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Blogvent – Day 11

11/12/2010

My TV Highlight of 2010 Number 3 – The Walking Dead

Being a big fan of zombie films when I heard that Frank Darabont (writer of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile among other things) had adapted the comic book series The Walking Dead into a TV series I was rather excited. Being unfamiliar with the original source material I had little idea what to expect, my hopes being raised by the somewhat impressive trailer that had been doing the rounds prior to its UK broadcast on FX. This probably worked to the show’s advantage as I didn’t have to sit and draw comparisons between it and the comic and I couldn’t be sure what to expect in terms of plot. As always, there are spoilers brewing ahead so if you haven’t been watching it or haven’t seen it all yet, I suggest you come back when you have.

An initial grumble I had heard from people was that it was a rip off of Danny Boyle’s 2002 “zombie” film 28 Days Later, a claim that doesn’t really stand up and that seems to have its basis in the fact that our hero, lawman Rick Grimes, wakes up from a coma to discover a world ravaged by a zombie apocalypse with no idea what has transpired. The similarity pretty much ends here. Also it’s pretty rich to accuse anyone of pillaging Boyle’s film when John Wyndham pulled more or less the same stunt in his 1951 novel The Day Of The Triffids. It seems to me a logical device when you need someone to find themselves plunged into a chaotic unknown where they have to try and establish what the new rules are for themselves. Has it been done before? Yes. Does that mean it doesn’t work? Absolutely not.

The same could be said about much of the series. Let’s be honest here, zombies have been done to death (sorry) and it is next to impossible to inject anything truly new into the genre. There are examples of innovation to be found but these are largely consigned to the past now. So does that mean it isn’t worth watching? Not at all. As any zombie connoisseur will tell you, these days the enjoyment comes largely from a film or show fulfilling the expectations of the viewer that the best of the zombie conventions and cliches will be included in the action. In this respect The Walking Dead delivers. In spades.

All the usual rules apply. Don’t get bit! Shoot them in the head! Stay together! The zombie makeup and effects are superb, the action is well choreographed and exciting. People seem to do sensible things in the face of the situation, the survivors appear to have survived on the basis of being competent and hardy. The desolation and devestation of Atlanta is convincing. Evidence of the authorities attempts to deal with the outbreak and contain the problem is everywhere. The post apocalyptic world they are showing us here is completely believable. Some of the effects are very impressive indeed. At one stage Rick, still disoriented and trying to get to grips with what has happened, stumbles across the rotting mangled remains of a “walker” in a park. What’s left of it is writhing in apparent agony, organs and skeleton clearly visible and although very (I suspect deliberately) reminiscent of the test subject from Return Of The Living Dead it’ still a brilliant spectacle. The production values never really disappoint.

Thankfully somebody decided that you can’t really have zombies without gore and rather bravely decided we would get to see buckets of blood and brains as the survivors go about the business of surviving. Although plentiful it never feels gratuitous, simply reinforcing the horror of the situation for the survivors. Forget the cushy life you led before the outbreak people, if you wan’t to survive you are going to have to get your hands dirty. This couldn’t be more clearly illustrated than when Rick and fellow survivor Glenn smear themselves in zombie guts in order to avoid detection in a crowd of the undead (again, sort of done before but carried off with a certain flair here), a scene that is amusing and disgusting in equal measure.

Plot wise it’s pretty straightforward. Rick wakes up, goes home to look for his wife and son and finds out they have left. Presuming they are still alive he sets off to find them and eventually hooks up with a group of survivors (including his wife and son) who set out together to try and find a way to survive the situation. Again, there are no real surprises here but the group dynamic is convincing and their reactions to their plight believable. Some live, some die, some are deserving of their fate and others are unlucky but they all seem like real people and even the least worthy elicit some sympathy.

Presumably because it’s been based on a comic series it takes a rather episodic approach. Each episode feels a little bit stand alone, although the survival of the group is the glue that binds it all together. New characters and situations are discovered from episode to episode but outwith the main group these encounters are fleeting and don’t really extend beyond the borders of each episode. I don’t think this is a negative, it certainly conveys a comic book feel to proceedings, but it is a little bit disquieting as apart from this the feel of the whole thing is more like a classic HBO series and so you feel as though it should be unfolding in a shallower arc.

All in all another satisfying slice of television entertainment from 2010. Honestly, I feel spoiled.

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