Daybreakers is an example of how you establish a vampire world. No needless, boring, clichéd teenage romances here. In fact, the whole world has gone pale, taken over by vampires after a virus sweeps the planet.
With vampires in control, the world requires changes, some of the more interesting aspects of Daybreakers. Commercials on TV offer cars designed to drive in daylight, underground walkways are used to travel about the city away from the sun, and posters to join the military focus on rounding up humans to use as blood slaves.
This is not a world where humans are treated well, slaughtered into near extinction to serve the vampires, and turned into business. Shots of thousands of humans strung up on giant pillars, sucking their blood dry, are wonderfully framed and presented. People look like cattle, nothing more.
Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, Daybreakers has a unique visual palette and style. It feels weirdly classical, as if this were shot 50+ years ago, while the extreme gore makes you realize otherwise. It is uniquely beautiful, certainly not the expectation, but also refreshing.
Action scenes are well crafted, especially a chase scene where bullet holes in a car window become deadly due to the light seeping in. This sequence is unfortunately ruined by painfully bad CG effects of the cars jumping a bridge, although this is a brief downer before the movie returns to excellence.
Ethan Hawke is superb as Edward Dalton, a lead vampire doctor struggling to find a synthetic blood to quench the thirst caused by a dwindling human supply. His sympathy to the human plight feels authentic, although Daybreakers can also generate sympathy for vampires as well. Starving bloodsuckers are slowly seen as a deformed drain on resources, and are terminated in a graphic manner.
This is an ugly world, but one that is beautifully photographed and established.
Daybreakers was shot on a mixture of film and digital cameras, the Panavasion Genesis for the latter. That would be fine, but two things have happened. First, a grain filter seems to have been used to simulate the look of the film stock. This is what the weird, horizontal grain seems to be that dominates countless scenes. The second problem is that the encode runs fairly low and cannot keep up, leading to significant artifacting, plus increasing the noise.
The number of shots nearly ruined by video noise are countless, enough to turn this review into a book. At 25:47, Ethan Hawke’s room is littered with dancing artifacts, some of them white specks that are severely distracting. Sam Neil’s face is not only terribly soft, but riddled with compression at 7:27 (a problem that reoccurs at 1:21:04). The first introduction to the underground human hideout where they try to discover a cure is unbearable, around 45:16, and continuing for much of the intro. There is also a notable flicker caused by the noise/compression.
Certain shots are on the opposite spectrum, carrying a smooth, unnatural quality. As a character walks out into the sun at 1:03:16, details are poorly defined. A large field at 31:52 initially seems okay, but it quickly becomes apparent that the entire sequence is heavily pixilated. Aliasing is also apparent, the superb sharpness of most scenes broken in minor ways, the worst case being the roof of the car at 31:18.
Colors are typically cold, with pure, intentionally blooming whites, and deep blues. Human flesh tones stand out against the pale vampires. Facial detail can be astonishingly good, the benefit of digital photography being the clarity of the image. Daybreakers contains a number of these scenes as well, and high fidelity detail is generally consistent, certainly the saving grace of this encode. Blacks are also rich and deep, providing the image with exceptional dimensionality. A hint of ringing is sporadically evident, although incredibly minor.
Lionsgate delivers a packed DTS-HD 7.1 mix for Daybreakers, a track that effectively utilizes those extra surrounds during a tense action sequence around 35-minutes in. A military truck begins firing heavy rounds, which whiz by and ping off objects across the entire soundfield. Rears are pronounced and aided by the additional channels.
Many vampires explode upon death, body parts and organs splattering around the well-spaced fronts and surrounds. Effects are distinctly placed in the proper channels, and easily identifiable. The low-end is smooth and satisfying, if not terribly powerful. The few scenes that utilize the subwoofer generate a jolt, such as a car exploding, although nothing shocking.
Christopher Gordon’s score, filled with low-key piano cues, is never forceful, but it is not meant to be either. Most importantly is its clarity, and in that regard, complaints are non-existent. It blends well with the heaviest action, and remains in balance in regards to dialogue.
Extras are brief when viewed on digital ink, but hefty in actual execution. A commentary from the Spierig Brothers and make-up effects artist Steve Boyle is excellent, although it pales in comparison to the superlative two-hour documentary simply titled The Making of Daybreakers. This is split into four parts, and those split into additional sections as well. This is definitive.
The Big Picture is a short directed by the Spierig Brothers that runs 14-minutes. An art gallery, trailer, and LG-Live/BD-Live features remain.