Sony // 2007 // 113 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 26th, 2008
Inspired by the graphic novel of the same name, this vampire flick attempts to pump up a genre that's seen it all with a new transfusion of creativity.
In the northernmost town in the United States, a small burg in Alaska, the residents are knuckling down for the annual month-long stretch of sunless days. Many board up their homes and head for warmer and lighter climates, but there is still enough life left to keep the sheriff Ebon (Josh Hartnett, Pearl Harbor) busy.
And it's not long before night falls when the @#%$ hits the fan with as much enthusiasm as @#%$ can muster. First, someone kills all the sled dogs in town, then sabotages the local pilot's helicopter, then cuts all communication and, soon enough, the perpetrators are revealed -- vampires!
Oh yes, a fearsome group of bloodsuckers has descended on the blacked-out town for a month-long all-you-can-eat-buffet and Ebon, his estranged wife (Melissa George) and a handful of survivors must figure out a way to make it to daylight with their throats intact and their heads still attached.
While I'm not familiar with the source material, I was still looking forward to the film based on the premise alone. I'm always up for a decent vampire movie and the prospect of watching a bunch of the blood-slurping jackasses running rampant in town with no sun seemed to be a winner.
Alas, despite its promise, 30 Days of Night can't quite stick the landing. There are flashes of extreme coolness and the atmosphere is fantastic and the bloodletting is not withheld, but some pacing and scripting misfires trip up the final product. Basically, it's a missed opportunity.
Let's start with what works, though. The setting is sublime. An entire Alaskan town shrouded in darkness makes for a playground of nearly limitless mayhem. That the filmmakers don't fully capitalize on the locale is lamentable, but more on that in a bit. With sweeping vistas of snow-covered mountains and colorful sunsets giving way to a soulless, black town of old buildings and snowmobiles, the milieus featured in the film are wonderfully varied and provide a unique set-up to the horror that's set to unfurl. Plus, in high definition, it's truly incredible.
Lollygagging on the pretty landscapes is nice and all, but the true draw of the film is the vampire action. The nightwalkers featured here are pretty great. Clad in stylish, Eurotrash black form-fitting clothes and boasting a variety of evil-ass coiffures (slicked goth hair, misshapen bald domes) the vamps have shown up to the party with class. Add to that their oddly skewed faces, impenetrable black pupils and mouths full of jagged teeth and the result is a solid interpretation of a horror movie staple. These bastards are agile and fast and attack their victims with fervor, tearing into human larynxes as if they were made of delicious candy bars. I wasn't too keen on their conversation, where they employed a goofy, guttural dialect not unlike a blending of Klingon and Portuguese.
When the vampires open up and tear into the town is when the film shines. Director David Slade captures the carnage with creative shooting techniques, including a fantastic flying overhead shot of the chaos. But after the initial massacre and when we're focusing on our survivors and what they can do to stay hidden and alive, the film slows down considerably. On paper, holing up to elude marauding vampires sounds like a recipe for some effective suspense, but the tension just never quite hits enjoyable levels. Instead of empathizing with the plight of our heroes, I found myself grow antsy, hoping for the next vampire encounter, which would eventually come but wrap up too soon and then its back the survivors pondering their lives and chances for escape and maybe mourning the most recent comrade to get him or herself throat-ventilated.
I get we're supposed to root for the characters and that in turn should generate suspense but that empathy never quite manifests itself, even with the two leads (unfortunate, because the final scene banks heavily on you feeling some attachment to them). These characters aren't bad, just bland. That makes them cannon fodder and they never quite get beyond that, no matter how many monologues they cough up about their children.
All of this pushes us to the finale, which represents the most disappointing aspect of the film. One character makes a major decision at the end to combat the vampire menace and it has all the makings for a righteous bloodbath and some long-due comeuppance -- but, again, a missed opportunity. Without going into spoilers, I can assure you'll be able to call how this thing wraps and it is hugely unsatisfying.
On that sour note, lets get into the real nuts and bolts of this disc and that's the technical merit. I'll make this easy: if you're looking for a visual reference Blu-ray disc, you need to consider making 30 Days of Night a regular in the rotation. The video quality is astonishingly good, one of the cleanest, clearest, most visually arresting transfers I've seen on high-definition. From the barren, snow-swept terrain to the town itself the picture quality never ceases to amaze in its pristine detailing and rich color tones. The vampires look great, pale and dark and the blood they splatter contrasts starkly with the environment. What an awesome-looking movie this is on Blu-ray. And the sound is no slouch, powered by the Dolby TrueHD mix. Tearing flesh and undead howling and occasional shotgun blast to the forehead will reverberate around you and the thundering, unique score will work every speaker in you system.
Extras are highlighted by 50 minutes worth of candid, interesting making-of featurettes, all in high-definition, featuring looks at pre-production, special effects, casting and set design. In addition, Josh Hartnett, Melissa George and producer Rob Tapert deliver a low-key feature commentary and -- exclusive to Blu-ray -- 30 comparison shots between movie stills and shots from the graphic novel run in a funky slideshow.
A tip of the hat to the gore effects. When some of the vampires do bite it, it's often in bloody, creative fashion. Gotta love that chainsaw bulldozer thing.
Sporting a fair amount of thrills and a copious amount of gore, 30 Days of Night is nearly a success, but boring characters and disappointing plotting and probably 20 more minutes of runtime than necessary keep it from being totally badass.
This one needs more bite.
Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Thai)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Still Gallery
* Official Site