Daybreakers (US - BD RA)
Gabe welcomes his vampire overlords and sits quietly on his blood farm seat...
In the not to distant future the vast majority of humanity has turned to vampires, and human blood is at a premium. Remaining humans are farmed, and a blood substitute is in production to be sold by a pharmaceutical company called Bromley Marks, run by the evil Charles Bromley (Sam Neill). Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is a guilt ridden hematologist working on the blood substitute. One night he assists a small band of militant humans, and the humans repay the favour by kidnapping him a few days later. It turns out that one of the humans, Lionel "Elvis" Cormac (Willem DaFoe) is actually a cured vampire, and the humans need Dalton’s assistance in re-creating the circumstance that lead to his cure. Meanwhile, Dalton’s own brother, Frankie (Michael Dorman), is sent to bring him back to Bromley Marks by any means necessary.
Vampires seem to lend themselves well to high-concept interpretations. George Romero’s Martin featured a mentally ill, real world man who thought he was a vampire (or did he?). Near Dark put a Romero and Juliet twist on the genre. From Dusk Till Dawn started as a hostage flick, then turned on a dime into a vampire stripper movie. More recently 30 Days of Night set blood-suckers loose on the month long, deep dark Alaskan winter, and Twilight made them sparkle. Daybreakers is about a world of vampires running out of human food, who fall into two categories of ‘infection’, which is a concept pioneered by one of the best and most filmed modern vampire stories – Richard Matheson’s I am Legend. Writer/directors Michael and Peter Spierig add a futurist edge, remove the post-apocalyptic angle, and for the most part make the concept their own. The pre-credit sequence starts things off on a clever note – a dreary, un-aging vampire teen trapped in a child’s body commits violent suicide in the morning sun. Other clever little technical details a vampire populace would require patch-up the backgrounds (daytime driving mode cars with cameras instead of mirrors), but like nearly every other high-concept vampire flick, Daybreakers fails to execute its high concepts without defaulting to various genre tropes. The political subtext also continuously and awkwardly draws attention to itself, which rarely works for serious-minded genre films.
Daybreakers has a lot of visual appeal (some will fairly argue visuals are the only thing that works), but the most arresting images are unmistakably saturated in homage. There are shades of Ridley Scott’s neon Bladerunner cityscapes, and Steve Norrington’s vampire underground from Blade, but the most obvious, analogous (semi-recent) movie is probably Alex Proyas Dark City. Dark City, which is the more successful film overall, also takes place in a 40s/50s futurist’s, neo-noir universe, and both films have valid thematic reasons to exist almost entirely at night. The daylight scenes do set Daybreakers slightly apart, but these scenes, ironically enough, reminded me of Knowing, which was directed by (wait for it) Alex Proyas. Proyas is also and Australian, which doesn’t really mean anything, but is something else to put on the list. The Proyas parallels may very well be coincidental, but even without substantiated proof (see the audio commentary on this disc), it’s not hard to assume that the Spierig’s wanted to evoke memories of their favourite films (look for some obvious callbacks to Near Dark, Day of the Dead, and various John Carpenter films). Of course the most comparable film is Blade II, which shares dozens of similar thematic issues, and which approaches the material in a much more pulpy manner. Guillermo del Toro’s vampire hunter sequel also features similar narrative problems, but Daybreakers falls short of entertaining on the same level.
The imagery clearly runs the show, and the characters certainly suffer, as does the narrative thrust, which should be more suspenseful considering the end of the world timeline, and the chase movie elements. The set-up is exciting, high enough to promise something genuinely special, and every time the film grows particularly stale something new comes along to spice up the story, but the film is still habitually disappointing. The consistently dour tone definitely works against what should’ve been a more fun experience, and is unexpected considering Undead’s charming comedic streak set it apart from the early ‘00s’ zombie overload. There is some unavoidably funny splat-stick, but the miserable qualities of an undying world certainly rule the film. Willem Dafoe threatens to inject the film with a bit more fun, but his performance is a little too weird to really enjoy (Dafoe sometimes sounds like he’s impersonating himself). The Spierig’s clunky dialogue worked well with Undead’s Sam Raimian intensions, but the (likely) intended resolved tone of Daywalkers is just that much more heavy-handed when hampered with heavily expositional, and obligatorily ‘snappy’ on-liners.
Daybreakers is packed with blown-out, high contrast, desaturated, fluorescent imagery. This 1080p transfer isn’t quite as sharp as I’m assuming was intended, but fully achieves the static and depressing intended feel. The film quality is consistently grainy, especially where red elements are concerned, and the blown-out whites don’t always sit perfectly with the deep blacks, creating slight edge enhancement. This is the intended effect, based on comments made by the filmmakers during the commentary, and on the mixed media approach to the photography (most of the film was shot in HD, but there are 35mm shots as well, the grain is clearly inherit in the film, and reproduced in the purely digital photography). The outdoor and human worlds are a bit cleaner, and are more colourful, but are also very limited in hues. These scenes are bleached with golds and softer reds, rather than night vision-like blues and greens that define the rest of the film. It’s not an original take on the image of the vampire lifestyle, but it works nicely in high definition. The enhanced detail doesn’t do the chintzy digital effects any favors (especially compositing shots and digital blood), but the detail levels are consistent in both real close-ups and CG created vistas (sometimes the digital city-scapes are inconsistently cleaner than the rest of the film).
Daybreakers is an aural feast. I was expecting stylized noise from the Spierig Brothers’ first major motion picture, but this DTS-HD Master Audio mix is a bit of a masterpiece in terms of abstract sound design, specifically the wordless, world establishing opening sequences, which throb with eerie dissonance and terrifying spikes of noise. The soundtrack’s dynamic use of silence gives the action scenes real punch, and the whizzing bullets, darts and arrows, though excessive to the point of boringness, work directionally on most occasions. The standard fiery explosions and car crashes are expectedly LFE heavy, though it’s the exploding vampire effects that create the most interesting LFE pump, along with some juicy stereo and rear channel after-effects. Christopher Gordon’s score is big and juicy, featuring rumbling strings, punchy percussion, and a few rear channel embellishments. Sometimes it’s difficult to separate score from the random ambience, but the effects, dialogue, and score rarely turn to aural soup, even during he busy action scenes.
The Spierig Brothers packed the Aussie release of Undead with extras, so it’s no big surprise that this release is packed with extras, which begin with a commentary featuring the brothers themselves and creature effects designer Steve Boyle. This is a chatty, involving, and well prepped track, which is only sullied by a little more tech talk than I, personal, really care about. The tone of the track is, like the film, more serious than it probably should be, but I am a sucker for filmmakers discussing their visual reference points and inspiration. The participants also have the good sense to poke fun at themselves, which is usually pretty charming. In movie extras also include optional storyboards and animatics, which are a nice, but not entirely mind-blowing addition.
‘The Making of Daybreakers’ (2:01:40, HD) is a rather massive, four part behind the scenes documentary that delivers the behind the scenes goods, as it should, since the film was apparently four years in the making. Things start with a look at the film’s early development, including discussion of the Spierig’s history, story development, early storyboards and animatics (it appears that vampiric cattle was left out of the final film), creature designs, casting, and Weta workshop’s involvement. The pre-production section mostly covers the production design, set construction, rehearsals, and make-up and action prep. The production section (which is broken into several smaller parts) is made up of raw set footage, and cast and crew interviews, some of which contextualize the footage, some of which seem to have been recorded for an EPK. As per the usual, the production phase is the most painful for the film, including Shigella (a potentially deadly bacteria) outbreak. The post-production section closes things out with the usual stuff like edition, visual effects (lots of before and after shots), music, sound effects, and release reaction (from the Toronto Film Festival).
Next up is The Big Picture (13:50, SD), a Spierig Brothers short film made before Daybreakers or Undead. The Big Picture is a well made, and surprisingly moving little one room drama about a woman that watches sections of her future life by switching channels on her television set. The concept is perfect for the format, the performances are decent, and the editing and photography is impressive. The punch line kind of sucks, though. A poster art gallery and trailers close out the disc.
Daybreakers features cool ideas, awesome gore effects, and gorgeous visuals, but it never really clicks. It opens and closes strong, but the middle section lags, allowing the imagination to wander, which leads to damaging comparisons to other films. There’s also the distinct possibility that I, like so many others, am just vampired-out for the time being. This Blu-ray release is certainly worth a look, and should really please fans with its effective video, expressive DTS-HD audio, and hours of special features.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 11th May 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Directors Commentary, Bonus View PiP, The Making of Daybreakers, The Big Picture, Poster Art, Trailers, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Michael and Peter Spierig
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Willem DaFoe, Sam Neill, Michael Dorman
Genre: Action and Horror
Length: 98 minutes
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