Monday, November 8, 2010

The Walking Dead (Pilot)

I am so sorry for my terrible posting ethic so far this month. After a packed weekend, the space bar on my keyboard broke, which would have been awesome if I were typing everything in German (whant-whant). But everything looks to be in working order now, so on to the catching up!
Last year, while living in a dorm, a friend of mine was playing Dead Rising, a video game all about the carnal pleasures of killing zombies. As he was playing the game, we had a lively conversation about so-called "survival" games such as this one: to quote him, "games like this are all about getting as many kills as possible without dying." He has an excellent point. If there were to be an actual zombie apocalypse, the number of zombies you've killed will probably be meaningless, unless you're joining some anti-zombie security force. What matters is the real survival: finding food, shelter, and water, making it from morning to night without dying. The actual killing of zombies probably will be nonexistent most days.
The Walking Dead, AMC's new series based on a series of graphic novels, takes a different approach to the idea of "survival horror." Its not a series that finds its hero, Rick (Andrew Lincoln), going gung-ho, guns blazing, against the zombie horde. Instead, Rick is a deputy highway patrolman who's shot while chasing a car full of fugitives. When he awakens from a coma, he finds himself in an abandoned hospital; the zombies are already here. He struggles to put everything together, before having a run-in with a fellow survivor (Lennie James) and his son. From there he decides to go to Atlanta, where there is supposedly a refugee center.
One issue that the show will have to address in future episodes is the fact that zombies are in danger of oversaturation in our lives. There have been plenty of zombie movies over the past 50 years, but they tend to follow the same conventions and cliches. On that front, story-wise, The Walking Dead doesn't show us anything we haven't seen before. The first episode, written and directed by showrunner Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), isn't too high on great dialogue, and the zombie are the typical Romero variety: slow-walking with a weakness to headshots. Don't get me wrong, I am an avid fan of zombie culture, but so far The Walking Dead hasn't distinguished itself from conventions.
There's a lot to love about The Walking Dead, however. First off, there's the fact that the show, at least in its first hour, makes no explanations for how and why the zombies are here, or for how long they've been around. There's reference to a "fever," and the CDC looking for a "cure," but that's as much as the show gives. When Rick wakes up in the hospital, based on the fact that bodies are laid out in great numbers, it can be assumed that he's not witnessing the first days of the outbreak, but rather coming in weeks (months?) afterwards.
Then there's the fact that Rick isn't some macho, instant-grown zombie slayer. The show chooses to place its focus not on killing zombies, but on something much deeper. I think this is the theme that really sets the show apart from all the other zombie stories we've seen so far: its about remaining human in the wake of catastrophe, if that's even possible. And the show has done this is some very subtle ways, starting with the fact that Rick (and everyone else) has to come to terms with the fact that, regardless of the fact that they're re-animated corpses that still resemble human beings, the "walkers" have to be shot and killed. Its that age-old question: in a situation where your life depended on it, could you kill another man (or, in the case of the opening scene, a little girl)? Then there's the fact that the zombies still have some human qualities: they can pick up objects, turn doorknobs, and seem to recognize things from their previous lives. The show's title works as a clever double entendre: who's the real "walking dead," the zombies or the survivors?
Could you kill it?
On a technical note, there's some fantastic production qualities here. The sets are deliciously creepy, and the cinematography is brilliant, especially in the scene where Rick approaches Atlanta. The real star is the sound design: the show makes excellent use of its sound effects, as well as the chilling moments of silence and natural sounds, as in the staircase scene or the opening scene. Its a very well-crafted show, and I hope that future episodes match this level of wizardry.
Unfortunately, this is probably the last thing you'll hear from me in terms of actual reviews for this show (which, if you haven't heard, has been picked up for a second season already), since my live-television watching abilities are basically nil. But hopefully, this very promising show will bloom into something truly special and unique.

1 comment:

angel said...

It's a complete bliss for me as not just a lover of horror and especially zombies, but as a lover of FILM.