This is long winded folks..Get comfortable!
When 30 Days of Night was announced, I became really excited. This was because it looked like an honest to God SCARY vampire film. As some of you who have been following the blog, I have a general indifference towards the vampire genre. Vampires just don't do it for me really. While I find the concept intriguing, I never found the species that frightening at all. Angsty, poetic, and mysterious? Sure. Scary? Well you might as well dress my 8th grade poetry loving English teacher up in a cape and have her "lurk" at me. That would probably induce the same amount of fear that a vampire would.
But 30 Days of Night?
Aw yeah. Promising.
30 Days of Night looked on par with Near Dark (The only vampire movie to ever scare me.). So I researched the film like a good little nerd and found out that 30 Days was based on a graphic novel of the same name. Double geek score! And of course, the one thing I wanted to do was dig my meat hooks into the graphic novel before the film came out. Luckily one of our readers and good friend of mine, Nojh sent me the box set of the 30 Days of Night graphic novel trilogy. I promised him my first born son and since he didn't want that I promised to buy him some Anime he wanted...which I have yet to deliver on. Unfortunately these novels solidified my now tried and true rule. Never read the book before seeing the movie! Because about 99% percent of the time the movie is just a dim comparison of the material its based upon. For me 30 Days of Night the movie was in that 99%. Damn it all. Now don't get me wrong, 30 Days of Night isn't a crap film. It's actually pretty well done. The problem is, the graphic novel is better. And my expectations going in to see this film were a bit high.
For those of you who do not know the graphic novel or the film BEWARE! THAR BE SPOILERS AHEAD!!
The Graphic Novel of 30 Days of Night is virtually the exact same story as the film. A group of vampires descend on the small Alaskan town of Barrow during the winter when the sun is down for 30 days. Chaos and blood ensues. The interesting thing about 30 Days the graphic novel is that its written like a fable. The action is briefly described and the characters are a bit vague. Its less a fleshed out piece of literature and more of a cautionary tale told over a campfire. You can get through each book in a day. What carries the novel is the beautifully grotesque art and the story line. After reading this I felt it was perfect to put to film. With many other books to movie adaptations you lose a lot of the small details, subplots, and character quirks leaving the Cliff Notes addition to fill the screen. But with 30 Days of Night, you can easily transfer the fable like story to the screen without losing a thing. You even have room for additions too. The attack on the town was not very detailed in the novel and relied on the moody art to covey its terror. In a film version you have room to expand. And 30 Days, the film did do this its benefit. The attack sequences were wonderful. The first couple being mauled, the good friend hiding under the house after he's been turned, the old senile man constantly stepping out of hiding forgetting the situation, and my favorite and the one that really gets under my skin, the "human bait" scene. Each one of these scenes were perfectly orchestrated for suspense and terror. Also, the portrayal of the vampires were spot on. The shark eyed, mouth full of razors, animalistic blood suckers were perfect to give me the chills. Finally, a screen vampire (that wasn't Bill Paxton) to scare me! Danny Huston was perfect as the lead vampire Marlow. He was everything I'd want in a vampire leader; creepy, calculating, cold blooded...slightly attractive which really disturbs me about how I think. The addition of the vampires speaking their own language was also stellar and alienated the audience even more from them.
So what went wrong for me?
While the film did do a great job expanding the action and terror, it ignored some really great and even franchise building character moments that were in the book. The book was written fable style, but there were two great subplots that were completely ignored in the film; the vampire hunters and the other vampires. Also, the portrayal of our two heroes in the film, Eben and his wife Stella didn't sit well with me either.
The novel had two subplots that were pretty fantastic. And while I understand that in most book to movie adaptations subplots sometimes have to be removed for time and streamline factors, 30 Days the movie really didn't have to omit them. The movie had plenty of room to include both subplots but still keep the story streamlined and keep the running time under two and a half hours.The vampire hunter subplot was small but lead into a huge plot point in the second novel, which I heard was in the works for a movie. In 30 Days, the novel we're introduced to a woman and her son in New Orleans who are Hell bent on proving to the world that vampires exist. They find out about the attack on Barrow and the son heads off on a mission to not save the the down but only to document the attack and come back to report to the world. I felt this subplot gave the audience a larger scope of the vampires. They didn't just pop up in Alaska, they were everywhere. And from a commercial standpoint, this would give a great lead in to a movie sequel.
The other vampires was a subplot that I really felt was needed to give the vampires a bit more depth. While I loved how they were portrayed as pack animals, the idea that they had enough human in them to be organized and calculating was the scary part. We had glimpses of their intelligence in the film. The graphic novel expanded on this more. We found out that not only where there more vampires than Marlow's little band of misfits but that all the other vampires were really pissed off at Marlow's plan for an Alaskan feeding orgy feeling it will expose their species to humans. This ended in a creepy show down between Marlow and the head honcho of the vampire world right in the middle of Barrow which eventually lead to a good chunk of the town's destruction. This also lead to a rather large war between the humans and the vampires in the second book. While I can understand omitting the vampire hunter's subplot since it can be glazed over in the second movie, I felt the other vampires subplot really added to the overall mood of the piece and was pretty vital to the essence of the vampires. It also made a much better reason for the vampires to burn the town than Marlow's sudden change of heart about what they were doing.
I also wasn't too happy with the portrayal of Eben and Stella in the film. When reading 30 Days the graphic novel Eben and Stella were happily married. Not only happily married but I also had the feeling that they were much older possibly in their late thirties or early forties. The stars of our film Josh Hartnett and Melissa George appeared to be much younger. Not only younger but hyper good looking. I'm sure this sounds like a nit picky thing but I felt making the two main characters of the movie young and hot pushed 30 Days the film into typical horror movie cliche land. Who will save us? The beautiful people of course! They were fine in their rolls but I craved to have older more experienced actors as Eben and Stella. They were the sheriffs in the harsh Alaskan territory. I'm not saying all Alaskans are beaten and withered but I am saying is that you'd have a wee bit more experience in your eyes than your average beautiful movie star. Also, was it necessary to have them be separated? It seemed like just another typical movie cliche to have their marriage in turmoil only to be brought back together by crisis. We've seen it so many times in movies (Die Hard, Outbreak, Saw 3, etc etc.) Why not have the older married couple that was portrayed in the graphic novel? To me that seems more mundane and makes the crisis they encounter twice as terrifying.
I'm sure it sounds like I'm tearing this movie a new one. It really isn't a horrible film. And if I had never read the graphic novel first, chances are I'd have liked it a lot more than I do. I do recommend it to anyone who is curious about it. But unfortunately its not a classic like Near Dark is. It feels shallow. Fantastic creatures and great suspense but without the extra bits of character it needs to back it all up. If they only kept in most if not all the nuances of the novel I really believe it could have been a classic vampire film. Right now, I can only classify it as "Good and worth a rental".