Monday, November 1, 2010

AMC Wants to Eat Your Brains

Last night saw the premiere of Frank Darabont's ("The Shawshank Redemption", "The Mist") adaptation of Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charles Adland's comic book "The Walking Dead". Leave it to AMC, the HBO of basic cable, to continue its streak of outstanding, envelope pushing original programming with a zombie series. While it may not shed any new light on the genre (and let's face it, not many have), what sets it apart from the films it clearly admires is the format and the style. The ability to gradually integrate the viewer into the landscape of a zombie infected America over several weeks allows us to discover not only the characters fully but their reaction to this new dystopia.

[Mild Spoilers]
Deputy Sherrif Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) wakes up in the hospital after suffering a serious gun shot wound to the chest (Hello, "28 Days Later"!). How long has he been there? Where is everyone? What the hell is going on?! having see the commercials, we know the basic answers to these questions already, but it's still gripping to watch him struggle to put all the pieces together. After escaping the hospital, Grimes meets up with a father and son team who fill him in on what's going on. If you get bitten or scratched, you get very sick resulting in a fever that ends your life. A little while later, you wake up and become a "walker". To paraphrase the father: I'm sure this all sounds crazy, but I've seen it. The episode ends with Grimes heading to Atlanta, the home of an apparent survivor camp and military operation, in hopes of rejoining his missing wife and son. What we find out only too late, is that Atlanta is no Mecca and his wife has taken up with his best friend and partner. Future dram anyone?

[side note: Why is the "Z" word never mentioned in zombie movies? Are we to assume the characters live in another dimension that has never seen a Romero movie? Thank you "Zombieland" for not being afraid of the word.]

Let's talk style for a bit, shall we? The opening scene is one of the best I've ever seen in television. David Tattersall's cinematography ("Star Wars I-III", "The Green Mile") is a character in and of itself. The camera spends equal time in medium and close up shots making us a part of the action, as it does in wide shots establishing mood. Couple that with Bear McCreary (winner for Best Name for a Composer or Any Dude For That Matter, "Battlestar Galactica", "Eureka") keeps the score soft and secondary, like TV's version of Philip Glass. It's presence is most often felt when it isn't there at all, and these eerily silent moments help foster the constant anticipatory feeling of the audience. I know we all wish we had our own theme music when we walk down the street but we don't, and neither do these characters. I can see how this slow and steady approach may throw off the ADD Generation but stick with it, trust me. It's going to be a slow burn that suddenly explodes.

For the most part, the characters seem smart. They load up on guns and ammo, barricade themselves inside their shelters, and keep their wits about them. Mostly. I didn't see anyone stock piling food or water yet and the hunt for gasoline is a touch one. Hopefully these issues will be addressed more fully in upcoming episodes. I'm always surprised by characters that think the big city is a good place to be come the zombie apocalypse. Hasn't anyone read Max Brooks' zombie guide or does that not exist in this dimension either? Personally, I'm heading for the Booney's. A few undead hicks is nothing compared to the swarm one could expect to find in a city.

Normally, I would also worry about the budget of this show and whether AMC has the stomach for it. there are a lot of extras in full make-up, deserted and demolished towns, etc. Certainly using lesser known actors helps keep costs down, but still. How much does each episode cost? Thankfully, this isn't network TV  or even the aforementioned HBO and AMC seems smart about its original programming. Fingers crossed!
I already cannot wait to see what happens next and am purposefully avoiding the comics so I can stay naive. When will he find his wife? How does he escape the huge mess he found himself in at the end of episode 1? Please tell me Michael Rooker is a series regular! Just the glimpse of him in the upcoming episode was enough to get me even more hot and bothered.

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