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With the world overrun by vampires, humanity is dying out and the blood supply is nearly depleted.
For more about Daybreakers and the Daybreakers Blu-ray release, see Daybreakers Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on May 1, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Isabel Lucas, Sam Neill, Claudia Karvan, Michael Dorman
Directors: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
» See full cast & crew
Daybreakers Blu-ray Review
A unique twist on the vampire genre is introduced on Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, May 1, 2010
With every new vampire film released, I'm left with a lingering suspicion that Hollywood is slowly draining the blood out of a lucrative franchise. The Blade and Underworld trilogies went steadily downhill after a strong initial showing; Timur Bekmambetov's Night Watch/Day Watch series remains unnoticed by viewers in the United States; and despite the fresh perspective offered by Let the Right One In, I was beginning to fear vampire mythology had run its course. Suddenly the game changed with the arrival of a mysterious phenomenon known as the Twilight series, offering the blood-sucking equivalent of a melodramatic soap opera to legions of viewers who normally wouldn't be caught dead in front of a vampire film. Despite my dislike for anything remotely related to Twilight, I'll readily give credit to the franchise for restoring Hollywood's faith in the marketability of fang-focused productions, paving the way for new genre offerings such as Daybreakers.
By 2019, the human population rests precariously on the edge of extinction. In the intervening years since humanity's reign over Earth, vampirism spread like a wildfire through society, leaving only a handful of humans intent on rejecting the compromises associated with immortality. Those who escaped the initial wave of fanged attacks were quickly rounded up and used as a blood supply for the transitioning population, who rely on a regular dose of human blood to maintain a civilized society. Those who can't afford the corporate controlled blood will eventually transition into instinct-driven creatures known as subsiders, drinking their own blood and attack human or vampire alike. As with any population reliant on a finite resource, the vampire leaders soon find themselves on the verge of a disastrous blood shortage, with the harvested human population wearing thin. Knowing subside mutations could threaten the longevity of the dominant vampire race, the leader of the primary blood supply company, Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) approaches his chief hematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), in hopes they'll be able to create a blood substitute. Possessing zero allegiance to his vampire brethren, Dalton soon becomes entangled with a small band of human rebels who possess the secret to turning the tide back in humanity's favor.
Considering how quickly Daybreakers disappeared from the screens of my local cinema, I wondered whether there'd be much redeeming value worth highlighting in this review. After all, the trailer for the film seemed to raise a sufficient internet frenzy to pull in a higher cumulative box office take than the paltry 30 million it eventually earned. The natural question raised by this conundrum is why vampire fans stay away from a genre entry that should have harnessed widespread appeal. The answer can be summed up in two words—Avatar and mediocrity. Sadly, any film released during the reign of James Cameron's beast didn't stand a chance of earning a fair fight. Avatar's theatrical run was already one month toward earning a spot in cinema history when Daybreakers opened, leaving a meager section of the box office pie for new challengers. Had the film generated sufficient critical praise it may have climbed the charts in the weeks to come, but the initial buzz surrounding the film rapidly lost steam. As stated earlier, I'd attribute this second factor to the pervasive sense of mediocrity in multiple facets of the film.
Nothing frustrates me more than watching an interesting premise brought down by lackluster execution. Just when I thought the vampire genre had overstayed its welcome, we're introduced to Australian twins Michael and Peter Spierig with a twist on the well-worn concept. The idea of harvesting human blood is nothing new, but we rarely witness a world where vampires are the dominant species. Add in the cautionary angle of resource depletion (a real-life problem that's expected to become increasingly dire in the future), and you have the makings of a unique story. Unfortunately, despite the proficiency of the storytelling, the Spierig Bros. demonstrate room for growth as directors. Key plot points are quickly dismissed, characters possess paper-thin personalities, and any opportunity for cerebral entertainment is passed over. Gorehounds will certainly appreciate some of the more over-the-top moments in the film (especially during the climax), but I couldn't shrug off the feeling that blood-drenched effects were simply used as a crutch to bypass the cluster of plot holes littering the production.
Matters don't improve much in the acting department, which is a shame when dealing with a cast of veteran actors. I'm a bit baffled by the idea of casting Willem Dafoe as the tough-guy protagonist of the film, especially when you consider his age and physique. Replace him with Vin Diesel or any other muscle-bound vampire killer and the corny one-liners he spews would seem a bit more fitting. Likewise, Ethan Hawke always seems out of place in an action film. Similar to Dafoe, he lacks the swagger, physique, and authoritarian voice to create a believable action hero. Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed several of Hawke's roles over the years, but he should stick with roles that are well suited to his acting style (such as Gattaca or Before the Devil Knows You're Dead) and leave the crossbow-wielding roles to the heavy-hitters. In all honesty, the only two performances that really stand out are Michael Dorman as Edward's military brother Frankie, and Sam Neill as the poster child for fat-cat corporate greed. Both men easily fit the bill as cronies of the greater good (though their definition would likely be far different), as they rationalize appalling behavior.
In conclusion, I would have enjoyed Daybreakers a lot more if certain aspects of the plot had been tightened up a bit. As I worked my way through the 98 minute runtime, I found it nearly impossible not to pick apart items that didn't make sense or could have been done better. For those of you who've already viewed the film and are reading this review simply for a different perspective, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the climax of Daybreakers, and the closing line spoken by Ethan Hawke. In my humble opinion, the way the entire scenario played out in the final minutes downgraded the entire experience up to that point, and seemed to drop the ball.
Daybreakers Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 18Mbps), Daybreakers offers an above-average visual presentation despite mild weaknesses that occasionally crop up. Fine object detail rarely rivals the precision of top-tier high definition productions, but with the exception of several overly soft sequences, I'd still rank Daybreakers in the top 80 percentile. From a color standpoint, the film incorporates contrasting stylistic choices that drench the vampire environment in cold, monochromatic hues, while bringing warmth to the human hideout through the use of sandstone and wood. This dichotomy stopped just short of presenting alternate timelines, as if the human survivors stepped back fifty years to a simpler moment in history. Similar to most genre offerings, Daybreakers is set almost entirely at night (after all, vampires are sensitive to the light), so a vital aspect of producing a good transfer relies on subtle contrast gradients and abundant black level depth. Fortunately, this is one example that effortlessly rose to the challenge. Whether we're witnessing the explosion of a staked vampire in the dead of night, or a subsider emerge from the shadows of an open doorway, I never detected a shred of weakness in black level and contrast.
I'll readily commend the Spierig Bros. on their ability to create a visually engaging experience that oozes atmosphere. Given the stylistic elements of the production, I could envision the transfer struggling to keep up, but I was quite pleased with the proficiency of the end result.
Daybreakers Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Despite my ho-hum reaction to the film itself, the lossless audio track is exactly what I'd hoped it would be. From the rumble of Elvis' Firebird to the crackle of burning vampires, every element is geared toward putting a smile on your face. Even during moments when the surround channels aren't bombarded with loud effects, you'll notice subtle nuances that still maintain tension, but give our ears a break from the dominant flipside of the spectrum. Regarding surround separation, I'd suggest you listen closely to several scenes where the advancing vampire military group employs the use of tranquilizer darts to capture the remaining human survivors. The high-pitched sound of darts cutting through air move across the surround field in all directions, while occasionally delivering a thud of contact as onscreen characters slump to the ground. Moments such as these will help you realize the level of effort on the part of the sound department in order to generate an immersive audio experience.
Although I enjoyed the overall audio track immensely, there was one element that could've used a degree of improvement. With a track this robust, it's easy for your ears to grow accustomed to the presence of loud sounds, which often exceed the volume levels of the dialog within the track. In the case of Daybreakers, the vampire roles incorporate dialog that registers just a hair above a whisper, forcing viewers to strain more than we're accustomed to. It's not drastic or overly-problematic, but the slight imbalance is still worth mentioning in the interest of explaining my final technical score.
Daybreakers Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Making of Daybreakers (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 2:01:38 min): We rarely find such a comprehensive documentary covering the production of a horror film, but considering this is the Spierig Brothers first Hollywood break, they made it a point to capture absolutely every stage in the development process. Beginning with the original story and the brother's method of pre-conceptualizing key scenes using computer models, the feature follows the cast and crew through the entire journey until we emerge at the film's introduction in the Toronto Film Festival. Budding filmmaker will find this a fascinating inclusion, since we're shown a glimpse of every critical point in the overall process. However, for those with little interest in the intricacies of film production two hours can be a healthy investment of time, so I'd suggest you focus solely on the chapters that interest you the most.
The Big Picture: Spierig Bros. Short Film (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 13:51 min): This brief production by the pair of directors has no connection with Daybreakers, but remains a highly entertaining concept (with a tremendous payoff at the end).
Bonusview Storyboards/Animatics: If you're so inclined, you can view storyboards and lengthy animatics rendered for key scenes in the film. They appear in a small window during the main feature to demonstrate similarities between the idea and final product.
Poster Art Gallery: Seven theatrical posters are on display.
Digital Copy: The second disc included in the Blu-ray set includes a digital copy available for download on Mac or PC (iTunes compatible).
Rounding out the extras, we have a high definition trailer for Daybreakers, and a feature-length audio commentary with Michael and Peter Spierig. The writing/directing duo seem like two of the nicest guys currently working in Hollywood, as they discuss elements of the story, budgetary limitations, and special effects created by WETA Digital.
Daybreakers Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
In the hands of a more experienced director with a higher budget, Daybreakers could have been a must-see addition to the expanding vampire genre. The premise is interesting, the special effects are competent, and who doesn't love a few tense moments with blood-sucking creatures of the night? Sadly, Daybreakers quickly lost credibility as the plot holes multiplied, and eventually unraveled into a mundane ride with characters we care little about. The film is still an entertaining way to spend 98 minutes of your time, but I don't imagine most genre fans will revisit this title in the near future.
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