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Sunday, March 6, 2011

THE WALKING DEAD SEASON 1 (2010) - REVIEW


I bet you're thinking "Oh no, not another zombie movie !" , right ? Well, bare with me, you might be surprised. First of all, you probably already know Frank Darabont is responsible for such famous movies as "The Shawshank Redemption", "The Green Mile", or "The Mist". You also probably know that these movies are all based on Stephen King novels. "The Walking Dead" is not a King adaptation.. It shares some core elements that fans of King's brand of horror will appreciate, but that's beside the point. This is actually based on an on-going comic book series bearing the same name.

The story follows, as mentioned above, a zombie apocalypse and the struggles of a group of survivors to, well...you know...survive. The protagonist of this adventure is Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), a sheriff's deputy from a Southern town, who was wounded in action and fell into a deep coma only to awaken after a month (28 Days Later inspiration over here) to a world gone to hell (literally). He discovers that humanity is now divided into normal people and walking dead. The source of this plague is unknown, but it seems that a bite, or even a scratch is all you need to become one of the undead, or Walkers as the characters of the series call them. Grimes sets out to find his wife and son, who have found safety with a group of survivors. After reuniting with them, the group must decide what to do next and stay alive while battling both the Walkers and the darker side of humanity. That's all I'm willing to reveal from the plot of the first season, comprised of 6 episodes. This year, around October, AMC will probably release the second season which is planned to have 13 episodes.

This is a remarkable TV series. In fact, it doesn't even feel like one. You often forget this is made for TV. It might as well be part of the "28 Whatever Later" franchise. It's well written, wonderfully acted, and superbly designed and shot. It's also extremely violent. Episode 2 in fact features a gruesome scene which involves the characters gutting a zombie and wearing its insides in order to pass as the undead. The scene doesn't show too much but it's lenghy and suggestive. It's a strong hint that this series is extremely ballsy. Few other scenes are as intense as that one, but there's stil plenty of violence, so squeamish types beware.

Violence aside, it's also a very pretty-looking movie. And I use the word "movie" with full intent. All 6 episodes have a very cinematic look. The pilot episode is photographed by expert cinematographer David Tattersall ("The Green Mile", "Vertical Limit", "Con Air"), while the rest of the episodes are handled by David Boyd, whose work I've recently lauded in my review for "Get Low". Often you'll find yourself staring at some beautiful scenery, fascinating visual detail or fancy camerawork and forget this is a zombie feature. It's that good. The makeup is also sensational. You can imagine that most of it goes into creating the various creatures. It's detailed, visceral, realistic and nightmarishly effective. In terms of CGI visual effects, there aren't that many to speak of. There are subtle touches, like digital blood, or certain backdrops, but nothing spectacular until the season finale, when a spectacular set piece makes use of some neat CGI. The music however could have used some more work. Bear McCreary is credited as composer. He's done some great work on the "Battlestar Galactica" score, but here , there's not one memorable piece of music writing. There's mostly subdued suspense music and the really important cues are nothing but temp tracks. Two that I've particularly noticed in the last couple of episodes are John Murphy's "Sunshine (Adagio in D Minor)" (from the Danny Boyle movie "Sunshine") and an orchestral track written by Peter Gabriel for the 2002 movie "Rabbit-Proof Fence" called "Running in the Rain". It's a shame McCreary didn't try to create a musical identity for the series, but there's still hope for the second season.

"The Walking Dead" manages to be more than just a new entry in the horror pantheon. It's a solid dramatic series. It's more character driven than the genre usually allows, which makes for an even more compelling experience. The catch with a TV series like this is that, unlike big screen movies, the only way they're going to get you to keep watching, is to make you care for the characters. And this is one thing that Frank Darabont does extremely well. His strong grip on the show as part of the writing team has a powerfull efect on the storytelling and gives us a story we can actually care about. So, don't be surprised if you're going to love this show, even if you normally dislike the zombie genre.




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