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28 Days Later (2002)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc released: 10/9/2007

All ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/9/2007

Within the horror genre, there are several sub-genres, such as werewolf stories, slasher films, and animals-amok movies. One genre which is relatively under-represented in film are zombie stories. Sure, there was a rash of Italian zombie films in the 80s and George Romero made his famed Dead trilogy in the U.S., but overall, there haven't been that many zombie flicks. Which is why it's great to see a new zombie movie such as 28 Days Later come along, and it's even better (for the horror genre as a whole) when said film is a financial and critical success. Now, 28 Days Later comes to DVD with several interesting extra features.

28 Days Later opens with a group of P.E.T.A.-types breaking into a research facility in order to free the chimps which are being used as experimental subjects. What they don't know is that the animals have been infected with a virus which induces pure rage, and the animals prove this by attacking the activists. The story then leaps ahead, prepare yourself, 28 days later. Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens in a hospital, which he soon finds to be deserted. As he explores the streets of London, he realizes that he is alone, until he is attacked by a group of "infected". He then meets Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley), two normal survivors, who explain to him that Britain has been ravaged by the plague and that there are few left who aren't infected. Jim tags along with this pair and learns about surviving in this new world. They eventually team up with Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter, Hannah (Megan Burns). This rag-tag group decides that the only way to survive is to leave London and find others, and perhaps a cure.

When I saw 28 Days Later in the theater, I absolutely hated it. Why? Because, as with The Blair Witch Project, I'd been seduced by the hype. I expected 28 Days Later to be the end-all, be-all, the groundbreaking horror film which we'd all been waiting for. But, it's not -- not by a long shot. So, when viewing it again on Blu-ray, I approached the film with a more open mind, and found that it's a well-made film, but there is nothing at all original in it. The story liberally takes idea from Stephen King's "The Stand", the "Resident Evil 2" video game, and Romero's Dead films. Screenwriter Alex Garland has created a patchwork script which takes the best and worst from various living dead and apocalyptic stories to create a pastiche that offers nothing new to a seasoned horror audience.

The mainstream press and general audiences hailed the film for being "visionary" and "groundbreaking", and to them it would be. As much as we (horror fans) hate to admit it, most people haven't seen any of Romero's Dead trilogy, and thus, had no idea that most of 28 Days Later had been done before. The other problem with the story is that the third act of the film goes totally in the wrong direction. I won't give anything away for those who haven't seen the movie, but, as with many films in the zombie genre, the film steers away from the infected/undead presence and turns into a parable about man's inhumanity against man. You know what, I can watch the news and see that. Why do these movies always use an "end of the world" backdrop to point out that we're all savages. (Not to mention the fact that the last third recklessly takes ideas from Day of the Dead.)

Having said all of that, 28 Days Later does have a few good points. The first 2/3 of the film, while sluggishly paced at times, is engrossing. If one can get past the unoriginal nature of the story, Garland and director Danny Boyle have created a fine apocalyptic film. Telling the story from Jim's viewpoint, who's right there with the audience, learning everything as the story progresses, helps to make the story more palatable. The scenes in which Jim walks through the deserted streets of London are suspenseful and one must admire the work that went into creating the look of that portion of the film. Boyle's choice of shooting the film on digital video may have created some quality issues (see below), but it gives the movie a gritty, otherworldly look. Also, the way in which Boyle photographed the infected, so that they look as if they are moving at superhuman speed, gives the film a much-needed dose of kinetic energy. The cast of 28 Days Later are all very good, creating believable performances as individuals under a great amount of stress and fear. Unfortunately, that fear is never transferred onto the audience, for the film is never particularly scary, although there are some good jump scares.

It's clear that a lot of good work and good intentions went into the making of 28 Days Later, but the film's total lack of any original ideas was incredibly distracting to me, and the movie's wrong turn in the final act ruin any momentum which it may have created, and make the film a failed attempt at art-house horror.

28 Days Later lurches onto Blu-ray Disc from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The disc features a 1080p HD AVC transfer and the film is letterboxed at 1.85:1. The film was shot (primarily) on digital video. This artistic touch gives the film an unique look. Unfortunately, it doesn't look very good on Blu-ray. The image is crawling with pixellation, grain, video noise, and artifacting. Anytime that a character moves, their bodies seems to break into millions of small pieces to move with them. Images lack in detail. On the plus side, landscape shots are clear and the colors are good. But, the decision to put a movie shot essentially on home video onto Blu-ray was a questionable one. The Blu-ray carries a DTS HD 5.1 master lossless audio track, which runs at 1.5 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. And yet, the track sounds very flat. There is some limited stereo and surround effects, but these come mostly from musical cues and during the action sequences. Fans of the film will most likely want to grab this Blu-ray, but this certainly isn't a home theater demo disc.

This release shines in the extra features department. We start with an audio commentary from director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland. This is a very informative talk, as they give details about how the film was shot, addressing how the low-budget and lofty goals shaped the story and the making of the film. They examine the plot and aren't afraid to pick out what they feel are flaws. Next up are 6 deleted scenes, which can be viewed with or without commentary by Boyle and Garland. Two of these scenes are quite amusing, as cars can be seen driving through "deserted" London. There are two additional action scenes from the finale, which are quite good. This is followed by three alternate endings. The first is the ending which was screened in theaters a few weeks after the film opened in the U.S. The second ending is very similar to the original theatrical ending, but with one minor, and depressing, difference. Then comes the best part of the disc -- the Radical Alternate Ending. In this ending, the third act of the film goes in a totally different direction. Footage for this turn of events was never shot, but there are storyboards. So, Garland reads the stage direction, while Boyle acts out the various characters, while we watch the storyboards. This storyline is very interesting, and different from the finished film. In my opinion, if 28 Days Later had featured this ending, it would have been much, much better.

"Pure Rage: The Making of 28 Days Later" is a 24-minute featurette which not only examines the movie, but also looks at the reality of the story and discusses the way in which viruses threaten the world. This is sort of interesting, but it's way too serious and doesn't focus enough on the film. There is some behind-the-scenes material here, but not much. The segment does examine the FX, how the London scenes were shot, and the choice to go digital. There are two still galleries, which can be viewed with or without commentary. There are two theatrical trailers for 28 Days Later. Finally, we have a music video from Jacknife Lee and animated storyboards from the original U.K. website.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long