BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE WALKING DEAD

By • Mar 16th, 2011 •

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It’s difficult to judge a show based on its pilot. They are usually slow-paced, giving you time to get to know each character. Such is not the case with THE WALKING DEAD, the new horror television show from AMC and Anchor Bay Entertainment. Within minutes we are watching an exciting car crash and violent shootout. Then, our lead character gets shot! It’s really an impressive attention grabber. I was later told that this opening of the show was aired beforehand as a sneak preview. Smart move. If I had caught that, I probably would have watched the show while it aired instead of waiting for the DVD.

I never read the comic, but THE WALKING DEAD doesn’t offer much in terms of originality. In fact, every episode had at least one familiar bit. When Rick (Andrew Lincoln) wakes up in the hospital after a coma, only to find a zombie epidemic, I doubt anyone who saw Danny Boyle’s 28 DAYS LATER failed to notice the similarities. In one of the show’s more humorous albeit most disgusting bits, the characters smear zombie guts all over themselves and walk the streets in attempt to go unnoticed. It’s a nice scene, but it’s highly reminiscent of SHAUN OF THE DEAD, where the characters do almost the same thing, minus the gore.

THE WALKING DEAD doesn’t offer any explanation for the zombies (they call them “geeks,” but I don’t). Nor do they represent anything. Whether this is to be thought of as a positive or negative is entirely dependent on the taste of the viewer. George Romero’s films always used zombies as a metaphor for social and political issues. When it works it’s great (The original DAWN OF THE DEAD), when it doesn’t…well, there’s a reason why his more recent films have not garnered the same critical reception. HBO’s vampire show TRUE BLOOD is inconsistent in this way. Sometimes it tries to use the vampires as a way to channel issues (i.e. intolerance in the south), and sometimes it knows that the sex and violence are all in the name of good fun. I prefer the latter, finding their commentary to be too obvious, and not thought provoking. Nevertheless, TRUE BLOOD is a compulsively watchable show, and I feel the same way about THE WALKING DEAD.

What makes THE WALKING DEAD a success is the acting and direction. There isn’t a weak link in the cast, and they make each character likable and realistic (unlike TRUE BLOOD, which has it’s share of very annoying and over-the-top characters). These characters ground the show in reality and make the zombies merely a backdrop for the human drama to shine through. There are as many genuinely touching moments as there are bloody ones. In horror, this is hard to come by, but when successful, it’s what separates a piece from being just entertaining, or being resonant.

It’s a big production, with sometimes hundreds of zombie extras. To make the premise work, they often have to close off large portions of the city to have their epic post-apocalyptic wide shots. While viewing, one can tell they put a lot of time and craft into the show. Which is why it’s disappointing when the season ends after only six episodes.

The creator, Frank Darabont, obviously likes a certain kind of horror, as it shares much in common with his last directorial film, THE MIST, based on the Stephen King novella. Both pieces are post-apocalyptic, and both flourish because it allows characters who normally wouldn’t interact with one another to band together and figure out a way to survive. Of course, being human, all their flaws rise to the surface. It’s a classic convention of drama that, when cast correctly, will more often than not prove successful. THE WALKING DEAD was picked up for a second season, I’ll catch it this time while it airs.

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