this the ‘radical’ alternate ending. Garland reads the stage directions while Boyle acts out the characters. This is a brilliant way to show a very different take on the final act of the film, leaving out the characters’ encounter with the soldiers. It’s almost just as eerie as the film itself. Flawed it may be, but it’s still a nifty idea.

Next up is a making of documentary entitled Pure Rage. Narrated by a British girl who can be heard on those Ibiza documentaries on cable TV, this 24-minute piece is a little sloppy in style and content. The first half deals with infectious diseases and their influence on society, while the second half focuses on the actual production itself. There are several interviews intercut with clips from the film, though the real nuts and bolts of how they made the film is reserved for the commentary track. A welcome addition nonetheless.

The marketing section contains the theatrical teaser trailer, the main theatrical trailer, animated storyboards from the UK website, and a music video from Jacknife which will please fans of dance music. Rounding out the collection is a series of galleries accompanied by a commentary (again!) from Danny Boyle. There is a production and a Polaroid section with a large range of photos to look at. Boyle’s commentary in the Polaroid section is great, as he talks about the future of Polaroid cameras and the way the film industry uses them.

What looks like a pretty small and meaningless extras package turns out to be very entertaining indeed, thanks to Boyle and Garland’s input on both the commentary track and the deleted scenes. The other extras accompany the two main supplements quite well and make this a great addition to the film.

28 Days Later
Creativity has not been lost to short filmmakers and independent directors. With interesting ideas, creative ways of telling a story and an intelligent script there is definitely more scope to conjure up a successful film like 28 Days Later. Danny Boyle has given us a brilliant piece of work that makes most other horror films look second rate. The poise and tension he creates with every element of the film helps to scare the wits out of the audience when the eventual payoffs arrive. The video quality is good considering the loss of detail inherent in using digital video, while the audio and extras packages are top notch. This is definitely a disc to add to your collection if you haven’t done so already.