30 Days of Night is a fine example of bad writing hurting a good idea, which is what I heard about the comic book source too–vampires in Alaska with no sun, Dracula versus Northern Exposure, sounds like a good idea. But it’s just an idea, it’s not a two hour movie. There are some other basic writing problems–poor dialogue and an utter lack of back-story. It doesn’t make it difficult to sympathize with the characters’ plight (the nasty vampires do that one pretty well), but it does make it impossible for 30 Days to even approach a full experience. The simplest example is the absence of any explanation to why the characters are in the place they are in–the most isolation settlement in Alaska.
The actors take the most significant hits from the screenplay, Hartnett in particular. His character literally needs no more back-story than a reference to high school athletics (and where’s the high school in this town… couldn’t they have hidden in the high school? Or any school…) to be acceptable as the stoic lawman. In terms of his martial distress with Melissa George a lot more work is needed to make it good, but it doesn’t even have to be good, it just has to work. George is incredibly ineffectual in her role and I spent her first five minutes on screen recasting her role, then lost interest because she disappears. Mark Boone Junior probably comes out best.
The other big problem is the pacing. The first half hour or more takes place the first day, then it skips to the seventh, then to the seventieth, then to the twenty-ninth. It just isn’t believable, because there’s never any shots of the survivors surviving in the non-setpiece moments and because there’s not enough for the vampires to do when they aren’t attacking the survivors… I mean, I’d buy it if Danny Huston’s lead vampire (the vampires in 30 Days speak some variation of Klingon, which is real silly) sat and read poetry to his leading vampire lady… but they just go on pause.
But this post actually isn’t negative–it’s positive. David Slade’s a great director and he really works with the CG elements (mostly scenery) and the isolation. He also knows how to shoot actors (just doesn’t know how to hire writers–or a composer, the music is terrible) and action scenes and quiet scenes and make the whole thing a lot more palatable than the script deserves.
Oh, and Ben Foster. Foster chews scenery better than any actor in a generation, playing the film’s Renfield, in a performance Dwight Frye would admire. Foster only creates a performance here, not a character, which shouldn’t be a problem… if he were the only one….
Maybe Slade should have brought in the “Northern Exposure” writing staff to do the non-vampire stuff. They might have made the Alaskan setting a little more believable (the New Zealanders and Australians in the cast locking down American accents would have helped too).
Directed by David Slade; written by Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson, based on the comic book by Niles and Ben Templesmith; director of photography, Jo Willems; edited by Art Jones; music by Brian Reitzell; production designer, Paul Denham Austerberry; produced by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert; released by Columbia Pictures.
Starring Josh Hartnett (Eben Olesen), Melissa George (Stella Olesen), Danny Huston (Marlow), Ben Foster (The Stranger), Mark Boone Junior (Beau Brower), Mark Rendall (Jake Oleson), Amber Sainsbury (Denise) and Manu Bennett (Billy Kitka).