I started writing this review last night, but between not liking the show very much, the Steelers losing and having a cold, I decided to hold off on finishing my review until I had a clearer head, which is good because I think I’ve got a better handle on why it didn’t work for me. Okay, let’s jump in.
Man, I really wanted to like AMC’s The Walking Dead. It’s got zombies and it’s based on a comic I mostly like. I was skeptical going in, but for reasons other than what ultimately bothered me about this first episode. First off, I was worried that the elements the comic shared with 28 Days Later (namely, the main character waking up in a hospital, not knowing what’s going on with the zombie plague and learning it as they run into fellow survivors) would put potential viewers off. Note, I’m not saying that one ripped the other off (Later came out in 2002, WD premiered in 2003, but who knows when the ideas popped up in the writers’ minds), but it’s the kind of things people notice and assume. When the trailer came out, some of my non-comics reading friends commented on the similarities. That could have possibly been changed to avoid that comparison.
Like most other zombie fans, I was worried that the zombies would look corny and that the zombie attacks would suck. This is TV afterall. That turned out to not be a problem, as the zombies looked good and they went places with the violence that surprised me (shooting the zombie girl in the head, eating the horse guts). What didn’t look good was the show in general. By that I mean, it seemed to lack style. The images just seemed put on screen. Maybe the mental comparisons I’m doing between the show and the comic aren’t fair to television (Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard are rad artists), but it just seemed really flat and, if not boring, unengaging to me.
The last thing that worried me going into the show was that it would just be a straight-up recreation of the comics, but on television. Sometimes I like that, but I’m usually more interested in seeing how other writers will interpret the original material. I’ve said before that my problem with comic writer and WD creator Robert Kirkman’s writing in the comic is that he’s very into telling and not showing. Characters have these huge, overly wordy blocks of text with characters explaining every little aspect of their thought process when the use of a flashback would work just well. He also doesn’t seem to trust his artist to get things across because he makes his characters say things that are obvious thanks to the art. It’s not as bad as Superman thinking everything he’s going to do to stop Toyman in a Silver Age comic, but it can feel like that at times. So, while I was hoping writer/director/showrunner Frank Darabont would springboard off the comics and create some cool synthesis of the two.
Watching the show, though, I found myself wishing Darabont had just stuck to the comic instead of first starting with Rick shooting a little girl zombie and then participating in a conversation with Shane about how Shane’s wife is a bitch for not turning the light off. I’m no expert, but showing your hero shooting a child and talking smack about women (or at least not defending them too much my ear) isn’t the best way to go. In the comic, page one is Rick getting hurt, page two is him waking up in the hospital. It takes a good 15 minutes to get there in the show.
Overall, I think the show could have been a lot tighter from both an editing perspective and a visual one. I don’t think it needed the 90 minutes it took to tell this first story, 60 would have been fine and far more interesting in my opinion. Also, from a visual perspective, I was mostly bored. Though the zombies looked good, the digital gun shots and blood looked shitty. Don’t try to tell me they don’t have enough money for some squibs. George Romero and Tom Savini had better looking gunshot effects 30 years ago. I also thought some of the digital compositing didn’t look so good, especially the scenes in Atlanta (by the way, it’s 2010, I doubt there would be that many newspapers lying all over town, maybe iPads, but not newspapers) like the one in the poster above. I thought about giving it a pass because that couldn’t have been an easy scene to pull off, but when you center your ad campaign on an image that doesn’t look so hot in the finished product, maybe you’re barking up the wrong tree. There were also shots of Rick riding his horse through the city where the cars and army vehicles in the background didn’t look real. I’m not sure if that’s because they were added in digitally or because of the aged and dirty look they were given but it was distracting (and, for whatever it’s worth, I was watching the regular AMC channel and not a digital one, so I’m not sure if that would have made a difference).
I don’t want to be completely negative here. I did think the action with Rick on the horse in Atlanta was pretty damn good. The claustrophobia first of the zombie’s convening on Rick and the poor horse was great and then the ante was raised with him under the tank (though I did think it was a little strange that Rick and the audience didn’t see the hatch in the bottom of the tank sooner). I guess I’ll tune in next week to see what happens, though I’m not super excited about it (they also ruined the mystery of whether Rick’s family was okay, something that worked much better in the comic coming out of nowhere). Part of me wants to just be happy that I’m getting six episodes of a zombie show on basic cable, but the other part of me wants it to actually be interesting. Hopefully both parts will get what they want by the end of the six episodes, but I’m not holding my breath.