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30 Days of Night (2007)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 2/26/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/14/2008

In my review for The Ten, I wrote about how movies have big ideas and little ideas and how those can work together to make a great film or collide to make a disappointing film. However, a great main idea can really carry a film. Every once in a while you'll come across a movie which has such an ingenious central premise that you'll let other things slide. 30 Days of Night definitely falls into this category. Even if you hate every single frame of the movie, the plot deserves a standing ovation.

30 Days of Night takes place in Barrow, Alaska, where, once a year, the sun doesn't rise for a month. The film opens on the last day of sunlight. We learn that most of the people in the small, isolated town leaves during this period, dropping the population to a little over 100. (Due to the snowy conditions, the town is essentially cut off during this period.) Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and his deputy Billy Kitka (Manu Bennett) discover a pile of burned cell phones and they learn that the local helicopter has been vandalized. Meanwhile, Eben's estranged wife, Stella (Melissa George), a fire marshal, has been in Barrow and isn't able to catch the last plane out of town, so she's stuck there. As Eben is reeling from seeing Stella back in town, he's forced to arrest a stranger (Ben Foster), who has been disruptive. The sun sets as Eben, along with his brother Jake (Mark Rendall) and Stella, take the stranger to the police station. The stranger begins to babble about death coming to town and how they are all going to die. Suddenly, the lights go out. The town is suddenly overrun by vampires led by Marlow (Danny Huston). Taking advantage of the absence of sunlight, the vamps slaughter most of the residents of Barrow. The survivors, led by Eben, find a place to hide, and begin to devise a plan to stay hidden for the next 30 days.

The central premise of 30 Days of Night is so simple and genius that it almost moves one to tears. Vampires who journey to the arctic circle where there's no daylight for extended periods. That's simply brilliant. The film is based on a graphic novel which was written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith and their main idea has been brought to the screen intact.

The vampires overtaking of the dark town is the point from which the rest of the film springs. As the townspeople leave Barrow in the beginning, Eben finds several odd things, such as the cell phones and the helicopter. As night falls, Eben encounters the stranger. These scenes are very suspenseful. Even though we know what's coming (assuming that we've seen the trailer and have a clue as to what the film is about), awaiting the vampire onslaught is nerve-wracking. And once it comes, it is violent and intense, and the number of survivors is whittled down very quickly.

However, the middle part of the film becomes a siege movie, as the survivors find a place to hide and decide to stay there. This part of the film drags somewhat, as it turns into a fairly standard-issue "Let's wait and see who's going to do something stupid and get killed" movie. However, things pick up again during the final act. The finale contains an interesting twist which I didn't see coming, and the ending is both sad and satisfying at the same time.

David Slade, who directed the intense but flawed Hard Candy, helms 30 Days of Night and he's given the film a nice look. The darkened streets of Barrow become a place where anything can happen, and there are many shots where there is action in the background -- very reminiscent of a John Carpenter film. I also liked the look of the vampires. We don't get the usual gothic Eurotrash look here. Actually, little attention is drawn to the mundane clothing of the vamps. No, we can't take our eyes off of their animal-like teeth and the fact that they never wash the blood from their faces. They also speak in their own language. These aren't the typical vampires who try to pass themselves off as human -- no, this is a tribe of monsters who live in the shadows.

Of all of the subgenres of horror, the vampire film may be the most interesting one in the sense that it constantly needs reinventing, and filmmakers are constantly trying to reinvent it. Nearly everything about 30 Days of Night feels fresh and new, from the great premise, to the unique location, to the look of the vampires. The beginning and ending of the film are suspenseful and have some nice gory action. It's only the slow mid-section which keeps this movie from bordering on being a modern-classic. If you have sworn off vampire films because they're all the same, try spending the evening with 30 Days of Night.

30 Days of Night comes alive after five on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks good, as the picture is quite sharp and clear. The opening scenes take place in a completely white, snow-covered landscape, and the fact that the grain isn't overwhelming here is a very good sign. Following this, the rest of the film takes place at night, and the image is never overly dark. The colors, although muted, look fine, especially the reds. I did note that the image doesn't have a great deal of depth and flesh tones look a bit waxy at times. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As much of the film deals with people hiding, 30 Days of Night is a surprisingly quiet movie. However, there are key action scenes where we are treated to a wealth of stereo and surround sound effects. A few explosions and the film's ominous score keep the subwoofer active.

The 30 Days of Night Blu-ray Disc contains a nice selection of extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring Josh Hartnett, Melissa George and producer Rob Tapert. This is a fun chat, as the trio speak at length about the film. Despite his often stoic on-screen demeanor, Hartnett is actually pretty funny here. The three talk about shooting in New Zealand, the other actors, and the story. Hartnett and George talk about their experiences acting in the film (and what it was like to have to pretend to be cold), while Tapert gives some behind-the-scenes info about the script and editing. The disc contains 8 Featurettes which can all be watched together, running about 50 minutes. These featurettes offer a wealth of comments from the cast and filmmakers, as well as load of behind-the-scenes footage. Author Steve Niles talks about the inspiration for the graphic novel. We then get to sit in on pre-production meetings with director David Slade and producer Rob Tapert as they plan the movie. We then see the planning and construction of the Barrow set. Director David Slade and Director of Photgraphy Jo Willems talk about the look of the film and how it compares to that of the graphic novel. Willems discusses the lighting scheme of the film. The folks from WETA Workshop then talk about the special effects makeup and gory props of the film. We see application of makeup and implimentation of the FX on-set. We then get a behind-the-scenes look at 5 stunt-heavy scnes from the film, including preparations and rehearsals. There is then an overview of the vampires in the film. We see them rehearsing their "moves" and practicing their "language". There is then a discussion of the look of the vampires and we see the make-up being applied. The actors and crew discuss what it was like to shoot at night for weeks and weeks. Finally, we get a look at the casting for the film. The DVD also contains the first episode of the anime series Blood + (20 minutes).

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has also brought 30 Days of Night to Blu-ray Disc. The film is again letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the disc contains a AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 27 Mbps. The image is even sharper and clearer than the DVD here, and the snowy landscape shots look great. The clarity of the image makes the night-time action stand out more. The picture has a nice amount of detail, which is good, as director David Slade has placed a lot of action in the background. The colors are excellent and there's no video noise or artifacting here. The disc has a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.7 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue throughout, and very detailed stereo effects. The score sounds great, and adds a lot to the movie. The surround sound effects are especially good, not only during the action scenes, but as suspense builders when the group is hiding. The bass response is good, save for one big explosion which didn't rock as I'd expected.

The Blu-ray Disc contains an extra not found on the DVD. "30 Images of Night" compares frames from the graphic novel with frames from the movie. It's very interesting to note how the film borrowed images from the comic. It's also interesting how stylized the comic art is.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long