Tuesday, October 23, 2007

30 Days of Night

Scriptwrangler got the night off last night and decided to go see the latest vampire flick. If vampires are immortal, it's because we never quite get tired of them. There's something in the myth that goes very deep, and few cultures don't have vampires somewhere in their mythology. The vampire has been a mainstay of our culture since Bram Stoker used the Dracula tale to channel his incredibly screwed up subconscious world. We've been tailoring vampire flicks to fit our tastes, worries and concerns since the very beginnings of film straight through to a series of very banal TV series about vampires populating the CW and Fox today.

But that's all over now. Vampires can survive bullets and chainsaws and crowds of angry villagers. But they can't survive a truly atrocious script in the hands of Josh Hartnett.

If you're unfamiliar with the movie, it's about the town of Barrow, Alaska being attacked by a Chris Cunningham video. You know you're in trouble about five minutes into the film, when two sheriffs come upon a pile of burned cellphones in the snow.

DEPUTY: What could it mean, chief? I mean, heck, it could be a bunch of kids. But they'd use the phones to call their friends. Heck, with that many phones, you could talk all you want, and never worry about roaming charges or going over the limit. Why burn the phones?

JOSH (pondering thoughtfully): This weren't no kids,no. They would've left a note, telling the world how angry they are. A cry against the impending darkness and their internal conflicts and so on.

DEPUTY: Well, heck. Who woulda done this then! I'm sure bothered by this pile of burned phones in the middle of nowhere. Funny, you'd think I couldn't even see 'em from the road. But now I have a dilemma to think about. Shoot!

Well, okay. I exaggerate. But Josh and the deputy discuss the burned cellphones for something like five minutes. And we learn nothing that we wouldn't have learned by simply SEEING the pile of burned cellphones. It's an interesting image. It presents a question. Standing in the middle of a snowy field discussing it kills it.

The script never quite gets a hold of some basic premise problems. You're never quite sure why the human protagonists are deciding to leave their safehouse, or whether all vampire food becomes vampires, or just some. You're frequently asking why you're seeing what you're seeing.

The writer was somehow cognizant of these issues, but took a pretty cheap out: dialogue. He simply wrote through the problems. Instead of solving his problems, he used his characters to tell us why it wasn't really a problem. But dialogue is no match against the visuals and the action. And what looks like a hazy, overlookable problem in the script suddenly shows up in sharp relief on screen.

Dialogue can actually deepen the problem. There's the main vampire attack (somewhat oddly placed) about 30-40 minutes into the film. For some reason Josh Hartnett can simply open the door and run into the diner where everyone's hiding, even if the vampires don't seem to have a handle on this doorknob technology. What caps this off: "We need to find out what they want."

If you've seen the last five minutes, you're pretty sure what the vampires want. There's inadvertent humor here. What's worse? You tell the audience that there's a DEEPER question of what the vampires want here -- world domination, perhaps, or a safe place to raise vampire babies and listen to Marilyn Manson -- when in fact there isn't really an answer to that question.

It's frustrating to me. It's got a great premise. It should have been a great movie. It could have been a great movie if the writers had done a better job with the screenwriting basics. But it ain't.

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