30 Days Of Night: Special Edition Review
Watching the trailer for 30 Days Of Night back in 2007 was akin to seeing a copy of Justin Somper's Vampirates: Tide Of Terror on the shelves of a book fair in my children's primary school. Vampires...who are pirates? Sailing the high seas by midnight and stopping to drink the blood of landlubbers? What a fantastic idea! It may well be written for children but it sounds a more thrilling tale than anything pirate-related that's troubled the box office of late. Give this viewer vampire pirates over those of the Caribbean any day. With 30 Days Of Night, it was an even simpler and more striking an idea. Vampires...in the snow! Neither one hinders a horror movie when alone and together, it should be as much of a dream team as when the original ploughman headed out to the fields with cheese, bread, chutney and a couple of pickled onions. Only better on account of there being no vampires in the average lunchtime treat.
The sun is setting on Barrow, Alaska. So far north, Barrow will remain in darkness for the next thirty days, sunlight only a memory as the lights in the town go on, the snow begins to fall and everyone retreats indoors to wait out the winter. Outside of town, Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and his deputy watch the sun set and change the Welcome To Barrow sign to take account of those leaving for the winter. Not so far away, the Stranger (Ben Foster) walks through the snow en route to Barrow, warning those that he meets that death is coming. But death has already come to Barrow. A pack of huskies has had their throats slit. Blood stains the snow while the head of one in the town is mounted on a pole. The lights are failing, the phone lines have been cut and the Stranger laughs in the darkness. Outside the jailhouse Marlow (Danny Huston) steps out of the moonlight, one vampire among many who have come to Barrow for the winter. Undisturbed by sunlight, the month ahead is theirs.
Having said what's very good about 30 Days Of Night - it's worth repeating once again...vampires in the snow! - a lot more can be said about what's bad about it. Something is amiss right from the very beginning. Perhaps it was only this viewer who wanted some smalltown vignettes in the style of Northern Exposure but the lack of them left 30 Days Of Night rather barren of characters. A line or two are all that the actors are given to bring life to those they portray. Stella (Melissa George) might well be the estranged wife of Sheriff Oleson but in spite of the glances between the two, which are heavy with meaning, we're no closer to understanding why their marriage failed by the end of the film than we are at the beginning. Wilson (Craig Hall) and his father, Isaac (Chic Littlewood), remain just long enough for the moment when they decide that a walk in the snow and certain death is favourable to being cooped up in an attic with Melissa George for a month while Beau Brower (Mark Boone Junior), Barrow's snow plough driver, fulfills the role of the no-nonsense labourer who decides that any threat, be it of this world or another, can be dealt with by shotgun, by the application of tractor or by a swift kick in their not-quite-dead balls. Had Jason Flemyng wandered into Barrow to call the vampires, "Fucking wankers!", this viewer would not have been so very surprised.
These characters move and they talk but they're less alive than the vampires who eventually roam the town of Barrow. In the case of the bit-part actors that make up most of the cast of 30 Days Of Night, this is annoying but not much more than that. Not even Josh Hartnett and Melissa George are immune to this, finding themselves in roles that two mannequins, remotely controlled by director Slade, could have taken to just as well. That Danny Huston, so good in The Proposition, has little to do but look rather blank and mutter various ill omens in the language of vampires is rather criminal. One can imagine him asking the director if he can give Marlow a limp, a hare-lip or even an Irish accent just to be seen to have done something in preparation for the part. At least Hartnett got to have his character suffer from asthma. However, 30 Days Of Night does attain a kind of balance by the incredible overacting of Ben Foster, this film's Renfield, who plays it big and very memorable from his first steps on the ice to the justice meted out to him by the vampires.
This isn't the only complaint that one can make about 30 Days Of Night. Impressive though the vampire make-up is, one wonders why it is that only Marlow can talk, the others being reduced to snarling and hissing. This, though, is a minor problem. Given the film's title, a more obvious one is that it doesn't ever feel as though thirty hours have passed, never mind thirty days. A film that didn't have the millstone of it taking place over thirty days might not have needed to flag each event with a DAY... subtitle, more that events might have occurred over just the one night. Why does a wounded woman wait until seven days have passed before leaving her home? What do the vampires do for thirty days? They have more than enough time to tear Barrow to the ground in the search for survivors but seem to be standing in much the same spot and with much the same lack of purpose on day twenty-nine as they are on day one. And why does nobody end the film with a great big beard? As a final and on a somewhat spoiler-ish note, the final confrontation ends with a death so hopeless that it sinks the film quicker than had the crates of 35mm film been tied to an anchor and tossed in the waters of the Bering Strait.
Even down to the little girl who turns on our survivors, 30 Days Of Night bears more than a passing similarity to Night Of The Living Dead. And this is the problem. Given the days that pass between the arrival of the vampires and the rising of the sun, it should be more Dawn Of The Dead than Night... Here, senility is the reason why Isaac's father leaves the safety of the house when boredom, the meagre rations of food or water or simple stir craziness would have been more understandable. Dawn Of The Dead made one question if it was worth staying alive. 30 Days Of Night asks no such questions and really makes nothing of its unique premise. There are only the vampires and only the urge to survive until sunrise. Otherwise, it's hard to care very much for the characters, for the town of Barrow or who makes it to the end. Eventually, the sun rises and the film ends, with only the vampires in the snow to save it.
With Icon having taken almost all of the special features off the main disc and onto a bonus disc, there is only the film (and, admittedly, a near-endless number of trailers), leaving plenty of room for the presentation of the movie. And it is a very good transfer of the film. The picture is sharp throughout, from the text that explains the backstory of Barrow to the splashes of blood on the snow. It is a dark film but deliberately so. The vampires cut off the town's electricity supply early in the film, which leaves it lit only by the moon or by torchlight for most of its running length. 30 Days Of Night is, then, suitably shadowy but even with this overriding gloom, director David Slade picks out the action with the DVD never letting these moments slip by. Indeed, there are some superb moments but, on the whole, it's an excellent DVD release.
The audio tracks are, if anything, even better. The default is a DD5.1 track but there are also DD2.0 and DTS5.1 tracks, with the latter being the best of the three. There is much use of the rear channels, often to best effect in the quieter hit-and-run attacks in the middle of the film but, equally, there is an explosive ending that the DVD, particularly the DTS track, handles very well indeed. However, the clarity of the audio tracks are also impressive, most often when very little is happening. Indeed, 30 Days Of Night probably sounds best before the vampires even arrive in the town of Barrow. Finally, there are English subtitles for the film but not for the Commentary track.
After an almost neverending series of trailers, which one has to skip through individually, one finally gets to the main menu, from where the Commentary can be selected. This features Josh Hartnett, Melissa George and Rob Tapert and while it's worth listening to Melissa's thoughts on the Lindy Chamberlain/"Dimgoes ate my babies!" case, it's still terribly boring. Hartnett, in particular, might actually be asleep for most of it as his speech is as dull as that uttered by those whose minds are fixed on snoozing.Tapert does his thing to keep the commentary moving, asking questions of George and Hartnett when things become even quieter than usual but it's a track that can easily be passed on.
Onto the second disc and the eight featurettes, which generally follow the production schedule. Pre-Production (7m36s) meets with producer Rob Tapert, comic book writer Steve Niles and director David Slade as they scout locations, plan the movie and get around to the start of production. Building Barrow (4m24s) is specific to the set and production design of the film while The Vampire (5m06s) looks into the character of the monsters and how the actors, particularly Danny Huston, took to the language, methods and savage killings of the vampires. The Cast (8m13s) features more of this, less specific to the vampires, but covers many of the same processes.
The second half of these features begins with The Look (5m57s), one that interviews Director of Photography Jo Willems and how he achieved the look of 30 Days Of Night, with specific mention of the choice of film over HD video, the colour of the film and how much of a resemblance it bears to the comic book. Night Shoots (5m07s) isn't so very different, carrying on into the shoot with problems that come with setting a film almost entirely at night. Blood Guts And Nasty Shit (6m34s) is all about the special effects, including the casts of human heads, the gallons of blood used on the shoot and how exactly you go about decapitating a little girl. Finally, Stunts (7m13s) looks at several scenes in the movie and how they were achieved.
Off the discs, this Special Edition includes what the publicity material described as an exclusive comic book. Look inside this comic book, though, and the extent of this exclusivity becomes clear, with the first page explaining that this is only an excerpt from the original 30 Days Of Night book.