Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is based on the eponymous comic book series first published in 2003. Full disclosure; I have not read any of them.  Nor had I heard of the title prior to the publicity for this TV show. I don’t read graphic novels (other than Frank Miller). I’m not part of that milieu.

I have heard of producer Gale Ann Hurd. She made the Terminators and Aliens 1986 before during and after she was married to James Cameron – a kind of action chick Debra Hill. Frank Darabont is most famous for the beloved Shawshank Redemption 1994 but his oeuvre reveals a deeper track record in both cinematic adaptations and horror (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors 1987, The Green Mile 1999, The Mist 2007).

A 120,000 word novel will take at least five hours to read. A motion picture is 90 minutes long. The graphic novel series Sin City (pub. 1991) and its sequels took over 5 years to tell and spanned 30 issues. It was adapted into a two hour movie. Logistics alone meant the baby was thrown out with the bath water. Television may well be the best medium for adaptation and more so in the case of a comic book series.

TV has a history of horror – or what television describes as horror. The famous ones – The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits were more fantasy/sci-fi. Buffy (excluding series 1) and Angel were never about horror. Bona fide horror on TV – Masters of Horror, Fear Itself – failed to engross. They were valiant attempts with for the most part lacklustre stories. True Blood is for gays.

Television is in its 2nd golden age. This is the age of HBO and High Definition and Widescreen. It is time for television to adapt horror as genre. Gale Ann Hurd and Frank Darabont have the curriculum vitae to deliver. Zombies are the perfect conduit in this post 9/11 post banking crash century. The Waking Dead is based on an award winning critically acclaimed comic book.

It premieres on AMC during Halloween.

What we need is a story that starts with an earthquake and works its way up to a climax.
Sam Goldwyn

Pre credits: a cop walks into a dead zone of abandoned vehicles hunting for gasoline. He stumbles into our first zombie – a little girl in a housecoat with a caked blood jaw.

He shoots her in the head.

What follows is flashback. Momentum is halted.

Within the boundaries of art as entertainment when is it permissible to depict child homicide? Regardless of the original text as a writer I know that scene was written for shock value and serves no other purpose. It could and should have been filmed without the child killing.

Television is a medium of talking heads. In a typical 45 minute broadcast that’s a lot of talking. It drowns the action but at least not the visuals. Granted this is the first of six parts but the set up and exposition are dreary. Worse the start of a concurrent subplot is soap opera hokum.

The worse sequence involves British actor Lennie James. I can’t say how good his American accent is but he sounds like something from Gone with the Wind 1939 as does his behaviour. He rescues the main character – a white – and nurses him back to health with not so much as a thank you. At one point I thought Lennie was going to call him “massah”. He didn’t. That privilege was left to his son.

James Cameron’s depiction of black people has always been exemplary. I must have assumed Gale shared his humanity. However it is Frank Darabont who is the credited writer of this episode as well as being director and producer. That black people are still being portrayed in this manner by a white owned media is astonishing –  though it shouldn’t be. It is through television one can see into the psyche of the continuing white fantasy of master race. Darabont is a disappointment. It’s time to re-evaluate my opinion of Shawshank.

One in three black men will be arrested charged and convicted of a felony in today’s United States. Lennie James’ role is that of the noble savage. He bends over backwards to help a member of a police force that terrorised him before the apocalypse. It would have been more dramatic to throw the copper out to the zombies once he revealed himself.

It’s fair to criticize a comic book character come to TV life as acting like a comic book character. Actor Andrew Lincoln is another Brit. His portrayal of deputy Rick Grimes is that of the American stereotype the Stoic. Given the chance to change his clothes he would rather wear a cop uniform complete with alboum hat then ride off into the sunrise looking for his wife. This show is not without sentimentality; Grimes apologises to a legless zombie before he offs her.

There is no attempt to hide the plagiarism; the hospital scene is identikit to 28 Days Later 2002. The radio broadcast is stolen from the Mark Protosevich I Am Legend script. Yet this being horror such violations can be overlooked. Goodwill is generated by the visual gravitas of the hospital walkout scene and especially the Atlanta climax. The screen is bereft of people and movement. The empty spaces and roads are eerie and oppressing. The effects and stunts are cinematic. These zombies are of the Romero protocol.

It is well made.

Despite the ponderous pace of this premiere and Lennie James’ character there are enough visuals and zombies to garner interest in episode 2. I look forward to allegory and insight but I am afraid all I’ll get is a stereotype and his wife.
Read more Thrill Fiction: Halloween
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