Saturday, October 20, 2007

30 Days of Night

I like the idea of Steve Niles. He seems like a decent guy. He seems to really know and love horror. And yet, I've still never really ended up shining to any of the comic books he's written.

Mind you, my own greatest fear as an aspiring creative artist interested in genre work, is that I, too, will suffer, like Niles and too many other creators of recent years, as a someone who loves and understands the work from a theoreticians point of view, but whose output ultimately doesn't work as well as it ought to as a whole.

30 Days of Night is a perfect example.

As pointed out any number of places, including in 30 Days of Night by David Walker and Andrew Wright's review in this week's On Screen, the idea is terrific, although, as I pointed out in Winter vampires, owing something to the "Red Snow" episode of The New Twilight Zone. The art by Ben Templesmith is fascinating, if not always compellingly kinetic in the sense needed to tell a narrative story. Not to mention, the story itself seems to lack any real spark, relying too heavily, it seems, on the idea itself.

And yet, I've continued to be compelled by that idea and jumped out to see the 30 Days of Night movie upon its release.

How is it?

I liked it a whole lot.

Mind you, it's one of those movies a person could nitpick to death. Even watching the movie, I found myself questioning the length of the day and the number of actions taken by the main characters on the last day before the "30 days of night" themselves, and reading the Wikipedia article on Barrow, Alaska, I made special note of this paragraph, "On the November 18th the sun goes down, and remains below the horizon for 67 days until it re-appears on January 24th. During that time there is a decreasing amount of twilight each day, and on December 21st, the shortest day of the year, civil twilight in Barrow lasts for a mere 3 hours."

Of course, no suggestion is made in the movie that any of these 30 days has a period of twilight, despite the fact that this could easily have enhanced rather than detracted from the story being told.

I also note that significantly more than half the population is Native Alaskan, which is another fact I didn't have immediately at my disposal before watching the movie, but having known a variety of people who were from Alaska or spent a significant period of time in Alaska, not to mention watching Northern Exposure, I couldn't help but find the utter lack of Native presence in the movie discrediting.

And then there's the vampires and the timeline. The timeline inself, set out in a series of graphics telling which day this takes place on seems random and not to reflect any real sense of time passage. I also can't help question the logic of the vampires behavior, seeming to gorge themselves in the first few days, leaving themselves desperate in later days. For a group that planned the opening days of their attack so well, this seems sloppy, confusing and unclear in its motivation.

However, I've done far too much nitpicking. As I've said many times, especially in defense of Lucio Fulci, logic is an overrated crutch in worlds in which should evoke the nightmare at least as much as our familiar world.

And on this level, director David Slade, whose Hard Candy I reviewed here, does a bang-up job of making the movie work despite the occasional failures of the writing.

Not addicted to modern editing techniques and shaky hand-held camera work, like so many modern horror directors, but willing to use them to help evoke the chaos and terror of a massacre, where the impact of these tools can be felt more sharply when contrasted to the slower, more fluid style of the rest of the movie.

The most effective element, and one I've not seen a lot of mention of, is the amazing sound design. There's a constant build of disconcerting sound throughout the movie that just keeps the viewer ill at ease.

The attacking vampires, led by Danny Huston, are effectively monstrous, lacking any sense of humanity or the kind of classiness that has made vampires feel "safe" for too many generations.

It's a wonderfully effective and chilling two-hour ride into a dark world. I'd even go so far as to say one of the most effectively frightening movies of the last few years.

But then I don't think the same direction applied to a less problematic screenplay would have, in this case, been less effective, so I can only wish my concerns, and possibly a few others, could have been addressed at that stage of development. Had they been, it would have been a serious contender for some future Willie List.


r_sail said...

I'm a big fan of Ben's work in general. I think that's the only reason I ever cared about 30 Days. Even if early work, and certainly not his best work, it's still the main element of interest for me in the series of books. While the concept is a pretty cool one, it never seemed to do much with it. Haven't seen the movie yet, but been meaning to as Ben fully endorses it and says that it's better than the comic. Plus they made it look like Ben's art and that alone is worth the time and money.

Also, Ben recently returned to the 30 Days world with a recent mini called.... RED SNOW. I'm sure it's an intentional nod to the Twighlight Zone ep, as it's set in Russia during WWII. I should ask him.

Also also, you might want to check out 30 Days of Night: Return to Barrow simply because it's illustrated by Bill Seinkeiwicz.

r_sail said...

Sorry, it's BEYOND Barrow that Bill is doing. RETURN to Barrow was one of Ben's books.

Neil Sarver said...

I certainly like his art a lot better than I do the writing. It's striking to look at. In fact, as art I like it quite well, but it's the "sequential" element it feels to lack for... at least in that, I admit I haven't explored more of his stuff, outside single images. I'd certainly be interested in seeing more of what he's done than I would be in more Steve Niles, who I've tried several times and found much the same quality.

And, yes, you should definitely check out the movie, which does indeed do a terrific job capturing the look of the art.

r_sail said...

I think Ben's art sequential art has improved... it's been five years or something, so it better have.

Uh... FELL is really good, you've read some of that, and Ben's own Wormwood: Gentlemen Corpse is ridiculously fun. I wish he drew more backgrounds instead of defaulting to color and bits of photos as much as he does, but that's a small gripe. It's never unclear what's happening or where the characters are, and I suppose that is the most important thing.

30 Days being pretty early in his career, it's obviously not his strongest sequential work. I think he actually did al the art in pecil only... which obviously now, he uses pens and brushes as well as paint. Check out some of his newer stuff and see what you think.

Neil Sarver said...

That's right. I forgot "Fell", which I enjoyed the art in a lot. Previously, I'd only read stuff he'd done with Steve Niles and knew that was not completely fair as I've not terribly enjoyed the stuff Niles has done with other artists much more. I'll have to keep my eye out for more, including the "Wormwood" one there.

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