Hey, Mom! The Explanation.

Here's the permanent dedicated link to my first Hey, Mom! post and the explanation of the feature it contains.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Rotten Tootsie Pop: 28 Weeks Later

28 WEEKS LATER REVIEW FOR BLOG
(originally from 0808.23) (Last of Old Blogs that Never Got Posted, pt.3)
And for those who have not seen the films 28 Weeks Later, 28 Days Later, and I Am Legend, beware SPOILERS to come.

Maybe my standards are too high, though I often think they are not high enough. There’s stupid movies, like The Day the Earth Stood Still remake (Dec. 2008). Stupid movies can almost be forgiven because they’re usually stupid from the start to the finish.

Some movies have moments of real brilliance (or at least quality) and avoid start-finish stupidity; they take a wrong turn. Movies like 28 Days Later and I Am Legend start really well, feature some great stuff in setting or situation, and then, inexplicably, what is working about the film is abandoned, the filmmakers take the film in a new direction that’s not in synch with what made the film good in its first half or two-thirds. And then, there’s a third kind of botch job: the film that’s ruined at the center, that violates a premise on which it built its foundation. 28 Weeks Later is such a film.

Imagine making Tootsie Pops. You make thousands, millions, with a delightful chocolate center. People like the center. People rely on the center, and they trust that it is there when they commence to dissolve the hard candy part with the tongue. But imagine you have taken it upon yourself to ruin one pop by replacing that reliable center with something else, something icky. You violate the sanctity of the center. Films that follow suit are worse than the stupid films or the wrong turn films because there’s some merit or consistency. But the violation... that cuts deep.

The violation isn’t apparent at first, and so, to start, there’s a lot to like about 28 Weeks Later. The opening sequence presents a great, character-driven problem, giving the main character angst that could only be born in a zombie-apocalypse saga. But in the end, the film fails to sustain this character-driven story and resorts to schlock horror.

This examination has helped me to think about what’s wrong with stories being produced today in a variety of media (books, comic books, TV, also). In a way, 28 Weeks Later provides a cautionary tale about an inherent problem in modern storytelling and a disrespect by many creators for their audience.

Ratings

I was surprised by how highly 28 Weeks Later is rated. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has an overall 71% rating and a general 6.6 out of 10.

Metacritic calculates a score of 78 out of 100 from 34 reviews, and users gave it an average of 7.0 out of 10.

I am more inclined to give the film a 58% rating out of 100 or a 2.9 out of 5. Or rather, I would give the first half of the film an 78% and the second half of the film a 39%, which averages out to 58% for the film as a whole.

But it’s worthwhile to examine why the first half is such a success (and I am inclined to rate it much higher than 78% but a few bugs prevent me), and why the second half is such a disappointment.

I AM LEGEND in the same leaky boat

I had the same feelings for I Am Legend. (Excuse me while I digress momentarily.) The first hour of the movie studies loneliness and desolation in an elegant way. I had disliked the second half of the film so much that I forgot about it. I remembered the aerial views of an empty, abandoned New York City, and the palpable tension packed into every moment of Neville’s life. Watching the film, you know that the safe, little world he has constructed for himself is very flimsy, that it could collapse into utter ruin at any moment.

It’s a great sequence of scenes. Being an experienced movie watcher, you know something is going to happen. You know the threat lurks just around the next corner, just off camera, in a shadow, poised and ready. But the filmmakers cleverly delay showing the threat, which makes the tension of the possible but as yet unseen even more intense.

It’s such a powerful technique that if sustained better it would have made the film top-notch, instead of the kind of film that takes a wrong turn. After skillfully manipulating the viewer by withholding the threat and building the character identification to culminate in the wonderful scene in which Neville loses his dog, the film takes a wrong turn, abandons what was making it successful.

Much of these same sentiments are imparted in the SALON.COM review.

WHY 28 Weeks Later TAKES MORE THAN JUST A WRONG TURN

28 Weeks Later has many of the same problems. The set-up is the best part, but the film does not pay off in the end on the excellence of the beginning. However, like how I am Legend takes a wrong turn, so does the original film, 28 Days Later. The survival stuff and the gathering of characters was very well rendered, especially the loss of Frank. But when the characters are captured by the pseudo-military unit, the film takes a wrong turn and steers away from what made it successful in the same way I Am Legend ruins itself.
But that’s not what’s wrong with 28 Weeks Later.

It commits a greater sin than these others, instead of just taking a wrong turn, it takes a founding premise, the internal logic of the film’s concept, and violates it to drive plot. Moreover, to drive a plot that is not the best story that could derive from the film’s set-up. In fact, it’s the worst.

In reading the reviews of others, what I found most strange is that only one reviewer of the many seemed to spot what I feel is the greatest problem with 28 Weeks Later. Moriarty of Ain’t It Cool News summed it up best:

“What doesn't work is the use of a "hero zombie" in Don, which gives the film a single big bad to be faced and doesn't sit well within the film’s own internal logic of how the Rage virus works. For me personally, I hate the trend of taking a horde mentality monster, such as zombies, the Alien and the Borg and giving them a Queen or similar that gives the audience something to cheer when its killed as it robs the monster of its faceless horror element.”

Exactly.

After watching the film, I had the same reaction. Driving a plot with something so illogical doesn’t work. All the viewers should stand up and protest with a great big “WHAT THE HELL?”
To not be redundant, here’s a summary of the film if you have not seen it: WIKIPEDIA.

THE MEAT CORE OF THE SKINNY CENTER - YUK-

Like I Am Legend, the savory outer coating comes off first. In 28 Weeks Later, we have an opening scene that could become one of the masterpieces in all horror film. Survivors huddled in an old country home in England. As the rage-infected besiege the home, Don abandons his wife, afraid of taking the chance of becoming infected himself if he tries to save her. As he runs from the house, her image in the window of the upstairs bedroom where he left her evokes all the pathos and torment that Don carries when we next catch up with him.

The angst, self-loathing, and cowardice Don feels all comes together when he must tell his children about how he could not save their mum. We viewers know he is going to lie. This psychological drama of the choices survivors make in an apocalyptic scenario and then how they revise their personal history is the true brilliance of 28 Weeks Later. If the filmmakers had chosen to tell that story, the film could have had a delightful chewy center to equal the slick sugar of the outer coating. But that’s not the choices these creators make.

(ASIDE: I like to lump creators together as the “fault” for these choices could lie with the
writers, the director, or the producers – one of which is Danny Boyle, who did the first film.)

When the wife and mother, Alice, is found, the film introduces its second idea that is truly fascinating: she is infected, but she is immune; thus, her children may also hold the genetic key to curing the rage virus.

Chaos ensues after Don kisses Alice, and the infection transports itself to his system via saliva. In fact, the implication that Alice knows she is infected and contagious and gives the virus to Don to punish him for leaving her behind is another of the film’s brilliant and unexplored ideas.
If the film proceeded from this point as a story of how a few clever people, and the “cure” children, survive the new outbreak of the infection, then 28 Weeks Later might be a very good film with first and second halves earning high marks. Given that the American military chooses to indiscriminately slaughter everyone, even its own soldiers, to attempt to contain the virus, the story has a two threat structure that sets it apart from other zombie-apocalypse films. But the creators make other choices neither serves the premise of their story nor their good ideas well at all.

The idea that the “rage” virus would compel the father, Don, to hunt his children in an almost preternatural way is difficult enough to accept. When Don is first infected, trapped in a locked room with his wife, it makes sense for him to kill her. But beyond that for him to show unusual cunning, planning, and tracking skills not endemic to the infected breaks the flimsy bonds of suspension of disbelief. But even worse, to have Don show up as a frightening sentinel of foreboding and imminent death in the classic style of Mike Myers or Jason – back-lit and framed by creepy smoke to be the boogie monster from whom the kids cannot escape – is completely unbelievable, hokey, and ridiculous.

All of that is bad enough, but the creators of 28 Weeks Later take this rotten core to even greater extremes.


Once the helpful soldier is killed, the trusty doctor, Scarlet, leads the kids underground to avoid the bombing runs and other attacks by an American military hellbent on its scorched earth and extermination policy. A truly frightening scene unfolds. The three have only a rifle scope with night vision to guide them. Scarlet wears the goggles and directs the children as they navigate the underground tube station, climbing down escalators jammed with corpses. And though they are making tons of noise, it violates every premise of the mindless rage that supposedly drives the infected to have Don track the trio, come upon Scarlet in the dark, and beat her to death. Left on their own, blind, the children somehow manage to escape Don in the dark until they are separated.

The culminating moment of the film seems to be when Don infects the boy, Andy, just before Tammy kills her father. The boy then is a carrier but not enraged by the virus, (like his mother) as he and his sister are flown out of England to Paris where the virus can infect and spread in a possible sequel.

Making Don the sinister and persistent predator, the “big bad” villain who plagues the heroes throughout the film, violates the premise of the “rage” virus, imbuing Don with intelligence he should not possess given how the infected have been previously characterized.

The improbable pursuit of the children by Don destroys suspension of disbelief and ruins a film with a chance to be brilliant from beginning to end. It is these kinds of choices that make me wonder if the creators of a film truly understand the kind of the film they are making, its rules, its inviolable tenets. Like with the first film and its ridiculous “happy” ending, is there some hotshot producer or studio executive who lays down the law for a particular decision that ruins the film? If so, it would be awfully nice to have nationally recognized awards that ridicule these mavericks who destroy valuable property like this franchise.

OTHER LINKS
FILM THREAT

EW

FREEZE DRIED

ROLLING STONE

- the gmr ... 0901.09 - 21:01
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