A few years back a small independent comic book company called IDW published a comic book called 30 Days Of Night from the author/artist team of Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith. The comic book was a hit and a few years later Sam Raimi's Ghost House Pictures optioned the film rights, and the rest history.
The story revolves around a Sheriff named Eben Olsen whose in charge of the small town of Barrow, Alaska. As the film begins, the town is preparing for thirty days without sun, a strange phenomenon that happens annually in the area. A lot of the locals are heading south to Fairbanks for the month, but Eben is sticking around. His soon to be ex-wife, Stella (Melissa George), however, has missed her plane and when she gets stuck, she calls him for help. Eben sends his right hand man to go get her while he deals with a strange man (Ben Foster) who has started causing trouble - he's destroyed all the cell phones he can find and killed off most of the dogs in town.
Once they get the man imprisoned, he begins to tell everyone in the police station that they're all going to die. Shortly after his ominous warning, a group of vicious vampires attack the town's power supply and the building that houses all of the phone equipment. The few people who have stuck around are now entirely shrouded in darkness and completely cut off from the rest of the world, and now they have to deal with a gang of vampires, lead by a man named Marlow (Danny Huston), who plan on making short work of them.
30 Days Of Night is a refreshingly different take on the played out vampire genre and it toys with a few genre expectations to surprisingly good results. You'd imagine that Eben and his small group of humans would band together and stand up to the vampires in the film but the reality of the situation is that they're outnumbered and even if the odds were even, the vampires are much leaner, meaner and stronger than they are. Attempting to stand up to them would be akin to committing suicide. Instead, the group spends much of their time trying to hide, really their only hope of survival. This allows director David Slade to create a couple of scenes that exhibit some serious tension.
The film is also remarkably bloody. There are a couple of moments here that you probably won't expect to be shown quite so graphically when you consider that this is a mainstream Hollywood film starring some A-list actors. There are buckets of blood spilt throughout the film and one long, lingering shot of the first massacre in particular really stick with you. It's also interesting to see how the vampires here are portrayed - they're not running around in capes with European accents, they're feral and animalistic. They move fast and don't bother chatting up their victims, they simply want to feast.
As far as the performances are concerned, Hartnett, who is normally fairly uncharismatic, does a solid job carrying the picture. His Eben is a likeable enough guy and if he looks a little young to be a sheriff, at least he handles the physical side of the role pretty believably. Melissa George isn't anything to write him about but she's not terrible here either. Ben Foster is excellent as the filthy, creepy stranger while Danny Huston plays the sinister vampire leader with just enough flair to make it work.
For a movie that takes place almost completely in the dark, 30 Days Of Night is well shot. The snowbound settings and claustrophobic interiors instantly conjure up memories of Carpenter's The Thing but the similarities are really only superficial. While it's certainly true that 30 Days Of Night falls victim to a couple of obvious horror movie clichÃ©s, it gets enough right and it sets itself apart in a few interesting ways. The film doesn't reinvent the wheel but it sure is an entertaining and suspenseful picture with plenty of excitement and some fantastically creepy moments.
30 Days Of Night looks good on DVD in an anamorphic 2.40.1 widescreen. A few scenes are intentionally grainy looking but detail is strong throughout, even in the shadowy scenes that make up a large portion of the running time. Color reproduction looks very good, and skin tones are lifelike and natural throughout. Edge enhancement is never a problem and compression artifacts are held firmly in check. The image is perpetually sharp and crisp and overall Sony has done a fine job maintaining the visual style of the film from start to finish.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound is excellent. The bass levels are very strong and the surround channels are used very effectively, especially during the attack scenes. Dialogue stays clean and clear throughout and there are no problems at all with hiss or distortion to complain about. This is a very aggressive mix and it's done well enough that it really helps add to the atmosphere and the intensity of a few key scenes in the film. An alternate French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is included, as are optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish.
First up is a commentary track with stars Josh Hartnett and Melissa George who are joined by producer Rob Tapert, who has the most to say about the production. Hartnett and George chime in often though and it's becomes pretty obvious early on that the three participants are quite comfortable with one another and they have a good chemistry here. The group occasionally goes off topic but even when they do, it's interesting (Hartnett's point about the horror film industry having been embarrassed by its own product in the 90s will hit home for a lot of us!). Oddly enough, Tapert mentions a featurette about the film's score while expressing his admiration for it, but that featurette is nowhere to be found on this DVD. Regardless, it's a fairly decent commentary track even if a bit more technical information or some input from the writers or director would have been very welcome. It's also quite honest, which is a nice touch, as Hartnett in particular is quite vocal about not only the aspects of the film he thinks worked but also the areas where he sees room for improvement.
From there, check out the eight part featurette that explores the various aspects of making 30 Days Of Night. With a combined running time of 50:18, the eight parts cover Pre-Production, Building Barrow, The Look, Blood, Guts & The Nasty #@$&!, Stunts, The Vampires, Night Shoots and finally, Casting. This is a pretty thorough set of featurettes that do a fine job of covering pretty much every aspect of the production you could want to know about but sadly it doesn't pay much respect to the comic books that inspired it. That said, it's interesting to hear about the night shoots that everyone had to endure and the sneak peek at the effects work is pretty interesting.
Sony has also included Blood +: Episode One - The First Kiss (20:27), an anime episode that has nothing to do with 30 Days Of Night at all but which his reasonably entertaining in its own right.
Rounding out the supplements are fourteen trailers and promos for other Sony DVDs and projects (though in typical Sony fashion the trailer for the feature is missing!), animated menus done in a nifty comic book style, and chapter selection sub-menus. The keepcase is housed inside an embossed slipcase that features identical cover art. Inside the case is an insert containing advertisements for the 30 Days Of Night graphic novels available from IDW Publishing and some 30 Days Of Night action figures, posters and apparel from Gentle Giant Ltd..
30 Days Of Night isn't particularly deep but it is a fast paced and exciting horror film with some truly tense moments and some very memorable set pieces. Sony's DVD looks and sounds excellent and the supplements are not only plentiful, they're quite interesting as well. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.