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David Hines [userpic]

quick review: DAYBREAKERS

January 13th, 2010 (08:15 pm)

There are two movies currently playing that try to create a real and believable alien world. One of them succeeds remarkably well, not only providing a physical but a cultural deviation from the world we know wherein the movie's scenario consists of an intriguing story told incorporating believable extrapolation from a fantastic premise, with the result that the story and the main characters, while removed from our everyday experience, are believable and grounded.

And then there's AVATAR.

The flick I'm hyping is DAYBREAKERS. Which is not a perfect movie; I don't want to oversell it, and it certainly has its flaws. But in terms of serious world-building, its modest, simple, perfectly reasonable extrapolations of what happens when pretty much the entire human race is now vampires leaves AVATAR in the dust. AVATAR created a beautiful, immersive, all-encompassing alien world, and used it to make another tired retread of A MAN CALLED HORSE. DAYBREAKERS creates a dark, recognizable but alarmingly different alien world right here on earth, and uses it to tell a story that could take place only in that setting. Its little details reinforce that setting in a thousand little ways, and in so doing shed light on the film's characters, on their humanity (or lack thereof). And while DAYBREAKERS is, like seemingly every other damn flick in the multiplex these days, an implicitly ideological movie -- look for some lefty grievances about the pharmaceutical industry, in particular, not-so-artfully disguised -- it incorporates its ideological thrust much more subtly, effectively, and above all *intelligently* than the subtle-as-the-weight-of-James-Cameron's-moneybags AVATAR. By which I mean, when DAYBREAKERS makes the unfortunate decision to make its political analogy relatively explicit, it does so quickly and in passing and with about ten thousand times more grace than AVATAR does.

This is what raises DAYBREAKERS head-and-shoulders above AVATAR, in world-building: the filmmakers think about implications of what they raise. James Cameron does not think about implications, which is damned odd because if you look at his earlier work the man is about nothing but, but I don't think there is a single person who saw ALIENS who *didn't* watch the humans getting herded off Pandora and into their spaceships without thinking, "Nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure." But though DAYBREAKERS wobbles (they set up a glorious ending, then make it much less effective, and anybody who's watched CNN will immediately think up a simple and effective tactic that the vampires for some strange reason fail to use), there are little things all through the movie that make you realize, "Okay, they didn't think of *everything,* but at least they thought about *some* things." Which is better than AVATAR, wherein the only reason everyone and everything exists is to be profound and evocative for Jake Sully. I'll give you a simple thing: the vampires smoke. They smoke at home. They smoke in their cars. They smoke in meetings. I mean, they *all* smoke. Because they're immortal. Why shouldn't they? But it's not what we're used to these days, so it's a little surprising at first, before you realize. It's nothing fancy at all and no one remarks on it, but it's a simple bit of texture that explains the world. As opposed to AVATAR's ton o' money and color, which says remarkably and unfortunately little.

Anyway, not a perfect flick by any means, but it's got good performances and great staging and it's absolutely great at making you buy its world for the duration of the movie. Check it out.


Posted by: Greetings Fellow Comstoks! (fengi)
Posted at: January 14th, 2010 02:30 am (UTC)

Also when it comes to political subtext, I prefer the sneaky marxism of Daybreakers to the condescending preaching of Avatar.

Posted by: darkdanc3r (darkdanc3r)
Posted at: January 14th, 2010 03:26 am (UTC)

I haven't seen AVATAR, but DAYBREAKERS was fun. And you're right, it was believable. Errors and whatnot aside, it was well thought out. For all they were vampires, they were people, personalities and quirks and immortality and all.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: February 25th, 2010 02:53 am (UTC)
Excellent points

I have watched both and I just wanted to leave a quick comment here because it's a first time I see these two points mentioned on relation to these movies which came out more or less at the same time:

1) I also immediately noticed that 'Avatar' is a direct re-tread of 'A Man Called Horse'. Though I found it vaguely offensive, even though I didn't the original. Possibly because 40 years ago when Horse was filmed, the concept of using the native Indian POV with the 'white man' being ultimately the bad guy etc. was a new, never-been-done before story and it's not as if Horse exactly white washed the native tribes: they were shown with all their warts, violence and slavery sub-culture. They were not perfect, innocent natives: they were just shown as different and it took the whole movie to get us to the point where the viewer could truly empathize with a completely different viewpoint.

Funnily enough, the first remake, 'Dances With Wolves' or whatever I also found rather offensive, possibly because it was such a commercial enterprise that it did not feel genuine. It felt artificial and an exploitation of the Indian genocide.

I am surprised most people do not seem to have noticed 'Avatar' is a tired remake. Note that it's the 2D version that grates on my nerves, even as I admire the visuals. The 3D version is just too pretty to notice irrelevant stuff like lack of intelligent plot/characters and insulting the viewers' intelligence.

2) On the other hand, yes, I did notice that 'Daybreakers' is actually real SF and has a real plot with real logic and parallels to reality or what reality would be, given the initial premise. It does indeed have some weaknesses -in particular the ending ends up all over the place IMHO- but this type of interesting speculation is what I read/watch SF for.

It is rather disappointing that no one seems to have noticed this movie, which may be one of the best I've seen recently (to be fair, I've only gone to a movie theater three times over the past 12 months, so it's not as if the sample is THAT large). As a reference, the third movie I actually saw last year was 'Surrogates' which was mindless entertainment, but also an SF movie, now that I think about it.

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