Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Walking Dead: Fresh Approach To A Decaying Genre

Next to sparkly vampires (gag), zombies are probably the most popular fictional monsters (they're fictional, right?), which also means they're also the second most overused fictional characters in entertainment right now. If you have a zombie craving (I mean, a desire to see zombies -- not an inexplicable hunger for brains like a zombie would crave), you can get that need met pretty quickly by just hopping over to your local mall. There is video games like Left 4 Dead where you can spend countless hours trying to slay zombies. There has been countless zombie films over the decades that have started becoming popular again (The Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead), but even this past decade has seen a horde of zombie flicks that even span different genres such as horror (28 Weeks Later, The Crazies) to action (Resident Evil films) to comedy (Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland). The world of books has recently seen an influx of zombies such as Max Brooks' World War Z, or even classic literature has not been able to avoid the zombie plague with the infamous Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. To my knowledge, up until this point there has never been a zombie television series. I'd assume part of the reason they have held off on ever producing the show is that the expected gore and violence may be a bit too much for prime time network, and also the show would require a fairly large budget for quality special effects in order to avoid coming off cheesy and second rate. As of this past Sunday (still trying to figure out of all the days, why would they ever to think of launching a zombie show on a random date like October 31st), television is no longer left out of the zombie party, because AMC debuted The Walking Dead.

I have to admit that I was really stoked to see the debut of the series. I had been watching a lot of AMC over the last few weeks because they were having their horror movie marathon, Fear Fest, which meant I ended up seeing their ads for the series on a very regular basis (probably every single commercial break). The barrage of ads worked because I started out intrigued and by the time Halloween rolled around, I was genuinely excited to check out the show. Even though I was looking forward to the premier, I was a little bit apprehensive. After all, this was a genre that has been pretty played out for the last few years, and would this only end up being a tired rehash of much better films? It is also a far fetch genre, which means it always runs the risk of being atrociously cheesy and campy (which can be fine and enjoyable, but not when that isn't the intent). But I did have some optimism due to the top notch trailers, the fact AMC has a winning record when it comes to its television series, and that the premier is being directed by Frank Darabont (known for directing Stephen King adaptions of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist) .

After being glued to the television for an hour and a half, I can now say I've been snared by the deadly grip of The Walking Dead. The premier had top notch special effects, and proved this is a show with a budget (which also means it will need substantial weekly rating to justify its budget -- which it did in its first week as the highest series premier ever on AMC). The later time slot of 10:00pm allowed it to supply the right amount of gore and blood one would expect in a zombie show. I don't think this is a show that would pass the censors on American network television, but that is exactly why it has a nice home on cable. The Walking Dead absolutely nailed it when it came to special effects and the right atmosphere, and delivered the same type of quality you'd expect in a good zombie movie (opposed to the glutton of straight to video B flicks).

This is all well and good, but it means nothing if the story and characters aren't engaging. I have to say that as good as the special effects were, the story and character development was far superior. This is not your typical zombie mash up, but rather an engaging story which happens to have a zombie apocalypse as the backdrop. Darabont's experience in directing Stephen King's works is obvious here, as he does a fantastic job capturing and conveying human emotion during an unexplainable and horrific crisis (a trademark of Stephen King). The focus is on the humans and how they deal and cope with this epidemic rather than on the actual zombies. This focus causes for a much deeper and layered story. This objective is wonderfully assisted by the strong acting by everyone in the show. You can really see and feel the despair and heartbreak that is plaguing every individual. And of course the fear, because there is zombies staggering all about the place, and they seem to take a liking to the human flesh.

The key factor that really makes this production stand out from so many other zombie works of fiction is the deepness of character development and human emotion. There is a powerful scene at the very beginning of The Walking Dead premier where the main character is forced to kill a little girl zombie. She isn't a girl anymore, and he knows this and the audience knows this. She clearly had the intent of killing and eating him. Yet you saw the pain on his face when he had to pull the trigger, because this wasn't an easy act. Yes, she was a monster, but at one point she was a little girl. There is another scene later in the show which is even more powerful, and asks the question when does someone stop being the person you once loved (or do they ever)? This inner struggle and pain is what really helps this whole show be so much deeper and more intriguing than several other productions. There is so much emotional baggage these character must deal with, and it is interesting watching them try to deal with that while also just trying to stay alive.

The basic plot is about a police officer who awakes from a coma, after being shot, and finds himself in a world that has been plagued by a zombie apocalypse while he was unconscious. He is then forced to try to set out and find his missing wife and son. I'll leave the plot description at that, because there is much more happening but the fun is in the watching.

It is definitely fun to watch. I am sure I made this sound like a deep and emotional show, and that is what helps it stand out, but in the end, it is still a show with zombies. You want scares and blood and violence, and you most definitely get all those things. The premier was a solid hour and half of action and emotion. Now. there was a few small plot holes at the start of the show, but I also realize this is a series and maybe those answers will be delivered in time. A good series makes you keep on asking questions and wanting to find out what will happen next. The premier most definitely leaves you in a spot where you really want to know what happens next. It did its job, because I am now hooked and excited for next week. And if you're someone who likes a good scare or really even just good storytelling (but willing to put up with a bit of blood to get it) then this is definitely one of the must see shows of the season.

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous1:45 pm

    Scottand Angela via Facebook:

    What do you think about the twist (or am I imagining it?) that the zombies retain a little of their former selves? The little girl picking up the doll, the zombie wife trying to go home...?

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  2. I definitely think that is an element of the zombies that has at least been hinted at. The wife constantly returning home makes you think she at least has some idea that this place was once a part of her. Or even the fact she started walking away from the house, made me think she realized this might not be a place she should 'terrorize' but rather leave alone. I'm very intrigued to see where they go with it.

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  3. Anonymous6:02 pm

    Brandon Oliver via Facebook:

    You should read the graphic novels the show is based on. Some of my favourite zombie stories :).

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  4. I only found out it was based off a graphic novel at the begining of this week. I'll need to put it on my growing list of literature that needs to be consumed by my eyes.

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