The following discussion was recorded after going to Sci-Fi London’s screening of 28 Weeks Later last Sunday. If you haven’t seen the film, I’d suggest proceeding with caution, not so much because there are spoilers — though there are — as because our ramblings aren’t likely to make much sense. If you want actual reviews, here’s the New York Times (liked it) and here’s The Guardian (not so much). Otherwise, enjoy!
Graham: Welcome to this week’s installment of The Third Row Discuss, featuring —
Tom: Theme music!
Ian: Zombies! Arrrrgh.
Graham: — we have just been to see 28 Weeks Later at the Sci-Fi London film festival, my name’s Niall Harrison —
Tom: It’s Sunday the 6th of May, 21:36, Officer Harrison presiding.
Graham: So. It was about zombies!
Ian: It was about zombies.
Tom: But was it really about zombies?
Ruth: No, it was about people fucking up.
Ian: OK, it was about the military.
Tom: It was about the American military fucking up. And therefore it was about zombies!
Graham: Although for most of the film, the American military intervention was depicted as a positive thing.
Ian: Yes — they were doing their damn best to fix the problem, to fix the infrastructure and set everyone up on the Isle of Dogs. And then they fucked up.
Graham: I’m just thinking: could there possibly be an Iraq metaphor here?
Ian: I think the issue is that it wasn’t the military intervention that was the problem, it was the civilian imperatives that caused the problem — the military weren’t able to cope with the problem because of the civilian requirements. That was the major issue.
Tom: Was it? Surely the problem was that the military response was stupid.
Graham: Or at least disproportionate.
Ian: They brought too many civilians back too early.
Tom: And centralised them, yeah. And did it in a city. Which is quite a difficult place to control.
Niall: But looked quite cool. Which I think is possibly not to be underestimated when considering the development of this film.
Tom: If the whole thing was set near Stanstead Airport — which would be a really sensible place to house refugees — it wouldn’t have looked nearly so cool.
Graham: They were going for all the London landmarks that Russell T. Davies hadn’t yet trashed. (And by the way, I’d like a bet on that Wembley Stadium will have appeared in Doctor Who before the year is out.)
Tom: So can I just check — when did 28 Days Later come out? [2002 — Ed.] Because Wembley Stadium wasn’t finished when it came out. So how did it get finished in the meantime? Zombie builders?
Niall: OK, step back. Was the film GOOD or BAD?
Graham: Good, within the bounds of its genre.
Niall: Yeah, I would have quite happily watched the film about rebuilding the UK after the events of 28 Days Later that didn’t turn into another zombie film, but that wasn’t the film they wanted to make.
Tom: I would too.
Ian: I was hoping that there weren’t going to be any zombies in it.
Graham: But it’s like expecting Sunshine not to suddenly pick off the crew one by one.
Niall: Well, not quite, because I was expecting this to turn into a zombie film, whereas I wasn’t expecting Sunshine to turn into a slasher film.
Ian: That is possibly why it would have been awesome if it hadn’t. It would have been great if we as the audience were expecting at every turn zombies to pop up … and they just didn’t.
Ruth: I like the way at the start, you see the attack on the farmhouse and you think that’s already the 28 weeks later.
Niall: The start did a really good job of reminding us that fast zombies are fucking terrifying.
Ruth: Yes. Although in this they could come out in daylight, and I’m pretty sure in the original they could only come out at night.
Tom: Wasn’t it vice versa? They hid during the day and only went out at night?
Ruth: Are you sure?
Graham: It’s perfectly plausible for the zombies to have evolved —
Tom: Well …
Graham: — given the film’s approach to genetics, which Tom is about to expand on.
Tom: No, I don’t think there’s any point going over the film’s technical flaws. Because it’s a blockbuster, it has lots of them, and you just have to live with them.
Ian: Well, about the people not succumbing to the symptoms for whatever reason — that happens. People can be carriers, is the basic idea.
Tom: So the dad — Don — why was he infected and chasing them? Why was he different to a normal zombie?
Graham: Because he’s played by a lead actor.
Ian: He wasn’t that different to a normal zombie, he just happened to be following them and was particularly successful at doing so.
Tom: But not at very high speed. And didn’t seem to close in for the kill.
Graham: On another note — Doyle, the soldier, I kept thinking all the way through, “This is a Nathan Fillion part”. You know, non-nonsense, gruff, conscience …
Tom: I see what you mean. He talked a bit like him, too.
[And I’ve just remembered where I’ve seen him before: he’s Jeremy Renner, aka Penn — Ed.]
Niall: A thought: are there any zombie films that are not idiot plots? I was thinking about this, because clearly, for the plot of this film to happen there needs to be a lot of idiocy. But it’s plausible idiocy — idiocy of sentimentality, when Robert Carlyle goes to visit his wife after they find her, idiocy of military overreaction contributing to the situation getting out of hand.
Tom: Yes, both those are horribly plausible.
Graham: And idiocy of not figuring out that Robert Carlyle has an ID card that lets him in to see his wife.
Tom: Well, hang on, the idiocy is that his access all areas maintenance pass gets him into the most serious biohazard areas in the base. Which don’t have guards, incidentally. And aren’t covered by CCTV.
Ian: Basic rule: never kiss tongues with a zombie. Or with someone who might be a zombie.
Niall: What was going on with the helicopter in Regent’s Park ploughing through those zombies?
Tom: Reinforced blades, perhaps?
Ian: Yeah, I don’t really think that would work.
Ruth: Obviously it’s a secret military helicopter that has special technology.
Tom: Also, the distances were slightly annoying. They’re in the Isle of Dogs, and then they escape, and — they get picked up in Regent’s Park? Because it’s … the nearest large open space? So Mile End park, Victoria Park, City Airport itself … they’re no good?
Graham: Nah, Jubilee line to Baker Street and you can walk from there.
Tom: And then the guy says — can’t pick you up in Regent’s Park any more, for some reason I’m not clear on, so you’ll have to go to Wembley! Because that’s nice and close.
Ian: They were going for landmarks.
Tom: But it would have been so easy to do that without getting them wrong. But you’re right, complaining about that is like complaining about the helicopter blades or …
Graham: So, why did they make this film? What elemental truth were they trying to show us?
Tom: If you make a zombie film, people will go and see it and pay money to do so.
Ruth: Maybe they wanted to answer the question about what happened to the rest of the world, which was left hanging.
Niall: How did the first film end? I can’t remember.
Ian: They were in a field with a banner, and we saw aircraft flying over.
Tom: And you can hear radio chatter from the plane and it’s in Finnish. Or so I read on Wikipedia.
Ian: And we saw all the zombies dying of starvation.
Ruth: So you knew that people survived outside the UK.
Ian: They were falling over in the streets, like “rrrgh! Urrk!”
Graham: That’s not going to come over well on the transcript. But thank you.
Ian: [Closer to the microphone]: AAAARGK! RRRAGH! UAARRK!
Niall: At this point we need a third militarised-dystopian-Britain film, to make a trilogy with this and Children of Men.
Tom: I was getting some Children of Men vibes — in particular, save the children because they have the genetic potential to save humanity, and the firebombing of the refugees. So we need a third film with bombing of refugees.
Ruth: Well, I’ll look forward to that …
Ian: This didn’t have the feelgood happy ending of Children of Men, though.
Graham: Can we have the invasion of Britain film that is a rom-com?
Niall: Why would we want to watch that?
Graham: You know, another rom-zom-com. Zombies find love amidst the ruins.
Tom: Or possibly a romantic comedy about the English civil war — a rom-crom-com.
Niall: Presumably 28 Months Later —
Tom: — and then 28 years later, 28 decades later … 28 kalpas later, the Stephen Baxter far-future installment!
Ian: 28 Months Later will presumably have mainland Europe, Africa and Asia are all destroyed by zombies, and America’s still strong!
Graham: But Australia would be isolated, so it would be a rom-pom-com.
Tom: I hate you so much. But you could probably contain the zombies in Europe. You could protect Africa because all you have to do is hold the Suez canal and Gibraltar.
Graham: If we want stories about the spread of a global epidemic, Blood Music by Greg Bear is a really good example.
Tom: Although not quite the same situation.
Ian: I suppose Twelve Monkeys is somewhat similar.
Tom: Twelve Monkeys Later?
Ruth: That would be the next one.
Graham: Visually, the thing that sits with me isn’t so much the zombies, but just that once in a while you see the figure silhouetted in the distance, and it’s Robert Carlyle in zombie state.
Ian: I think they possibly overused the fact that he was extra-terrifying because he was, like, their dad, but I’ll forgive them for it.
Niall: There was also a lot of use of sniper-scopes and similar, which was very effective.
Ian: The scene going down into the underground was terrifying.
Ruth: It was.
Graham: I got a bit bored of that — it seemed to me to be going on too long. We knew damn well they were going to get down there.
Tom: That sniper-scope thing … have you seen that in films before? It’s an active infra-red scope, which looks very different to a light intensifier, because you have those glowing eyes.
Graham: Climax of The Silence of the Lambs?
Ruth: Yes, she has those reflecting eyes.
Tom: Because the only other place I’ve heard of it recently is on a Paris Hilton sex tape. Which has the eyes. I haven’t actually seen this, but I heard that it was done.
Tom: Let the record show. It’s just funny … apparently, I read, it’s now a big trend in gonzo porn, to use active infra-red.
Graham: Can we steer the topic away from gonzo porn and towards the happier subject of zombies killing everyone? Actually, the other very specific reference I felt was when they’re heading into the safe zone on the DLR at the start of the film, with the voice telling them everything will be OK — it’s the opening sequence of Half-Life.
Niall: I did like seeing the DLR used as a refugee train. I mean, it’s another London shout-out, but it was a nice touch.
Tom: Because the DLR is run by computers, so it’s almost the one thing you could easily get running if you didn’t have humans.
[At this point, we paused to consume food. There was further discussion, but alas, it was not recorded. We attempted to summarise the important points.]
Ian: So, what we were saying? Zombie movies, subgenre of survival horror, humans are stupid. There you go.
Niall: Humans vs. undifferentiated mass, weak link, and so on.
Tom: There is always a dopey bird who does something stupid for her boyfriend. Except sometimes it’s a man. In the remake of Day of the Dead, there’s the man who’s keeping his zombie wife alive — he’s the equivalent. But I do think they tend to exploit female sentimentality very often.
Niall: Did anyone know anything about the film going in, in terms of the structure? Because — like you said, Ruth, I thought it was already 28 weeks later, and then everyone fucking died. Apart from Robert Carlyle. But even the kid! I wasn’t expecting them all to die so quickly.
Tom: Although the clues were there, because they were clearly still worried about zombies — at first I thought it was just Robert Carlyle and his wife, going through the cupboards of this house, trying to survive. Which I’m sure was intentional.
Ian: Yes, especially since the zombies died at the end of 28 Days Later.
Niall: But it does build up to that moment where they open the door and it’s bright light outside, when you’d thought it was night. I think in the end the film goes into the roll of “sequels that are worth seeing but are obviously not as good as the originals.” Because it did find some new ways to do abandoned Britain shots, but a lot of it was repetition. The Regent’s Park carousel was a nice image, for instance.
Graham: Except not in Regent’s Park. Clearly in a field in the middle of Berkshire.
Niall: That’s because they can’t actually let Regent’s Park run wild for six months.
Ian: There were a lot of shots of “oh my god, it’s London! And it’s empty! Again!” But that is cool.
Ruth: They weren’t as effective as in the first one.
Ian: But the start of 28 Days Later was so awesome, they couldn’t replicate that. Although firebombing the Isle of Dogs was quite good.
Niall: The use of aerial shots was quite good because it built up to the firebombing. You’d have these flat overhead shots, and we’ve seen those in lots of films —
Graham: — and Torchwood!
Niall: — and then they used the same shots for the firebombing of the Isle of Dogs, which I thought was really effective.
Ruth: It also reminded me of The Apprentice …
Tom: In terms of imagery … I think this is similar to what Philip Pullman said about the way he writes books, when he came to talk to OUSFG many years ago. He doesn’t start with a plot, he starts with a series of images he likes and then figures out how to link them together. And that’s exactly what this film was, which is why it makes no sense at all.
Ian: “Should have put that in the original film — oh well, I’ll put it in a flashback.”