Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Undead Can Be Such Dicks

I recently had the chance to watch AMC's The Walking Dead on BluRay thanks to the Easter Bunny who somehow knew exactly what I needed: zombies, and more of them.  For some reason I have had a mild zombie obsession in the past couple of years, though it has not been a completely fulfilling one.  Shortly after I decided I wanted to ramp up my zombie movie collecting initiative I became acutely aware that zombies had become "mainstream," and that there was a whole subculture of zombie fans who were on the brink of making it no longer "sub".  Zombies have exploded in the public consciousness recently, though thankfully not to the point of  vampires (Although I have heard talk of a zombie rom-com (I can not make this shit up) called WARM BODIES, where a zombie and a human try to make it in a crazy, post-apocalyptic world. You can check out more info over at JoBlo.) with whom our culture has had a pretty passionate love affair with in recent years.  Just mention TWILIGHT in a room full of teenage girls and watch the insanity that ensues.  Thanks to this mild-teen-angst-and-budding-sexuality-loosely-shrouded-in-a-vampire-story an entire generation of guys named Edward and Jacob are currently in a prime position to get a ton of pussy for a few years, and then lead sad, shallow lives as hollowed out shells of human beings knowing that they "peaked" at age fifteen and then were mocked mercilessly for the rest of their lives until they die alone at age forty-five from high blood pressure as fat, balding corporate middlemen who were little more than scenery at their jobs and whose only legacy will be the ass grooves they left in the shitty chairs in their cubicles, where they sat for hours on end envious of their coworkers who actually got their own offices.

And while zombies are not quite at the point of cultural saturation as vampires, they are still popular enough to make me question my own level of excitement.  I'm not sure exactly why as a fairly rational human being I would still feel the need to deprive myself of pleasure on account of other people.  Perhaps it's because I like to construct my identity on the basis of the Theory of Premeditated Self-Marginalization.  Basically what this philosophy (conceived of by yours truly) boils down to is a mandate never to get too heavily or intricately involved in any social contract.  It means -at most- existing on the fringe of any given social group to which I might be categorized to belong to.  The purpose of this philosophy is fourfold:

1) To reap the benefits of being a part of this social group ie. building social capital which may pay off for me later.
2) To avoid the headaches that inevitably come with being emotionally invested in something that probably doesn't really matter much anyway.
3) To remain aloof and give me a feeling of superiority I might not otherwise get in my day to day life.  (The Amicable Rebel Syndrome).  This allows me to participate within the social group, but still gives me the moral imperative to criticize the members contained therein with impunity (if pulled off correctly) and -if necessary- abandon ship when the shit hits the fan.
4) To retain "plausible deniability" and avoid responsibility when whatever social group it is inevitably fucks up.

Now one might label this as "anti-social behaviour", but what it really is is "quasi-social behaviour" insofar as that I am not really working in opposition to society; I'm more making a mockery of it and bending it to my own twisted whims. 

So it came to be that within my social circles I reluctantly became a "zombie guy," though not as hardcore a fan as I have witnessed.  What it boils down to is a bunch of zombie movies, a few books (The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks is a good place to start) some zombie video and board games, and the beginnings of a collection of zombie graphic novels.  The first part of my zombie graphic novel collection was Marvel Zombies, which might technically be a trade paperback.  I don't know, I don't follow comics that much nor do I really give a shit.  I quickly added Marvel Zombies 2, not because the first volume had been particularly engaging or well-written; I just thought it was cool to see zombie superheroes.  The artwork was pretty kick-ass, but the whole idea of intelligent zombies really detracted from the whole idea of zombies and their cultural sigificance.  Zombies were supposed to be this mindless force of (un)nature that represented our ultimate fear of death.  Marvel Zombies was only really enjoyable in a visceral way.  No thinking required.

After countless times watching DAWN OF THE DEAD (The original.  Sorry, Zack Snyder), playing Zombies! and Last Night on Earth with some buddies in person and killing hordes of zombies in Left 4 Dead (one of the best games ever?) online I was serendipitously introduced to a key piece of zombie lore.  This came in the form of a comic called The Walking Dead.  This seemed especially fateful to me because the phrase "I feel like the walking dead" was something I had scribbled in the margins of countless notebooks during the course of writing a (as yet unpublished) novel.  It had almost become a mantra for me after a bad day or during a serious case of writer's block, and so hearing that it had become the title of a comic book -about zombies, no less- I got this chill down my spine like when I was younger and discovered free internet porn (followed closely by the disappointment in finding so much cock in supposedly heterosexual porn).  It was meant to be in some way. 

Because I was not a hardcore comic book collector I didn't feel it necessary to track down each individual comic.  At the Fan Expo in Toronto last August I picked up the first two volumes of the soft cover trade paperback editions of The Walking Dead.  I also picked up many deposits for the spank bank and left sporting a massive hard on.  I don't know what it is about chicks dressed in superhero costumes, but it's fucking hot (note to my wife).  As soon as I got home I immediately and feverishly read through the entire first volume Days Gone Bye.  It wasn't necessarily the best piece of literature I had ever read, but it was a serial comic book specifically about survivors fighting off zombies.  While I wasn't blown away by the narrative structure, it was solidly written, and consistent in the pacing, themes, and gruesome deaths.  I thought at first I might be put off by the fact that the comic was in black and white as I took it as a sign of laziness on the part of the illustrators ("You're just a tracer."  "I'll trace a chalk line around your dead fucking body, you fuck!") but what I later realized was that it was a conscious choice to illustrate the starkness of the world the survivors faced and to tie into the theme of morality that permeates every issue.  At first the characters are in shock and see the world in only black and white terms: survive or die.  As the narrative progresses they begin to realize that nothing was ever "black or white" and the world which although destroyed had in some ways seemed simpler was anything but.  I became a fan and started adding more volumes to my collection, as you should as well.

I believe that by this point in time AMC had already produced and aired several episodes of their television adaptation of Robert Kirkman's hugely successful comic book which I can only assume has already made him rich enough to build a full scale replica of Godzilla complete with fully functioning genitalia (for whatever twisted purposes we can only guess at).  I suppose it also bears mentioning at this point that the same man responsible for the mediocre Marvel Zombies was now the creator of a zombie empire that rivaled that of zombie master George A. Romero.  I suppose the nature of this achievement is relative to whether or not one believes Romero has at this point made more shit than quality goods.  I'm sort of on the fence about this myself.  Despite his own army of zombie-like fans apparently blinded by some intergalactic radiation into thinking he's some kind of master filmmaker I'm not sure whether Romero is extremely lucky or a total genius with some serious missteps (ie. LAND OF THE DEAD and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD.  DIARY OF THE DEAD was pretty good actually).  Zombie fans around the world will forever be in debt to Romero for basically creating not only an entire genre of movies, but also of creating the modern-day idiom of the zombie.  But honestly, The Walking Dead blows the brains out of a lot of Romero's recent stuff and most zombie texts (literature/movies/songs/video games) out there today.

The thing that sets The Walking Dead apart from so many other zombie tales is how incredibly densely layered it is and the fact that it is so character driven.  It's the focus on the human relationships as opposed to just a bunch of gory deaths that makes The Walking Dead such a worthwhile and engaging read, although I will be the first to admit (willingly vocalize?) that it is not the best piece of literature I have ever read and I have found myself frustrated with the comic version at times.  One thing that really started to bug me was what I refer to as the SIX FEET UNDER Syndrome where for some reason the writers or directors or producers or creators or whatever take characters that I might have begun to empathize with and for some reason do everything in their power to subsequently make me hate those characters.  The main character in The Walking Dead -one Rick Grimes, a cop leading a group of survivors- started off as such a sympathetic character and now he's turning into kind of a dick.  I don't know if it's to illustrate the effects such stress has on the average human being, but it's really fucking annoying when I'm trying to like your shit so I don't feel like I've wasted all my time up to this point enjoying something that somebody else now wants to wipe their asses with.  All my ranting aside, I'm still a fan (though I'm pretty sure Robert Kirkman legally owes me a hand job from his wife and/or girlfriend while she eats a bucketful of raw cow tongues which is to be recorded on web cam and posted on the internet as a pixalized mess).

Now when I finally got around to watching AMC's television adaptation of The Walking Dead it had already been out long enough to have a lot of nerds with no real life post reviews on their blogs (...) so I heard a lot of feedback and most of it was... mixed.  I'd heard a lot of good and a lot of bad and a lot of consensus that after the first episode it was all downhill, which seemed like something a douchebag would say (like that Bowflex douche: "I gave all of my fat clothes to my fat friends").  A kind of backhanded compliment.  I didn't let it get to me, though.  I had hope that a solid concept handled by the same guys that produced Mad Men had to be at least palatable and at most solid, boner-inducing gold.

So now I come to the actual point of this article which is actually My review of The Walking Dead Season 1.  Before I come to my final verdict I have to make a few provisos for anybody who hasn't seen it yet.  If you have never read any of the comics or trade paperbacks you will love this show.  If you have read Robert Kirkman's original source material then you will either love it or hate it with a white hot fiery hate.

The uninatiated will love the walking dead because it is simply great television.  It is human drama and character driven narrative at its (almost) finest.  Add to the fact that it is packaged in the context of zombie folklore with amazing zombie make-up and some crazy-ass murder death killing for the kids, and you have a great, immersive experience.  To fans of the original comic series, AMC's The Walking Dead will either be A) An adaptation that stays faithful to the tone and intent of the original comic series and a really amazing on-screen interpretation of the characters you have been following the lives of for so long or B) A travesty of an adaptation that strays from the original in unforgivable ways and that should be cancelled immediately and whose creators should be castrated and fed to mutant sharks while their loved ones watch the feeding frenzy.

As for me, I fucking loved the first season of The Walking Dead.  There has been such a drought of great zombie movies in recent years (with the notable exceptions of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIELAND) and luckily like a porn star dying of thirst and suddenly finding herself in a roomful of ripe, juicy cocks I would get a good drink to sate my thirst.  I know that The Walking Dead is a TV show and not a movie, but with such a high production value, solid writing, and grade-A acting, I think you'd have to be an unamitated corpse not to enjoy it and not to see that it is far superior than most Hollywood grade zombie flicks.  If anything the show is actually an improvement on the comic books, and rest assured it does not peak in the first episode.  I think if you are a zombie movie fan and don't have a giant stick up your ass (Robert Kirkman himself was heavily involved with the small screen adaptation) then you'll love the hell out of this show.  And if you're a fan of the original comic series, then I personally can't see how you couldn't love this.  There are iconic scenes and locations from the original comic that are so painstakingly and lovingly recreated it feels as if the producers did everything short of sucking the dicks of existing fans to ensure a smooth transition from the page to the screen.  And the stories they did add and the changes they did make were -in my mind- absolutely correct.  One major thing die hard fans might notice is the elongation of the subplot involving Rick, his best friend Shane and Rick's wife Lori who thought Rick was dead and fled with Shane.  Even without saying anything you can pretty much surmise that there is a love triangle.  What you might not surmise is that in the comics this is dealt with pretty early on (with Shane's timely death.  SPOILER ALERT) and in the show this subplot is wisely expanded.

The calibre of the acting is top notch.  The main character Rick Grimes is portrayed by Andrew Lincoln, who I never really considered before, but in The Walking Dead he reminds me of a young(er) Vigo Mortenson.  The dude is absolutely fantastic in this show, and should definitely be nominated for one of those awards at those meaningless awards shows where celebrities pat each other on the back and hosts who are actually funny and insightful are derided by morons for being mean-spirited and inappropriate, when really Ricky Gervais should be given a fucking medal for his hosting skills.  Motherfuckers.  The rest of the cast is great too, though the only others I really recognized were Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn who play Andrea and Dale respectively from the comic book.  A few other actors you might recognize who lent their star power to this endeavour are Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker who portray brothers who weren't in the comics.  They are worth noting because you might recognize these dudes, and they do a great job.

The other thing to note is how uncannily well-matched the main cast is to their comic counterparts.  Andrew Lincoln is pretty near a dead ringer for Frank Grimes, but the really uncanny match is Steven Yeun who is the living incarnation of Glen from the comics.  Seeing him on the screen made me jump out of my seat to go and grab one of my Walking Dead books to hold against the screen to compare them.

Bottom line, The Walking Dead Season 1 is a must have for anybody who A) Loves good TV or B) Loves zombie cinema.  If I had any knowledge of computers beyond word processing, now would be the time where I would display my hilarious Venn diagram to illustrate my point.  It is a complex tale about what it means to be human.  It's about the shifting perception of right and wrong and what happens when those preconceived notions are put to the test.  It's about the lengths people will go through to survive despite having no real reason to go on except for the dim hope that humanity might have a future.  It's about the emotional consequences of fucking your best friend's wife thinking he was dead after you left him in the hospital during a zombie uprising.  Plus, there's some pretty fucking cool zombie eatings.  The Walking Dead is a must have DVD/BluRay and and one of the easiest 9/10's I've ever given.                


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