I have a feeling that years from now Daybreakers will become somewhat of a cult favorite. It has similar inspirations that made Underworld such an original feeling concept years ago, but unlike that series this film went from excellence to mediocrity to crap in the span of one film rather than three. Still, there is something to be said about this film as it does have a bit of originality to it as well as a brilliant view of the future (but not too distant future, as 2019 is less than a decade off at this point). Plus it throws more vampire lore at the viewers, even if it is the usual attributes (can’t go in the sun, drinks blood, pointy ears, grows wings, etc.) for the most part. Though the film didn’t make much of a splash at the box office, it did still turn a profit so I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw another installment in the future.
The blood wars begin in Daybreakers! Making its Blu-ray Disc and DVD debut this Spring, the film stars two-time Academy Award® nominees Ethan Hawke (Actor in a Supporting Role, Training Day, 2001 and Adapted Screenplay, Before Sunset, 2004) and Willem Dafoe (Actor in a Supporting Role, Platoon, 1986 and Actor in a Supporting Role, Shadow of the Vampire, 2000). Critics are salivating over this sci-fi action thriller that has audiences on the edge of their seats! “Original, scary and action-packed” (Fangoria Magazine), Daybreakers is “confidently crafted and legitimately clever!” (Fearnet.com). Written and directed by The Spierig Brothers, audiences are introduced to a futuristic world – where vampires reign supreme and blood is big business. As the human population nears extinction, vampires must capture and farm every remaining human, or find a blood substitute before time runs out. However, a covert group of vampires makes a remarkable discovery, one which has the power to save the human race.
Despite not hearing that many great things about the film when it originally came out, I was actually rather excited to check the film out once it hit Blu-ray. While Lionsgate’s horror outings have a track record of mediocrity (not really the companies fault as most of the films aren’t directly produced by them), I was nonetheless intrigued by the concept. Immediately getting into the film you saw that it was visually stunning; there was a Tim Burton Gotham City-esque nature about the sets and even the daytime elements looked quite fantastic. For some reason even the small details like how the upper-level crosswalks between buildings were mounted on each end stood out to me; plus it was interesting to see that while we’re apparently overrun with vampires in 2019 and have a shortage of human blood for the vampires to feed on, we have at least made the majority of our cars all electric. I also had to laugh that apparently nine years from now Chrysler will still be using the same design for their 300C touring sedan…which sadly probably isn’t very far off. At least they put blue LEDs in the front grille though…
Anyway, enough about the visual elements—the story! Well the story isn’t worth talking about once Willem Dafoe’s character gets into the picture; everything up until that point is highly intriguing. The sense of fear in the air in the city, the vampire driven company that harvests human bodies for blood, the introductions of our main characters…it was all executed very well, especially Ethan Hawke’s character. Sadly once the story progressed into the human/vampire resistance the film started to tank; Hawke’s characters lowly became rather useless and all of his experiments in an attempt to find a “cure” for the vampire disease seemed rather superfluous considering the end result ended up actually being two cures or some such nonsense. It got rather convoluted at the end and I’m not even going to try to admit my interest didn’t wane quite a bit.
Still, as the film got progressively less intelligent the violence amped itself up (perhaps there’s a correlation there…) and because of that we got a more focused action film at that point. It became all about the intake of blood for the vampires as well as the usage of crossbows by the humans (you think someone would’ve invented a faster bow firing device by 2019, as that was some primitive stuff being used). It really could’ve been so much more and I really wish the Spierig Brothers (who wrote and directed the film) had taken a bit more time to polish up the ending considering they obviously put a lot of time and effort into crafting this world of theirs.
Overall Daybreakers is an interesting and fairly unique outing into the vampire world, but unless you’re a diehard fan of the genre you’re likely to be disappointed. Of course you could also end up very disappointed even if you are a fan, depending on how upset you get with the films rapid drop from awesome to mediocre (damn you Dafoe!). There really is a lot of cool things to check out in this film though, especially that sequence with the home invasion by the winged vampire creature…that dude was genuinely freaky looking. At the very least it’s worth a Rental.
Daybreakers arrives in a standard two-disc Elite Blu-ray case courtesy of Lionsgate. The set is also adorned with a reflective foil slipcover which makes the film look a lot more bad-ass than it actually ended up being…but oh well. Inside the set is the usual and the menu is the typical Lionsgate production with lots of cool little effects to help it come alive.
Although it comes in at a rather low encode rate, the film looks spectacular for the most part. The AVC encoded feature is mostly a darkened ordeal but there are plenty of daytime elements to partake in as well, but even as dank and dark as the sets are in the film they still tend to ooze detail. It’s the sharp, modern look of everything that keeps the film looking so neatly done and I really do have to commend the cinematographer and directors of the film for their work here—it definitely is a unique visual experience and more than anything that will likely stick with me longer than the plot will.
Audio is another Lionsgate staple: DTS-HD MA 7.1. It seems there isn’t an audio trick out there that this track didn’t try to pull off, as there was a healthy dosage of surround activity and LFE output at any given time. The only real qualm you can take with the film is that everyone seems to talk in a very low voice, making a lot of the dialogue difficult to hear at times. But even then the film is so full of environmental and special sound effects that it’s hard to pick on it too much as it really is quite an enjoyable aural experience.
Extras are really, really well done for this release. Not only do we get a feature-length Audio commentary with co-writers/directors Michael and Peter Spierig and special makeup effects creator Steve Boyle that covers a lot of the production of the film (including some very cool insight into working with Weta on the special effects), but we also get a lengthy “Making of Daybreakers” (2:01:37, 1080p) documentary. Yes…you read that right—the documentary exceeds the run time of the film itself. It is exhausting in detail but it is exactly the type of thing this film needs; it was made on a relatively paltry budget but it looks just as good, if not better, than a film with the budget four to five times its size. I really found the documentary to be quite enjoyable and between this and the commentary I really discovered a new found appreciation for this film…and it only further drives me to stand behind my earlier “future cult favorite” statement.
Other extras are included as well and range from a series of poster galleries, storyboard/animatic comparisons, the theatrical trailer and some other BD-Live bonuses. There’s also the “The Big Picture” – director’s short film (13:51, 1080p) extra which is actually the directors short film that helped them get this film made.
Overall a Recommended release. If you enjoy the atmosphere of the film in the least then definitely check out the extras on this set—they’re exhaustively detailed and definitely worth watching and I look forward to seeing more from the Spierig Brothers, as they definitely show promise.
Daybreakers is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.