This review is somewhat spoiler free. I do talk about a few scenes in a vague sort of way, and of course, the episode as a whole, as well as AMC’s treatment of the whole subject matter.
Over the past 10 months, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at, thinking about and generally trying to get in to the heads of both zombies, and those survivors who must exist along side them. I try to put myself into the position of survivor, both modern and fantasy. What would I do? What would work and how much does luck or preparation come in to it? Who are these survivors and what gave them the edge? These are a few aspects of the undead apocalypse that really grab me by the throat and squeeze.
I’ve also devoted a small but significant amount of my mental process to hoping that AMC’s The Walking Dead didn’t screw the pooch.
The production team, the actors and directors and from what I can tell everyone involved in this project did a bang up job. The pooch remains unscrewed! Here’s why.
The majority of the effects were achieved the old fashioned way. Makeup and real things being there, which the actors need to interact with. I think this is a huge plus – despite the advances of CG. The Walking Dead feels utterly and completely real. A reach-out-and-touch-it realism that just can’t be had when the bad guys and helicopters are placed in the film afterward. The actors are there on set, in the heat and walking around these things and trust me, it makes a huge difference.
And the zombies – some of the best I’ve ever seen, hands down. The team responsible for their makeup should be given an award. Right now. In fact, I bestow on them the first ever Troll in the Corner Award for Authentic Undead Creations! The AAUC is only given to those productions who’s zombies consistently cause my wife to lose sleep.
Visually, zombies aside, The Walking Dead is quite a treat. It’s bleak scenery matches the bleak tale very well and it look like something very bad has been happening for quite some time. It looks like it could have been taken right out of a news reel from CNN. In short, it looks authentic, it feels real.
The story though, what the characters find themselves forced to survive, this is the key and best part of the pilot. For me, this is the core part of any zombie apocalypse story. Really, the zombies and the gore are cool and fun to watch, but it’s not what makes for a good story. Rick Grimes and the rest of them are played as real people, who’ve found themselves in a situation that shouldn’t be possible and they are forced to cope with it.
This is only the pilot, yet still there were two scenes which were intensely emotional, to the point of moving both me and my wife, both of which have to do with the loss of loved ones (supposed or real). A third scene, which I think is my favorite, is one that is emotional, but understated. Rick returns to the first zombie he encounters, a legless wreck of a corpse, and it’s obvious he feels sorry for it. He says “I’m sorry this happened to you”, and I felt as if he meant it. He’s summing up quietly his feelings about the human race as a whole, I think. But that’s too big a concept to really think about just then, so he does what he can for an individual member of the human race who is suffering.
There are other scenes that are more jarring (think horse Pâté) , and one (when Rick on his horse is pursuing a helicopter) that made me exclaim out loud – and they all have their place in this show. Thankfully they’ve been placed well and not overused. The gore comes with the territory of zombies but it’s treated as something that is there and must be dealt with, not glorified by slow-motion blood spatters or so in your face that you’re turned off.
Two other points that caused me to feel intense affability towards the AMC crew. First, the zombies are treated like they are in the original comic, and as they should be in any zombie apocalypse scenario. They are a force of nature – one that no one has contended with before, but something to be handled like a hurricane or an earthquake. You can’t really avoid them, so you do your best to survive them and then give yourself up to equal parts planning, luck and plain old hard work.
The second point is AMC’s treatment of horror. I loved the fact that they did not utilize a lot of the worn out old horror tropes, such as something popping in to view with jarring music. Take the entire hospital scene with Rick. Not one zombie popping in to frame suddenly – yet the slow moving thump of that door, with the crack-nailed, graying hands reaching out was dramatically spooky. Rick’s walk to the outside world was handled in a great way. Something could have popped out and scared us, but I think the fact that nothing did, and that we were faced with the subtle horror of walking through a dark staircase where the character is literally and figuratively in the dark – this played out much better on screen. Finding the bodies lined up outside, his first encounter with the undead and then finding his home empty of his family – these were far more horrible than something that makes you jump a quarter inch out of your seat.
To conclude, I think we need to take a look at the first five minutes of the episode. For those of us wondering if AMC was going to hold anything back, I think we know the answer to that. Just like death in real life, the undead in The Walking Dead hold nothing sacred. Kings and commoners, adults and children – no one is safe, and you have to do things that would in any other scenario be utterly reprehensible, just to survive. This is a bleak world, and hope is not something that is easily found. The Walking Dead seems all the more real for it.
[tags]zombies, walking dead, television, aruneus, review[/tags]