30 Days of Night

Synopsis: Josh Harnett (The Black Dahlia, Pearl Harbor) crosses over to the dark side in this bone-chilling adaptation of the cult-hit graphic novel, brought to the screen in all its demonic glory.

In a small Alaskan town, thirty days of night is a natural phenomenon. Very few outsiders visit, until a band of bloodthirsty, deathly pale vampires mark their arrival by savagely attacking sled dogs. But soon they find there are much more satisfying thirst-quenchers about: human beings. One by one, the townspeople succumb to a living nightmare, but a small group survives – at least for now. The vampires use the dark to their advantage, and surviving this cold hell is a game of cat and mouse – and screams.
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30 Days of Night 7.5

When I sat down to watch this movie, I only remembered a few things from the graphic novel: there are vampires, and it takes place in an isolated Alaskan town in the dead of winter. The rest was all very vague… I didn’t even remember what I thought of the graphic novel.

The Thing… with vampires?

As soon as I started watching the movie, I was reminded of John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ (and the 2011 rebootquel, if reviews are accurate). It would hardly be surprising: the friend who recommended ’30 Days…’) and was instrumental in tipping the scale in its favour, is also a HUGE fan of the Carpenter film.

But while they may seem similar at first glance, and could certainly make for a fun double-bill, here’s what they don’t share in common:

  • the lead in ‘The Thing’ is an anti-hero, whereas the lead in ’30 Days’ is a Boy Scout (figuratively speaking, obviously wink)
  • ‘The Thing’ is a total boys’ club (’cause only tough men can handle the North, right!), whereas ’30 Days’ allows women to freeze their asses off in the bitter cold too.
  • whereas ‘The Thing’ takes its time picking off its cast and creating a mood, ’30 Days’ is carnage incarnate from the onset (um… before taking a bit of a break to get its wind back wink)
  • while ‘The Thing’ doesn’t spare its characters, it spares its audience the gruesome, deadly details (except with regards to non-humans!). ’30 Days’ has a much more visceral approach: flesh is torn and burned, bones are crushed and blood flows/spews liberally.
  • ‘The Thing’ doesn’t allow the characters or its audience to know the stalker’s identity until late in the game. ’30 Days’ reveals its villains very early on (although it tries to make them somewhat mysterious at first).
  • ‘The Thing’ features a brilliant motion picture score by Ennio Morricone. ’30 Days’ doesn’t.

Falling from grace

It may not seem like huge differences, but these details change the tone of the films. Having said this, it wasn’t enough to affect my appreciation of the films. However, there are a few things that had a real impact on my final assessment:

The Thing

  • The special effects: while lauded by some, are an eyesore to me. They may have looked cool back in 1982, but I saw this film for the first time almost 20 years later, post-CGI. The animatronics looks really amateurish to me. (That’s it. That’s my only true issue – and I know a LOT of people won’t agree)

30 Days of Night

  • There is no true sense of time: although day-counts pop up once in a while, we don’t get any real sense that time has moved. If not for those inserts, it could have been hours, days or weeks since the last scene. The only notable difference I noticed was Josh Hartnett’s facial hair – which, given that it’s as spare as Michael Jackson’s was, wasn’t much of a marker.
  • There is very little sense of location: we hardly ever know where the characters are in relation to anything else or to the villains. This causes major issues because we don’t have any idea how dangerous their outings are, what kind of threat they’re under, …etc.
  • Basic plot ((warning: slight spoiler): Where are all the vampires during those 30 days? After they’ve slaughtered most of the villagers and there’s only a few left, what are the vampires doing? Having a post-meal nap? How is it that this little bunch of humans can escape and not be found out over a whole 30 days? Seems to me that a systematic search would easily find them, considering where they’re hidden.
  • (warning: spoiler) The ending: If dawn was only minutes away, and it would solve all our protagonists’ problems, why didn’t that guy (sorry… can’t say who, in case you haven’t seen this) just wait it out instead of subjecting himself to sheer hell? confused

These last two issues were problems that surfaced in the original book as well. Now I remember what I thought of the graphic novel: it was enjoyable, but it was hardly noteworthy. Plus it had those dubious elements that sort of spoiled the fun for me. And THAT’s why I initially didn’t jump at the chance to see this film.

Saving grace

Good thing that I was eventually convinced otherwise – it also has a number of redeeming values:

  • It has a solid cast. Even Josh Hartnett was believable (the last time I saw him in a movie was in ’40 Days and 40 Nights’… you can imagine why he stayed off my radar since! wink)
  • Everyone looked like real people – not Hollywood stars. The make-up people left them all looking very natural. I liked that look and I wish that more film followed that principle.
  • Even though it’s not Morricone’s breathtakingly nuanced score, the music was intriguing: they were electronic pulses, more so than melodies, and it vibrated into the room. It reminded me of Kurt Swinghammer’s amazing score to ‘Ginger Snaps II’ in some ways. love struck
  • The film’s vibe is sustained by some excellent surround activity (not all the time, but a few times). It was, overall, a very loud and dynamic disc – in fact, I had to lower the volume by several notches compared to most discs (granted, this doesn’t make it better – I’m just sayin’) Anyway, the soundtrack was solid.
  • The film has a great look; the blacks were jet black and it looked cinematic without sacrificing realism. And there are some very nice shots along the way, including a few overhead looks of the town that were just yummy to watch (the first attack by the vampires, in particular, was impressive – it must have been nuts to coordinate). smile

The Thing vs. the vampires

Okay, sure, ’30 Days of Night’ could have been more subtle at times (ex: the death of the dogs didn’t require a few frames of a hand brandishing a huge knife), but I’d say that it was, generally, a well-made affair. If it wasn’t for the darned time and place issues, it would be a good interpretation of the graphic novel (I can’t remember just how close the script is to the original source material, but, since the author was involved, I imagine that it must be somewhat accurate).

It’s still a good time, though. However, in a competition with ‘The Thing’, the vampires take a beating. It’s a stylish and entertaining affair, but it lacks the coherence of its cousin – and in a film where tension is built from the many dangers our protagonists face, having a clear understanding of how real this threat is makes a world of difference.

2 responses to “30 Days of Night

    • I really wish that I had enjoyed it more, but I just didn’t. Le sigh. I know that a lot of people do, though; it’s become a minor classic of sorts.

      Steer clear of the straight-to-video sequel, though – apparently it’s miserable crud.

      The Thorn

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