OCTOBER 16, 2007
I still recall reading the original graphic novel for 30 Days of Night a few years back, waiting for my window to be replaced (someone stole my stereo). As it was nearing its conclusion (I read it all in one sitting – fucking window repair guys were slow as shit!), I remember thinking how relatively low-key Steve Niles’ story was; other than the basic idea of setting a vampire siege in a town that would be plunged in darkness for a month, there was nothing particularly complicated about it. Not a bad thing per se, but something that surprised me a bit. However, Ben Templesmith’s artwork was phenomenal; providing me more than enough to keep me turning the pages.
So in that regard, the film version is possibly the most faithful comic adaptation of all time. On a strictly visual level, this is one of the greatest horror movies ever made. There isn’t a shot in the film that you wouldn’t want to pause and admire. WETA’s effects are as amazing as always, and the darkness mixed with constant snow makes for a truly amazing setting. But the script doesn't live up to the visuals, in addition to making some weird changes, they condense the comics' play by play, causing some damage to the sense of dread and suspense that the source had.
The idea of time passing is definitely a problem. Granted the lack of having a sunset/rise to show a new day is a tricky obstacle, but over the course of 30 days, our characters barely grow facial hair or seem to get really tired/hungry, nor do they suffer from cabin fever (or whatever you call it when you wear the same clothes and not shower for a month). A few title cards show us that the film shows us about 5 different days during the month, but without them, you would probably just assume it all took place in one or two nights. At one point they skip 10 days’ time, and yet the characters are all pretty much in the same spot they were before. What did they do during this time? How can you read or talk or do anything to pass the time when you’re supposedly in danger? Those are vastly more interesting ideas than what we get to see instead. And their occasional “we got to find somewhere safer” decisions are almost entirely without any real urgency – it seems they are only moving for the sake of an audience wanting some action. They say they need food, but the film doesn’t bother showing anyone eating, or fighting over the last candy bar or whatever. For a film that relies so heavily on its visuals, you would think they could include things like this in order to sell the ideas. As it stands, it just makes the characters seem kind of stupid.
There are some great setpieces though – particularly an attack on the SUV that Josh Hartnett and Melissa George are driving through the snow (a scene not in the book). Another new, fun sequence finds Mark Boone Junior (playing a nice character for the first time I can ever recall) driving his tractor around the town, chopping up vampires with some sort of drill. And David Slade stages a fantastic image/scene, an overhead shot of the town showing vampires running amok, devouring Barrow’s residents. Again, the film never stops being a visual feast, but I just wish there was more urgency to the proceedings. Slade and the writers have called this part “survival horror” – but at no time do I feel that the characters are in any real danger of freezing to death, starvation, etc.
Back to the book, several changes were made to the story, and for the most part, not for the better. For example, Eben and Stella, lovey dovey in the book, are separated (for reasons never explained) here, yet so little is done with it, you gotta wonder why they bothered making the change at all, as it even blunts the emotional impact of the truly great ending (which it DOES retain from the source material). And maybe I just missed it, but one of the few unique ideas in the book was that vampires couldn’t smell in the cold, which is how the humans were able to evade them; a plot point not utilized here. Also, the vampires no longer speak English; instead they (well, HE, as only one of them speaks) converse in a made up, extremely silly sounding language, and their standard bad guy dialogue from the novel is replaced with even worse nonsense that sounds like bad gothic poetry (“God? NO GOD!” is a particular howler). Obviously, no book to film adaptation will retain everything, but some of these decisions just don’t really work for me.
One wise decision, however, was to eliminate the subplot of a New Orleans woman who was tracking the vampires down, for it really broke the pace of the book. Some of this material was actually folded into a short film called 30 Days Of Night: Blood Trails (directed by Haunted Hill 2’s Victor Garcia) that aired on Fearnet to promote the feature film, though it’s nothing particularly special (it feels very cheap and the chainsaw editing is atrocious at times). There’s also more characterization for the other survivors (though seemingly at the expense of characterizing the vampires themselves), which is good, as you’ll actually care about a few of them, unlike the novel which pretty much just focused on Eben and Stella.
So I guess it comes down to what’s more important to you – visuals or story. A few more drafts (or is that less?) of the script could have resulted in the year’s best horror movie by far. As it stands, it’s a fairly straight horror story elevated immensely by some truly remarkable cinematography and action. Hopefully, my somewhat disappointed opinion will be in the minority; a big hit could mean other filmmakers as gifted as Slade will come on board a horror project that has a script I could really get behind (such as a Cal McDonald movie – Steve Niles’ greatest creation by far).
What say you?