When 30 Day of Night first came out in comic form back in 2002, I was only reading comics casually. Still, I kept hearing more and more about the series. The first issue had already escalated ridiculously in value and I didn’t read it until it was published in collected format. My initial thoughts upon finishing the book were that it would make a great movie. The idea of vampires attacking a town near the Arctic Circle that is shrouded in darkness for a month was quite brilliant and terrifying as well.
Barrow is that little, Alaskan town whose population is drastically reduced when the Sun finally sets for thirty days. Most of the inhabitants head for warmer and brighter areas, leaving only the heartiest folk behind. Using a lead lackey, the vampires cut the town off from the outside world…destroying cell phones, knocking out power and phone lines, and killing all the sled dogs. The vampires descend upon the town like death itself, killing every person they can find. Only a small group of survivors led by Sheriff Eben Oleson (Hartnett) and his wife Stella (George), manage to flee the slaughter but will they survive to see the Sun eventually rise?
Great care was taken by director David Slade and his team to maintain the look and feel of the comic book. Slade refers to the look as a “metallic coldness” which is a great description of Ben Templesmith’s unusual sketchy art style. The darkness is overwhelming for the residents of Barrow and their feeling of helplessness is quickly evident. The vampires are not the alluring, seductive type out of an Ann Rice book…these monsters are pure predators, their mouths gape with rows of razor-sharp teeth. They don’t just bite their victims they gnaw and tear at them. Humans are only food to these creatures. Slade went so far as to develop a primeval, guttural language for the vampires, although they speak rarely. Danny Huston is the head vampire and is simply chilling. He’s almost completely emotionless as he leads the vampires through the town. Their look, language, and mannerisms almost suggest the vampires are not former humans, but a different race altogether.
There is some fascinating camera work in 30 Days of Night. As humans flee down the street we see the vamps following them from the rooftops, stalking them as if it were a game. There are also some great aerial views that simply show the vampires attacking anything that moves indiscriminately, and it puts the wholesale slaughter into perspective. Our survivors move from building to building, trying to stay hidden. This suspense drives much of the middle of the film as they try and figure out their next move.
30 Days of Night is not without its weaknesses. The opening twenty minutes seemed rushed and almost unbelievable that someone could manage to steal and burn the all the town’s cell phones. I mean, I know I’d miss mine if it were gone for more than 15 minutes. The same rather implausible ending from the comics was carried over to the film. This is the one area where I had hoped for something a bit grander. There’s not much character development either. We know that Eben and Stella a re estranged but that sub-plot is never explored in any detail.
As a bit of trivia, Mark Boone Junior who plays Beau, also appeared in John Carpenter’s Vampires, another outstanding vampire film. 30 Days isn’t flawless, but it’s certainly one of the best vampire films to come out in a long time. Return to Barrow Anyone?
30 Days of night comes with a nice set of extra features. The audio commentary features Hartnett, George, and Producer Rob Tapert. The commentary is very lively and there are none of those uncomfortable periods of dead silence that you sometimes get in commentary tracks. Hartnett not only read the graphic novel but was determined that the film be as faithful to the comic as possible, which is very refreshing. One interesting note that George pointed out is that whenever you can see a person’s breath in the film, it was all created by CGI.
There is an 8 part documentary about the making of the film that can be watched all together or separately. The entire set runs just under 60 minutes.
Some of the more interesting parts include how the vampire actors were instructed how to walk, scream, and attack. They all had to practice that move of leaping on their prey and tearing at their throats. There’s a look at the various prosthetics that were created and the make-up, including a look at the gruesome beheading of the little girl vampire.
As explained in “The Look” segment, the dingy, dark-toned look of the characters wasn’t achieved with make-up, but rather through digital enhancements.
As an added bonus, the DVD feature the first episode of the hit Anime series Blood+