Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Weeks Too Late: The Walking Dead- Days Gone Bye

The Walking Dead-Days Gone Bye. Adapted/Developed & Directed by Frank Darabont.

Preconceptions: I came prepared to talk about a couple of movies this week. Over the weekend I saw the abysmal, Fox TV Movie version, of Doctor Who for the first time since I was a kid. Also, on the say so of the great and powerful Judge John Hodgman I finally sat down and watched Rashomon, a Kurosawa film that my brain has been meaning to see for some time. But even with the staggering high of Rashomon and the plummeting low of Fox's Doctor Who, I've spent the last few days thinking about Days Gone Bye. (I never miss the opportunity to review something, though, so expect to hear me jawing about those other two movies in the upcoming weeks). While I enjoy a handful of good TV shows I try to keep the scope of this blog to movies, Days Gone Bye felt a lot more like an excellent short horror film than it did the pilot to a running series. What's more I can't seem to dislodge it from my head, so despite it being a television show, you all have to hear about it.

General Review: I knew I liked Darabont going in. I'm hardly being controversial when I say that The Shawshank Redemption is an awesome movie. I'm maybe going out a little further into nut job territory when I say The Mist is one of the only really good horror movies in the last couple of years (well it is...though he does seem to have a strangely Stephen King heavy filmography). Darabont's directing in this pilot is breathtaking. He manages to sell beauty, horror and isolation all in a brief hour. He also manages to get us to know and care about quite a number of characters in that same time. While I believe firmly that the good shows on TV are getting better and better (though I still choose to watch some of the trashy options) this pilot is a cut above. To call it film quality is insulting. I've seen plenty of movies that don't have the subtlety or craftsmanship of Days Gone Bye.

I read the first arc of the Walking Dead comic, by Robert Kirkman (whose comic, Invincible, I loved), and thought it was okay, but wasn't impressed. While I try not to be overly swayed by the art in comics (I really come for the writing) this was an exception. The character designs were so generic, I couldn't tell who was who. The fact that it was in black and white meant I didn't even have the Archie comic advantage of different hair colour. I was only able to pick out the protagonist because of his police uniform and signature hat. When a second guy in uniform showed up I was ready to throw up my hands. Getting around to my point (finally), though I wasn't a huge fan of the comic, I am utterly in love with this.

Besides the obvious advantage of being able to tell one character from another, let me mention again how fabulous I thought the directing was. If you'll forgive me, I'd like to gush my praise, like so much gore, more specifically. Two scenes stuck out for me particularly and you'll know them when you see them. Rick, our main character the policeman (not to be confused with his best friend who is also a policeman), spends some time searching a park for half a zombie. I keep flashing back on this because of the skill that Darabont uses in being able to entwine the idyllic setting with evisceration. Secondly, Rick entering the city of Atlanta and the following chase sequence had me rapt. Even though I've read the comic and had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen, I was worried for the character. Now that is some suspense.

To get away from the directing (before I start going on and on about how repeating themes and images are gently and naturally incorporated into the episode over and over...erm, yes, without getting into that) let me talk a bit about the cast. Wow. While the directing certainly would have sold me on Days Gone Bye, what performances we're being treated to. There isn't one of them that doesn't sell a series of complicated emotions and reactions, but Lennie James (Morgan) and Andrew Lincoln (Rick) are particularly good. There are a lot of long, dialog-less scenes that Lincoln holds together strictly by the strength of his performance. And James is only in it briefly, but makes us like and respect the calm, gentle character almost immediately. Keisha Tillis also does some impressive zombie-ing.

The slow, sad decay of Romero and the inundation of zombies into most everything had made me certain that I was ready for a well earned break from this particular type of the undead (y'know just like I needed a break from vampires in the mid to late nineties). Days Gone Bye reminded me that no matter how frequently a particular type of story is told, if it's told well I can't stay sick of it. And yes, I'm most of the way through the rest of the series now and am enjoying it, but Days Gone Bye really stands up on its own. Even if you go into it with all the prejudices I did, this particular hour of TV is well worth your time.

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