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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 11/10/03

28 Days Later
Special Edition - 2002 (2003) Fox Searchlight Pictures (20th Century Fox)

review by Rob Hale of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

28 Days Later: Special Edition Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A/B

Specs and Features
113 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), keepcase packaging, audio commentary (with Danny Boyle and Alex Garland), 3 alternate endings with optional commentary (4x3, English DD 2.0), 6 deleted scenes with optional commentary (4x3, English DD 2.0), Pure Rage: The Making of 28 Days Later featurette (25 mins, 4x3, English DD 2.0), Jacknife Lee music video, animated storyboard promo, still galleries, theatrical trailers, animated film-themed menus with music, scene selection (32 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), Spanish and French (DD 3.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

28 Days Later begins with an animal activist group breaking into a lab to free the chimps that are being studied there. They are informed that the chimps are contagious, infected with rage, but pursue their mission anyway. Chaos ensues as, one by one, they are all either killed or become infected themselves. Twenty-eight days later, Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes from a coma and finds himself in a deserted hospital. As he leaves the hospital he finds the streets of London to be empty as well. Flyers inform him of an epidemic, but still point to no signs of life. Then Jim finds a church full of dead bodies, and the fun begins.

Director Danny Boyle's career started off with a bang. His first film, Shallow Grave, was a Hitchcockian thriller oozing with style and a trio of wonderful performances. Next up was Boyle's adaptation of Irvine Welsh's difficult novel, Trainspotting and the success of that film raised expectations over Boyle's career to ridiculous heights. Then came A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach which, although not awful films, lacked the energy and focus of his previous two films and were failures both critically and commercially. With 28 Days Later, a low budget thriller/horror film, Boyle seems to be returning to his roots using genre conventions with respect and still managing to twist them in new directions.

Boyle cribs freely from influential films such as Omega Man and George Romero's Dead trilogy (which are admitted influences), but the film that 28 Days Later most resembles is Romero's The Crazies (which is not sited as an influence). The infected in Boyle's film are very similar to those in The Crazies, the infection leads to a kind of madness that turns the victims into killing machines, but Boyle takes things one step further. By reducing the infection time down to a mere thirty seconds, a more tense atmosphere is created forcing characters to make quick life or death decisions. It also creates a sense that 'anything goes,' leaving the viewer unable to gain a foothold since things can change radically so quickly. On top of this, the wise choice was made to shoot 28 Days Later on DV, which lends an immediacy to the film that really plays up the importance of time and speed. Rapid-fire editing during attacks also compresses and extends time, abstracting the violence so that things can not be seen clearly. This has the added impact of making the violence all the more painful and jarring. Finally, there is the infected themselves who, unlike Romero's zombies (and his own infected in The Crazies), are not relatively slow and lumbering, but quick-moving, erratic, and fully functioning beings that seem to be much deadlier foes because of it. In the hands of many other directors these could all come across as a cheap gimmicks, but Boyle keeps things relatively consistent throughout the film and uses these bends in convention to enhance a story that feels right at home with it's connections to Romero's films.

Connections to The Crazies aside, in many ways 28 Days Later seems like an extension of the Dead films. Like Romero's films, we follow a small group of people as they try to survive in a near-/post-apocalyptic world. There is the concept of infection, which is also present in the Romero films, although it is much slower acting. There is also the primary theme of humans being our own worst threat to survival, no matter how bad things get with the zombies, infected, or whatever you want to call them, and it is this key element that truly links these films. The flesh eating nature of Romero's zombies is lost in this film however. 28 Days Later plays on the cultural fear of communicable diseases and the threat of a pandemic (hence the rapidity with which the infection spreads), while Romero's films seem concerned with consumerism and conflict between cultures (hence the dead feeding off of the living). Regardless, 28 Days Later will probably always be compared to Romero's films, not because it's a zombie film (which in the strictest sense it isn't), but because it so obviously pulls inspiration from them. In the end the borrowing from Romero never really feels like a 'cheat' because it is done with respect and never falls to the level of parody and camp that taints so many modern horror films.

20th Century Fox has done an admirable job in bringing this film into the home, although there are a few small disappointments. The video transfer is near perfect, with solid blacks and nice stable colors. Keep in mind that this was shot on DV, so the picture is not going to have its natural deficiencies, but I feel I can safely say that the film looks at least as good as it did in the theater. This is also a transfer of a print (note the fine grain seen in many darker shots) and not directly from it's digital source, which would have been nice, but it still looks just peachy. Audio fares even better, with balanced dialog and effects, and full use of surrounds. As with any horror film, the audio is extremely important and every whack, gurgle, and thump comes across loud and clear.

Extras are decent as well. Danny Boyle typically does a nice job on his commentary tracks and this is no exception. Boyle and the film's writer, Alex Garland, discuss many of the challenges involved in shooting in London, as well as how the film was developed and changed during shooting. The two rarely fall back on just reiterating what we are seeing on screen and are obviously proud of their work, warts and all. Also included are six deleted scenes (available with commentary as well), which seemed to have been justifiably cut. There's nothing amazing here, but a brief scene of the main characters joking about in their taxi is fun. Also included are three alternate endings (again, with optional commentary) which are by far more interesting than the deleted scenes. Included are a much darker ending seen theatrically, after the credits, and another 'happy' ending which could be tacked on to the darker ending. All in all these two endings add up to an ending that is very similar to the theatrical ending, with one major difference (which I won't spoil for those who haven't seen it). Much more interesting is a radical reworking of the ending that the filmmakers toyed around with in post-production, which is only available in storyboard. This ending is completely different, losing nearly all of the second half of the film and replaces it with a conclusion that strikes me as very similar to the ending of Near Dark, very interesting and well presented. There is also a decent little featurette which covers some of the same ground as in the commentaries, but we get to hear stories from more of the cast and crew, and is a nice addition overall. My one disappointment however, is that the Anatomy of a Scene which the Sundance Channel ran is not included. Although the new featurette is good enough and I'd rather they use the space for the transfer, than pack as much as they can on a single disc, the Sundance program is sorely missing. Rounding things out are a couple of still galleries (again with commentary, which is nice (and quite funny as Boyle runs out of things to say about half way though), a music video from Jacknife Lee, theatrical trailers and other small promotional items. Overall a nice package.

In the end, does Danny Boyle really "reinvent zombie horror" as the marketing department at Fox would lead you to believe? Not really, but does that hurt the film? Not a bit. 28 Days Later is a tense energetic little film that does put some life back into the genre by playing with its conventions with respect and never losing sight of its purpose, to scare the audience. Genre fans should be more than happy, although casual viewers may want to give this one a rental first.

Rob Hale
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