Monday, November 1, 2010

Dead Men Walking

I really don't watch a lot of television.

No, really. Between my erratic work schedule and years of being disappointed by superior shows being brought down by declining talent (both acting and writing) or diminishing viewership, I just don't go out of my way to sit in front of the tube. Some of the best shows of the past decade (Battlestar Galactica, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Arrested Development) ended not by their own terms, but by cancellation, due to lack of enough people tuning in. One of my all-time favorite TV shows, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr, lasted only a single year. Very often this means that I'm catching up to a series on DVD that I didn't tune in to the first time around, but I rarely automatically jump on bandwagons of any sort. So it takes something special for me to plunk myself down on the couch at a specified time for the sole reason of watching the premiere of any television show for an hour or even thirty minutes.

What a time to lose your contact!
AMC has hit gold of late. With the critical commercial success of original programming like the amazing Mad Men (which I'm currently catching up on) and Breaking Bad, which proved that the dad from Malcolm in the Middle COULD win awards with his talent, AMC has become the new big player on the TV network battlefield. The cable networks, which had been long dominated (and rightfully so) by HBO and Showtime's plethora of original programming, was ripe for a new kid on the block, and with new shows Rubicon and next year's The Killing, AMC's looking to move a few steps up to reaching that vaunted role. And when it was announced that they were bringing a popular movie genre to the small screen with The Walking Dead, I was intrigued and immediately hooked. Though it would certainly be a challenge to adjust the extremely violent genre to TV, even on cable, success would be unprecedented by any standards and keep me in my seat every week. When the premiere was due to air on Halloween night, I was curled up on the couch, anxiously waiting to see what the series would bring. It didn't disappoint.

Some scenes may make you regret uncovering your eyes
Based on the Image comic book series written by scribe Robert Kirkman (whose Marvel Zombies series is one of Marvel Comics' biggest hits of the past decade) and produced by suspense czar Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd (who has produced some of my all-time favs, including Aliens, Terminator, and T2), The Walking Dead begins with a high-speed car chase that introduces us to Georgia-based sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes. Played by English actor Andrew Lincoln, Rick is an overall good guy, with his everyday problems. As we meet him, he's talking to his partner Shane (Jon Bernthal) about his problems at home and with his wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies). Confused, unsure what he's doing wrong or how to fix it, I was deeply brought into his world, and could sympathize with the plight he put forth. Not long after this scene, Rick and Shane are involved in a high speed chase that tragically has Rick shot by the fleeing assailants. He's brought to a hospital where weeks later he finds the world has... changed. The hospital is abandoned, with little sign of the staff or patients who once had filled it's halls. When he leaves the hospital, he immediately finds himself surrounded by dead bodies left behind by the hundreds. And some of these dead bodies are still moving.

Horses against tanks? Where are we, Poland?
The first sixty minutes of the ninety-minute premiere focus on Rick getting oriented with the new world around him. After meeting some fellow survivors Morgan (Lennie James) and his son Duane (Adrian Kali-Turner), Rick (and by extension, all of us) learn everything we need to know about surviving this zombie holocaust, from the well-known (avoid getting bit, shoot 'em in the head) to specific situations concerning the series. Rick's family is gone, having apparently left when the madness started, and Rick goes on a quest to find them, deciding to start with the city of Atlanta, where the CDC and humanitarian aid is supposedly located to fix whatever this problem is. Despite these things seeming like simple bits, necessary to any zombie flick, what really makes this film unique are the characters. Lincoln is immediately likable as the resurrected hero Rick, and in his guest-starring role, James is a father grieving over the fate of his dead wife. James, who I loved during his stint in the first season of FOX's Human Target, does an excellent job in the role, getting to really delve into his emotional well to properly play the part. Lincoln I believe will be a consistent talent throughout the show's run, and his ability to truly convey the shock we would all feel if presented with this new realm of existence is a pleasant surprise for such an unknown actor (at least here in the States).

Awww, she just wants kisses!
The effects are also top-notch, with blood and gore used effectively to gross-out and frighten the weaker of heart, while the real scare veterans can be spooked by the seeming quiet, the wide open spaces that practically invite sudden, unexpected violence. Great camera work also abounds, as some of the best moments appear when the camera tilts ever so slightly so the audience catches a glimpse of what the characters on screen cannot. The zombie effects are excellent, with make-up and prosthetics as realistic as I've seen in any zombie flick, and seeing the zombies feed really hearkens back to the violence of the original Romero films of yesteryear. When you get right down to it, The Walking Dead looks like a modern horror film made for TV, and better than most.

Ain't no surviving the mean streets of Georgia
The pilot was not without it's problems, mostly with the story. When Rick wakes up in the hospital, it's not hard to think it cliched with so many zombie movies having hospital origins or destinations. This can be tracked back to 2003, when the comic was started and I'm sure 28 Days Later was still fresh in Kirkman's mind. Also, it's obvious that the last thirty minutes were written as a separate episode from the first ninety, and while I don't really have a problem with that, I do have issues with the show possibly only being a thirty-minute show in the future. The premise screams to me that it should be an hour-long show, but since I don't even know what the case is with that yet, I'm just picking at nits at this stage. So, yeah. As you can guess, there was very little not to like about this show.

Ma'am, stop biting that man!
I had a blast with The Walking Dead. Zombies have become popular again in all formats, from films and comics to video games like Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising, and now it's finally made it's way to television. I'm definitely going to keep watching the show and I'm also looking forward to checking out the graphic novels of the comic series, which I've always been aware of but never given it a thorough reading before now. If the show can keep up introducing us to fascinating characters while simultaneously bringing the love to the fans who made the zombie horror genre the success it has been and currently maintaining it in something of a new renaissance, then we as fans have little to worry about going forward. It's engaging, suspenseful, gory and thrilling, and I just know I'm going to have a hell of a time getting to sleep Sunday nights in the near future. Watch it and you'll see what I mean.
Seabiscuit's most important race to date


brian said...

I thought it was a pretty good opening but it's hard to judge this thing based on one episode. As a standalone it's a pretty sub par, and derivitive zombie movie. These shows are all about character so hopefully I'll be more impressed by the end of the first season. Looking forward to the first appearences of Jeffrey DeMunn and Laurie Holden.

While the special effects were great, I despise CGI blood splatter. There's got to be a better way to render blood.

Also, where did you hear it's going to be thirty minutes? It's definitely going to be an hour.

Opinioness of the World said...

I LOVED it!!! Suspenseful, heartbreaking and intriguing...a great mix that makes me crave more. While it was reminiscent of the opening in '28 Days Later,' I didn't mind as the show gave us interesting characters. As long as they continue developing those characters, I think the show will be fantastic.

P.S. How could you forget to give Bear McCreary a shout-out for the score??

Gianni said...

@Brian I agree with you that the show needs to be more about character to maintain interest throughout the series: I've spoken with a few people who worry that the story will follow a "move to area, kill zombies, meet people, move on" formula, but I'm sure a continually ongoing series like the graphic novels would not have survived that long if that were the case, and I'm more hopeful in that regard. No opinion on the CGI blood splatter, looked good to me. I haven't seen a listing for how long the episodes were, but since the last 30 minutes of the pilot was in itself a standalone story, I assume they could get away with it if they wanted to. I'd rather a whole hour block, but I don't know what they have planned, haven't checked lately either.

@Opinioness, I didn't even realize Bear was doing the score, I missed that somehow. Thanks for pointing that out, I loved the scores he did on BSG and Human Target.

brian said...

John, I really think it will ultimately be a great show. However, I think I'll have to judge it on the entire run, rather than any particular episode. It certainly showed promise and I liked the acting. Just nothing new as of yet on the zombie front. That's where the character development comes in (something you can't do too well in a movie in comparison to a show).

I've seen so many movies (all made in the last decade) that overly rely on CGI blood. Like when a guy gets shot in the head and the CGI blood/brain matter comes out the back. It's completely distracting and can be realized practically. It's lazy.

Gianni said...

A great pilot certainly does not make a great show, I certainly agree with you on that point. It's true that you can't judge a show based on one episode. No argument from me there.