28 WEEKS LATER - Blu-ray review

...but this is a more-than-adequate Blu-ray release that should easily please fans of the franchise and hopefully win a few new ones.

DeanWink

After the unexpected success of "28 Days Later," Danny Boyle found himself busy with the science-fiction film "Sunshine," but wanted to give audiences another dose of the Rage infested world he created. Putting on his Executive Producer cap, Boyle hired Juan Carlos Fresnadillo to take over the helm of his sequel and with a larger budget, bigger star power and an idea in mind, "28 Weeks Later" began filming. Boyle would serve as second unit director for a few scenes to keep involved with the project, but handed the reins over to a completely different set of talent from the first film. "28 Days Later" found positive reviews from critics and audiences alike and there was some question as to whether or not the sequel could live up to the standards set by the original film. Although it didn't perform as well as hoped in the box office, "28 Weeks Later" earned mostly positive reviews and proved to be an intelligent and entertaining follow-up to the original and set the stage for the eventual "28 Months Later."

The sequel begins with a scene that takes place just after the initial outbreak of Rage. Don Harris (Robert Carlyle) and his wife Alice (Catherine McCormack) are holding refuge in an old farmhouse with a few other folk. They have the house boarded up and are barely surviving in darkness and with limited supplies. Times are rough and the Rage infection has all of England in turmoil. Don and Alice are happy that each other has survived the outbreak. Their relative tranquility is brought crashing down one day when a young boy comes pounding on the door of their farmhouse. He is running for his life from a large number of the Infected. After some hesitation in letting the boy in, Alice allows the boy entry. This brings their safety to an end when the Infected take notice and overwhelm the small house. Everyone in the house is attacked and killed, with the exception of Don. Leaving his wife behind, Don cowardly runs towards a boat for safety and becomes the sole survivor.

Twenty eight weeks later, the United States military has cordoned a section of London off and cleaned the area out of bodies and possible infection. It has been deemed safe for a number of the population to return. Don has his son and daughter Andy (Macintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imogen Poots) brought to the safe ‘Sector One' part of London. It has been a long time since Don has been reunited with his children and he tells them how he saw their mother died and that he couldn't do anything to help them. They are relieved to finally be with their father and are the first children allowed back into Great Britain after the Rage epidemic. The children are saddened because of the loss of their mother, but Andy feels he will soon forget what his mother had looked like.

Various professions of the United States military are present to oversee the repopulation of England and to insure their safety against a possible reoccurrence of the Rage virus. A young doctor, Major Scarlett Ross (Rose Byrne) is an expert on the Rage virus and checks blood samples for traces of the virus. She is very surprised and less than happy about the reintroduction of children, but continues to do her job. Sergeant Doyle (Jeremy Renner) is an Army sniper and one of many such snipers that patrols London from the heights of London's skyline and keeps a constant lookout for any unusual behavior or a person that may become Infected. Ross's job is to monitor the health of everybody out there and hopefully find a way to immunize against the Rage virus. She is in the business of saving lives. Doyle, on the hand, has the responsibility to take lives if necessary and use whatever force is necessary to keep an instance of Rage from spreading.

It doesn't take long for Andy and Tammy to go against regulations of Sector One and travel outside of the contained safe zone. Andy wants to collect a photograph of his mother and they travel across the river to their old home to find one. They find far more than they bargain for when Alice turns up in bad health, but alive. The house was in a ransacked condition, but Alice was found hiding on the second floor. Unfortunately for the children, they were spotted crossing the bridge and the military is fully armed and waiting outside. They take Alice back to quarantine and separate her from her children. There, she meets up with Major Ross and the attractive young doctor tells Alice that she has to be strapped down and tested for her and everybody else's safety.

As it turns out, Alice was bitten during the attack on the small cottage. However, she has immunity to the Rage virus and has been carrying it around in her blood stream without falling prey to its effects. Scarlett Ross believes that Alice is the key to finding a possible cure to the virus and has her and the children quarantined. Startled at the news that his wife is still alive, Don visits Alice to apologize and seek forgiveness from his wife for leaving her behind. He also visits his children who are greatly angered at the discovery that their father lied to them. When he visits Alice, he kisses her on the lips; a fatal mistake. Don quickly succumbs to the Rage virus and begins to tear Alice apart with his bare hands and teeth. He breaks out of the quarantine room and into the general populace.

After all of the steps taken to contain the deadly Rage virus, a simple kiss is now the seed to another infection. Within minutes, more and more reintroduced citizens become infected by Rage. Mass hysteria breaks out. The snipers are told to fire only at the Infected, but with the mayhem and quick spread of the virus they begin to fire at everybody in an attempt to regain control. Scarlett sends out an urgent plea to find and protect young Andy, as he may be the only hope to stop Rage and cure those infected. It doesn't take long before the military decides it is best to simply eliminate everybody in an effort to keep Rage contained. Through several turn of events, Scarlett finds Andy and Tammy. She also finds a helpful Doyle who has decided that he couldn't shoot the boy and will now use his skills and marksmanship to help Scarlett and the children reach safety. His hopeful path out of the quarantined zone will be through the help of his helicopter pilot friend Flynn (Harold Perrineau). However, Flynn refuses to take anybody other than Doyle to safety and this creates a bit of a problem as the military is ready to napalm the entire area to kill the infection.

I could go on and ruin the plot, which typically happens in most reviews with a plot summary. However, part of the allure of "28 Weeks Later" is the moments between the break out of Rage and the plight of the foursome looking for escape from the quarantined zone. Once Rage is reintroduced to the population, "28 Weeks Later" becomes one hell of a thrill ride. It doesn't slow down much and just produces moment after moment of horrifyingly good fun. The first film in the series used feelings of isolation to help build tension and slowed down the pace with great effectiveness. "28 Weeks Later" takes a different approach and tries to remain as "in your face" as possible for much of its running time. It is a more exciting and action-filled film than "28 Days Later," and reminds me of the transformation taken by "Aliens" after the original "Alien." It doesn't have the insane pacing of "Aliens," as no film may ever eclipse that for adrenaline pumping fun, but "28 Weeks Later" took a similar approach to its storytelling.

There has been some voices in the winds that look at "28 Weeks Later" as being social commentary on the American invasion of Iraq. The film contains an American military presence in command of civilians in a nation where a savage war (Rage infestation in this case) has occurred. The American military is shown to be brutal and cold killers and has little issue with killing women and children to stop a potential threat from escalating. My opinion is that any film that shows the United States military in less than perfect light will be considered a voice about the current situation in Iraq. Yes, the film does show the Army as a police force. Yes, the Army kills innocent civilians. I'm a former veteran of the United States Army Infantry and I understand what is going on overseas and I also enjoy this film. There may be a hint of commentary by the director, but I honestly do not see it detracting from the story. If you think back a couple hundred years, the British military had a forceful governing control over our lands. We called that the Revolutionary War. Maybe the filmmakers intended on making a point by having us governing Britain by gun. Maybe not. In my opinion, this is a film and it is entertainment. I'll just leave it at that.

Even though the film decided to become a bigger spectacle with huge explosions, special effects and a higher octane story, director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo stayed true to the franchise's roots. The original character and intelligence that was found in "28 Days Later" remains mostly intact. This isn't as engaging a story and relies on a little more brawn than brains, but it has not become the typically dumb and loud horror-action film that we've become all too familiar with in recent years. Fresnadillo does a fine job of keeping pace with the work done by Danny Boyle and Alex Garland. This is an evolution of the series that has become a more visceral experience. The first film is superior with its more intelligent storyline and the introduction of the Rage infected zombies, but I was more than happy with the direction taken by the series and seeing that a bigger budget, bigger stars and bigger action sequences didn't sink the film as so many other smaller films with bigger sequels had done before. I was certainly hoping that "28 Days Later" would not be betrayed by its sequel in the manner that "Desperado" betrayed "El Mariachi." This wasn't the case and I look forward to the third film in the story.

Video:

"28 Weeks Later" fares far better on Blu-ray than its predecessor "28 Days Later." While that filmed looked absolutely horrid on the high definition format, the sequel is a relatively pleasing experience when you consider the nature of its source materials. This 1.85:1 film is mastered with the MPEG-4/AVC Codec at the maximum 1080p resolution, which according to the packaging runs at 37 MB per second. Director of Photography Enrique Chediak and Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo expanded the home video look of the first film and included sequences shot with high definition video cameras. The picture still has a rough documentary look, but it is not nearly as bleak and depressing in quality as "28 Days Later" was. There are a few moments where detail does pass the average mark, but it was not filmed in a manner conducive to striking visuals. There is a lot of intentional grain, low resolution moments and an excess of desaturated colors. Colors on both films have looked very washed out, and this is another stylistic choice taken by the filmmakers. Black levels were good, but the lower resolution and gritty texture of the film didn't provide good shadow detail. Things get quite murky when the lights are out. "28 Weeks Later" isn't going to land on anybody's "Best Of" lists for visuals, but the Blu-ray handles the material nicely.

Sound:

I haven't had a lot of opportunity to watch Blu-ray releases from Twentieth Century Fox, but my most recent batches have been nicely provided with DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio. "28 Weeks Later" is no exception and matches the soundtrack of the first film with a deep and booming audible experience. While the "28" films have not been as low tech in their audio as they are in their visuals, the soundtracks cannot compete with the most bombastic films on the market, but they sound broody and are fairly aggressive. The first thing noticed while watching the film is that it is a loud soundtrack and a few decibels higher than normal. It is also bass heavy and a lot of the shock to the ears comes in the form of deep bass. If something pops up onscreen, you can bet a rumble in the .1 LFE channel will accompany it. There are a lot of very sharp higher frequency sounds present. I know a few times I needed to adjust the volume down because of the sharp treble notes emanating from my speakers. Rear surrounds are used effectively, although if I had a complaint it would be that the rears were not used enough. Sound can be heard contained in them, but there are periods of time when they go silent. Overall, there is a lot of fright to be carried by the speakers and "28 Weeks Later" benefits from a fairly good soundtrack.

Extras:

A fair number of bonus materials have been included on the Blu-ray disc. All of these have been released subsequently on the DVD version and nothing extra is included for high definition enthusiasts. However, the bonus materials are provided in high definition video and not simply direct inclusions of standard definition materials. This is at least one leg up for the Blu-ray release.

The first column on the "Special Features" menu lists five items. The Commentary by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and Enrique Lopez-Lavigne runs for the length of the film. The two discuss what is on their minds throughout the track, but do take a number of ‘breaks' during the track and the frequent silence was a little disconcerting. It is an informative track and Fresnadillo does talk about his views on the military and the difficulties in filming a movie with a fairly low shooting budget. There were times when this track seemed to drag on and other times it entertained nicely. The two Deleted Scenes features optional commentary with the same folks mentioned previously. "The Canteen" (2:53) featured a moment between Andy, Tammy and their father and Scarlett. The second scene, "Andy's Dream" (2:09) was a spooky little dream sequence with Andy. Neither scene really introduced anything spectacular, but they were fun to watch.

Thee short documentaries are also included. Code Red: Making 28 Weeks Later (13:06) is an above average making of documentary in the electronic press kit format. This featured the film's producers and others introducing the film and discussing the process of creating a sequel to "28 Days Later" and other filmmaking decisions pertinent to the film. The Infected (6:58) is a very short look at the Rage infected zombies contained in the film. Special note is taken how an ‘Infected Character' exists in the film, which is Don. There were some nice making of moments with Infected actors and this supplement really could have been longer. The third documentary and final item on the left column is Getting Into the Action (7:13) which is another short feature that now focuses on the action and excitement of the second film and how it is a departure from the slower and more suspenseful first film. This was another good making of feature that would have benefited from a little more length.

The right hand column features two more documentaries that are essentially one longer piece broken into two and the Theatrical Trailer. The first part of 28 Days Later: The Aftermath is Stage 1 "Development" (7:36). This is an animated feature from some of the graphic novels created after the success of "28 Days Later." Although interesting, this was only a segment of the overall story and it felt like jumping into the middle of a conversation. The second piece is Stage 3: Decimation (4:47). This one was a little more interesting than the first piece and also more slickly animated. "Decimation" looked at the smells of people and how the Infected found their prey by smell. There was a funny line involving my favorite beverage Guinness in this vignette. An advertisement for the Blu-ray release of "28 Days Later" is also included.

Closing Comments:

The "28 Days Later" franchise has quickly become one of my favorite horror franchises. The series combines intelligence, suspense and solid storytelling to create a frightening world where a viral infection creates a terrifying race of zombies. This film, "28 Weeks Later" is the sequel to the witty original film and adds action, familiar actors and a larger scope of storytelling to the mix and creates an above average sequel that may not be superior to the original, but does a nice job of continuing on with the story. This is a good movie and although I feared a second movie from a different writer/director combination would perhaps spell doom, it did not and I found the end result to be pleasing. The Blu-ray has good sound and acceptable visuals with an hours worth of supplementary materials. It doesn't stack up to "Shaun of the Dead" when it comes to next generation presentation, but this is a more-than-adequate Blu-ray release that should easily please fans of the franchise and hopefully win a few new ones.

Ratings

Video
7
Audio
8
Extras
6
Film Value
8