10 November 2010

Bullet Points of the Dead: The Walking Dead Episode 1

The new zombie series The Walking Dead started last Friday night in the UK (FX channel at 10:00pm). I'd been waiting a while for it and am excited that it's now being shown, as horror-based serials such as this aren't too commonplace on today's TV schedules. Who would have thought there would one day be a regular zombie show on the telly. It wasn't so long ago that a variety zombie movies were struggling to resurface and get financing (I'm thinking no longer than 12 years). Nowadays, they're ten-a-penny. Just goes to show that, sooner or later, when something catches on it will likely expand into other platforms.

But, then again, two years ago we had the excellent Big Brother-meets-Dawn of the Dead three-parter Dead Set. Three episodes wasn't enough, though, however good they were. The Walking Dead has so far gone down well in the US, where it's showing a week ahead of the UK. (Isn't that always the way?) I'm pretty certain that if its success continues, and the fans and fair-weather watchers alike rally around it, it will go ahead with a second series (there are murmurs already, apparently).

So to acknowledge this zombie telly invasion, to give a hearty tip of the hat in its grim and gory direction, and to generally have a place to keep some ongoing, quickly-formed thoughts on it (as observational notes, or some such thing), I wanted to (try to) write an entry each week for its six-week duration, starting today. Three bullet-pointed paragraphs on each episode.

Info/synopsis here.

Episode #1: Days Gone By

  • So far, the production values / overall filmmaking (or telly-making, if you will) are refreshing, seamless and of a high quality. The direction, editing, photography and special effects are particularly standout. I'm guessing the high level of the effects work will remain consistent, so I'll comment on them further when there's been much more prolonged undead gurning occurring each episode. But so far the zombies - particularly that half-person crawling along the grassy verge - are convincing and appropriately horrible. They need to be for it to work well.
  • It conjured the crux, the vital matters, of Richard Matheson's  I Am Legend with far more emotion and brevity than did I Am Legend, the 2007 movie. I didn't dislike the latest film version of Matheson's novel, but as far as depicting the sick, gut-wrenching and near-ungodly feeling of seeing your loved ones somehow both dead and alive at the same time - and banging on the door of their home, desperate to be let back in - whilst you look at them through cross hairs thinking about allowing them a second death, it's done a stellar job so far. And without much in the way of fussy heel-dragging to it. I like that the emotion in certain scenes is clearly apparent and deeply saddening yet concise: it occurs, we take it in, then we move on. Key events - and the emotions aroused by them - may very well be later reiterated for further effect in particular characters' narrative arcs. This bodes well.
  • Time. It's using it well. And it's certainly biding its time with aplomb. It's making us wait for the good stuff, the stuff most people want, which is repeated zombie-human face-offs, and plenty of them. To offset this, to add an ounce of leverage, it's trading the lack of zombie carnage with some evocative atmospherics (which is actually often where the very best apocalypse fiction content is to be seen). It seems to be taking its sweet time to tell us certain things. And its pace is wonderful, deliberate, considered. Details such as it taking Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) an inordinate amount of time to exit the hospital, in a relatively early scene, are well conveyed and allow for the build of imminent tension. One gripe so far (not sure if it's minor/major yet): where are the women?
I'm not entirely sure if it will turn out to be a Lost-style meander, a Heroes-style elaborate concoction, or a Harper's Island-style saga. It's serial TV, but as bite-sized tellyfilms (not a million miles away from, say, the Master of Horror series). Its heart lies in the movies though. I'm sure 28 Days Later... has been, or will certainly be mentioned as a reference point, among many other similar movies. (Romero is a given.) This first episode built intrigue and showed the seeds of continuing drama and what appears to be a sturdy longevity. I'm looking forward to episode two.

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