It also reveals how a limited director, such as Danny Boyle, can show some flair when working with a decent script and characters he understands ("Shallow Grave," "Trainspotting"), but stumbles badly when coping with underdeveloped and poorly conceived material such as this dead-on-arrival, no-brainer -- a dreary, glacially paced, uninspired rehash of your standard issue, B-movie, end- of-the-world, man vs. homicidal zombies science-fiction yarn (or should I say yawn?)
The filmmakers were clearly lost. The story, such as it, concerns a young man (Irish actor Cillian Murphy) who awakens in a London hospital (naked, for unknown reasons) to find the population decimated by a deadly virus. He teams up with a young black woman (Naomie Harris), and together they find a man (Brendan Gleeson, the only ray of light in this dreary sky) and his daughter (Megan Burns) living in a London highrise, decorated with blinking Christmas lights (apparently these lights attract only normal humans -- not murderous, infected ones).
While exchanging mundane conversation that reveals nothing interesting or profound, the foursome conveniently hear a radio broadcast which inspires them to travel north to join other survivors. In typical B movie style, they each follow the Stupid Rule in their own way (arming themselves with knives and bats instead of guns, driving into darkened tunnels, sleeping in the open where they are vulnerable to attack, etc.) and hiss or mumble their lines in terse, often unintelligable, English-accented snarls and grunts. Things only go downhill from there. In fact, this somber snorefest proves not only that comedies are becoming Dumb and Dumberer, but thrillers are in serious trouble, too. Scary as hell? You better believe it.
In the good old days of Hollywood, of course, an experienced director or producer would have ripped this script apart like a backfiring jalopy. He would have broken it down, analyzed it, improved its structure, cleaned it up, replaced its bad parts, and put it back together so it ran like new. In short, he would have made sure the damn thing was revving like a Ferrari and whistling Dixie out its tailpipe before even THINKING about exposing a frame of celluloid (or in this case, an inch of videotape). "What's this story about?" a director must continually ask himself. "What do I want to say to people?" And -- more importantly -- "Is it really worth making?" Hitchcock once turned down a project which others felt was worthy. When asked why, Hitch responded, "it's not necessary." My question, then, to Danny Boyle and everyone else involved in "28 Days Later...": "Was this picture really necessary?"
Movie making isn't rocket science, but it does requires a little common sense. Too often the forest is obscured by the trees during the long haul of getting a picture made. But a good director has a vision, and he keeps it intact -- all the way down the line ("2001" and "Blade Runner" are good examples.) He or she knows exactly what he wants, and has sound answers to critical questions such as, "What ideas am I trying to communicate" What should the audience take with them when they leave the theater? How will they be entertained ando enlightened by this story?" And perhaps most importantly -- in this era of been- there, done-that audiences -- "What will I be giving them that they haven't already gotten a million times before?"
Pretty basic questions, right? But apparently none of them were asked during the writing of "28 Days Later...," or if they were, they weren't sufficiently answered.
What we basically have here is a slow-moving, empty-headed, European remake of "I Am Legend""Last Man on Earth""Omega Man" -- with a little of "The Stand," "Night of the Living Dead" and "Night of the Comet" mixed in -- but with none of the originality, logic, insight, topicality or especially humor of those pictures. It's being advertised as an amped-up, action-packed, ultra-violent zombie pic. Sounds great, right? Would that it be so. In fact the picture is such a grim and joyless pseudo-art house bore that from the beginning I wondered if I was in the right theater. To add insult to injury, it's simplistic, sophomoric and morally and poliyically empty as well. As opposed to a complex, well thought- out morality tale like "The Omega Man" (or almost any episode of "Star Trek") -- where we not only sympathize with both protagonist's and antagonist's point of view but get a powerful antiwar statement, too -- there seems to be literally NOTHING on Danny Boyle's mind except leaning out at the audience and yelling, "Boo!" The characters have nothing on their minds but basic survivial, and the zombies are of the insane, homicidal variety -- nothing more than foaming, rabid beasts that need to be killed ASAP.
John William Corrington, on the other hand, adapting Matheson's novel "I Am Legend," gave the vampires of "The Omega Man" not only personalities and intelligence, but a believable agenda as well: as victims of modern warfare, their mission was to return to a pre-technological age, before chemical and biological weapons disfigured them -- and sometimes Mathias's arguments made more sense than Neville's. In this way, the structure of "Omega Man" is exemplary: both hero (Neville) and opponent (Mathias) are well-matched, and both want the same thing: death for the other, and possession of the girl (Rosalind Cash). And of course the great Boris Sagal added his personal touch with unforgettable scenes of a lonely man quietly going mad (playing chess with his dead friend, hearing imaginary phones ringing) while trying to pretend he has a normal life couped up in his high-tech penthouse. Heston is a master at this kind of role; he gave us another complex shell of a man in "Planet of the Apes." (And don't even get me started on that piss-poor remake that Tim Burton actually passed off as a film.)
To his credit, Boyle -- who never misses an opportunity to show his male actors nude (thanks a bunch, Danny) -- gives us a few good shots of deserted London. But because we care so little about our main character, and know nothing about him, these shots have virtually no impact, no point of reference. There's no point of view in this film; the directing style never really lets you know who you should root for, or why. I wouldn't be surprised to hear one of the monkeys at the beginning of the film directed it (actually, that's not fair -- a monkey might have shown a little life).
There's also a potentially nice sequence involving wild horses running free in the countryside. This could've worked well in the hands of a good director; as it is it, the focus of the scene -- and the one memorable line -- is inexplicably given to a secondary character, Frank (Brendan Gleeson, excellent as always) -- reminding us for just a moment what this picture might've been like if Boyle had been sharp enough to give Gleeson the lead instead of Murphy. Which brings us to one Cillian Murphy.
Murphy, a young Irishman who girls probably adore, plays Jim, the young man who awakens 28 days later to find his world forever changed. He's good- looking, and reads his lines well. But the LAST thing you need from your lead in a picture like this is a good-looking guy who reads his lines well! You need personality, you need complexity, you need -- Chuck Heston!! This unfortunate bit of casting was the final death knell of the movie. Not only is the picture lackluster and moronic (Gleeson raves uncontrollably for about a minute before someone announces "he's infected" Yeah, no kidding!), it's saddled with a main actor so dull and ordinary that thirty years ago I doubt he would've been hired as Vincent Price's or Charlton Heston's houseboy, let alone be allowed to play their parts. And never mind that he's a decent actor. TONS of decent actors do small parts in A films or big parts in B films every day, and for good reason: they lack the charisma or screen presence to successfully carry a major movie. Paul Walker's a decent actor, so is Thomas Jane. Both good-looking guys, both capable. But neither of them have the personality of a James Dean, or a Monty Clift -- and they never will. Hiring Brendan Gleeson was the best casting decision Boyle made on this turkey -- and then he kills him off halfway through the second act! Arrggghh!!!
To be fair, Murphy was working with a handicap -- NO PART! No character! Nothing. Zip! Talk about your underwritten roles! The only thing we learn about Jim is he was a bicycle messenger. That's it!! We also see his parents clutching a picture of him as a child. But who really cares? I don't recall hearing any weeping in the audience. Here's a guy who's completely ordinary. There's absolutely nothing special about him -- nothing -- he's just an ordinary Joe like you or I (maybe a little better looking). And why am I paying ten bucks to see someone as ordinary as you or I? That's what I asked myself for 112 minutes. The other three people in the theater were probably asking the same thing.
Perhaps most problematic of all is that the film relies on a confusing, almost incomprehensible editing style during the action sequences, and the same narrow-shutter strobe effect that's become popular since "Gladiator" and "Saving Private Ryan" (though it's used to excellent effect in those films). It also suffers from a third act "Lord of the Flies" twist so hackneyed and out of place it might have been pieced together from discarded pages stuck to the bottom of a trash dumpster found outside Ed Wood's apartment about half a century ago.
I realize what Boyle was going for -- he wanted to make an "Omega Man" "Night of the Living Dead""Assault on Precinct 13" for today's twenty-somethings who have (hopefully, God willing) never seen those great films. And he wanted to do it using a Lars Von Trier, Dogme 95 style -- hoping this "hip" approach would scare the hell out of people just by virtue of it seeming real. (Not a bad concept if it was done this way, but it wasn't. Unlike the Hi-8 camcorder approach used on "The Celebration," "28 Days" -- shot by the same D.P. -- uses a PAL DV Cam for an almost-film look, and uses little handheld stuff. It might as well have been shot on film in the first place.)
And, like "Blair Witch," I guess the idea was that the realism would be heightened by the use of largely unknown faces. And of course the zombies would be meaner and grosser and scarier than anything George Romero or Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi ever cooked up in their stupid films. That was Boyle's idea, and it's a damn fine way to make a movie. Right?
Wrong! FIRST you come up with an interesting character or two, an involving story that makes sense, a resolution that resonates, a theme that carries some weight, and ideally some sort of variation or improvement, if possible, on the kind of film you're emulating (avoiding ripping off the interracial relationship from "Omega Man" or the waking-up-in-the-hospital-and-finding-everyone-gone scene from "Day of the Triffids" wouldn't be a bad idea either) -- THEN you pile on your handheld video. Your neat-o strobe effects and your with-it machine gun editing. Your young, hip cast and your trendy contemporary soundtrack.
Got it, Danny boy? Starting to sink in? Or should we take it again from the top, a little slower this time?
Still, the film is considered a hit -- though it seems to be leaving the theaters pretty quickly. And now I understand (egad!) a new ending is about to be added. The original, darker ending Boyle apparently wanted in the first place (but that didn't test well) is about to be shipped to 1400 theaters across the country and spliced onto the last reel -- AFTER the credit crawl! No, that's not a joke -- this is right out of the L.A. Times. Beginning July 25th, this copycat clunker will have a final scene added, probably something nice and uplifting -- like Selena becoming infected, then Jim killing her, then himself. Something cheery like that. Just exactly what we need today, I figure. Which reminds me -- anyone know where I can get a gun?
Review by jt1999 from the Internet Movie Database.