30 Days of Night (US - BD)
Scott McKenzie checks out the Blu-ray release of this Alaskan vampire movie...
Every twelve months, Barrow, Alaska, is plunged into darkness for thirty long days and nights. Many of the residents choose to leave the town for the month, preferring not to live in total darkness. This year, local policeman Eben (Josh Hartnett) stays in Barrow, while his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George) fails to get out of town before the airport closes down. As they prepare themselves for a long month ahead, strange events foreshadow the coming of more than just bad weather. A group of vampires has decided to make the remote town their home, giving them thirty days to feast on the residents before the sun rises again.
What strikes the viewer early on in 30 Days of Night is the atmosphere of growing tension. The first line, a single utterance of 'Strange' by Eben, comes after a few minutes of scene-setting, showing the deep cold and desolation of the Alaskan wilderness. Dialogue is kept to a minimum throughout the whole movie and the opening scenes in particular are used to make the audience feel as uneasy about the coming month of darkness as the residents themselves. We're introduced to Eben and Stella early on but we're never really given any information about the problems they have, leaving us only to speculate about the breakdown of their marriage.
As with any typical horror movie, the town contains a bunch of people who will band together to attempt to defeat the creatures that want to drink their blood. Unfortunately, aside from Stella, Eben and his brother, we don't really get enough information about them to make them any more than a vampire's potential dinner. However, the screenplay does offer some nice glimpses into the minds of people who are trapped in their houses with bloodsuckers waiting outside. Josh Hartnett performs well and while his character's decision (which is a bit of a twist so I won't give it away) near the end of the movie may leave you scratching your head, he gives a strong low-key performance. Melissa George is always watchable but I'll always find it difficult to think of her as anyone other than Angel from Home And Away.
Only a few of the genre conventions of vampires are applied to the creatures in 30 Days of Night, namely aversion to sunlight and penchant for human blood. There's no attempt to explain where they came from or where they will go after they've finished with Barrow, but that ambiguity works in the story's favour because we only find out the same information as everyone else in the movie and we're not forced to listen to a crazy old man spouting exposition for five minutes to tell us all about the vampires. The action is brutal, although not quite as bloody as I was expecting, with one of the most effective sequences being a long overhead tracking shot as the vampires massacre the town.
The only real problem I had with the movie was the timeline. While the idea of vampires taking over a town plunged into darkness for a month sounds like a great idea, the realisation of this story on film requires the viewer to suspend disbelief a little more than they might for other vampire movies. The only indication that thirty days are passing is the text that pops up on screen every now and again to tell us how far we are through the month but a lot of questions either go unanswered or barely addressed. What do the vampires do when they're not feeding? Why don't they just check out every building one by one for survivors? How do the survivors, who are hiding in silence, go to the toilet? We are left feeling like the movie occurs across one long night rather than a whole month, but apart from that 30 Days Of Night is an exciting movie that sufficiently unsettles the viewer early on to draw them in and (in my case at least) overlook the flaws.
30 Days of Night doesn't quite follow 300 or Sin City in attempting to transfer the visual style of the original graphic novel directly onto the screen, but it is a visually striking movie. On the audio commentary Josh Hartnett states that it's a shame that there weren't more scenes filmed in daylight because this is when the movie is the most visually rewarding. The landscapes of Alaska lit by the setting sun look very impressive here and there is an incredible depth to the wide shots. The picture has a blue-grey tint and the colours are purposely washed-out, with very dark blood. I'd say the transfer was flawless were it not for occasional patches of grain in out of focus backgrounds during close up shots.
With a decent range of audio tracks in different languages available on this release, you don't have to be an English-speaker to appreciate 30 Days of Night in Dolby TrueHD. Even though the gunshots and screaming sound very good in a clear and powerful track, I thought it was the moments of relative quiet that really impressed. Accompanying the wide landscape shots, the eerie sounds of wind through the surround channels work well to build the tension and unease on screen. Also of note is Brian Reitzell's original music, which consists more of a combination of strange noises rather than a flowing orchestral score. I can't imagine I would want to sit down and enjoy it on CD but within the movie it sets the tone very well.
The audio commentary is supplied by Josh Hartnett, Melissa George and producer Rob Tapert. It's a fairly lively track, and with the director suspiciously absent, Josh Hartnett supplies the more technical details. It's interesting to discover that the actors' cloudy breath is computer-generated and bubbles are commonly used on film to look like falling snow. Rob Tapert comments that this version of 30 Days of Night is the director's vision and there will be no need for a director's cut. Hmm... we'll see what happens, Rob.
There are eight featurettes, all six or seven minutes long, that cover different aspects of the production, which can be viewed one by one or all at once. 'Pre-production' follows David Slade as he attends production meetings relating to the story and his choices of crew for the movie. 'Building Barrow' focuses on the set design and shows the work that went in to building the town and the model sets. In 'The Look' the crew discuss the visual style of 30 Days of Night, describing their intention to draw inspiration from the cold look of the graphic novel. 'Blood, Guts & The Nasty #@$&!' shows behind the scenes footage from the work WETA workshop did on the special effects, including the many different types of fake blood that were used.
'Stunts' shows us the preparation that went in to a number of action sequences, including the scene where Eben and Stella's car is attacked by vampires for the first time. 'The Vampire' looks at the mythology and style of the vampires themselves. Every vampire movie establishes certain rules about the creatures and here we find out about the language they use and the way they interact with each other. 'Night Shoots' gives the cast and crew the chance to have a good moan about the implication of filming a movie almost totally at night. Finally, 'Casting' focuses on the casting decisions, including a mention of the failed attempt to obtain the services of Forrest Whittaker. Finally, '30 Images of Night' is a gallery that compares thirty stills from the movie with the corresponding art from the graphic novel.
30 Days of Night is a vampire movie that rises above the creature's usual home in straight-to-DVD releases to deliver genuine excitement and suspense. The movie looks and sounds very good on this high definition release and the set of extras gives a decent insight into the production, but there's not quite enough meat on the bones and there are no Blu-ray exclusives. If the producer is to be believed then this is the final version of the movie so if you're a fan (and I certainly am) then it's still a disc worth picking up.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 26th February 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 Portuguese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Thai
Subtitles: English SDH, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai
Extras: Commentary, Featurettes, 30 Images 0f Night
Easter Egg: No
Director: David Slade
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Ben Foster, Danny Huston
Genre: Horror and Thriller
Length: 113 minutes
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