Daybreakers (4K UHD Review)
DirectorThe Spierig Brothers
Release Date(s)2009 (September 10, 2019)
Studio(s)Screen Australia/Furst Films (Lionsgate)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B
In the year 2008, a pandemic swept the world. Many millions died and most of those who survived were turned into vampires by the plague. Civilization soon resumed with the vampires in charge. But the few humans who survived live in constant fear of being hunted. And the vampires face an equally terrible plight… with humans going extinct, they’re running out of food. Edward (Ethan Hawke) is vampire and the lead scientist for a global pharmaceutical company. He’s been trying (and failing) to find an artificial blood substitute to prevent starvation. He also feels remorse for humanity, so much so that when he encounters a small group of them one night he helps them escape. Still, Edward is surprised when two of them—Audrey (Claudia Karvan) and Cormac (Willem Dafoe)—come to him with unexpected news: They might have found a cure that will turn vampires back into humans. But Edward’s boss and the head of his company, Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), will stop at nothing to prevent this cure from ever seeing the light of day.
The unfortunate shame of Daybreakers is that it takes a clever premise and does almost nothing interesting with it. The film occupies a similar sci-fi/future or neo-noir/horror style space as Dark City, 12 Monkeys, Brazil, and The Crow, but isn’t nearly as good as any of them. Rather than paying off its high concept, Daybreakers goes lowbrow instead, ending in a pointless bloodbath of gore and violence. That’s a shame, because this cast is terrific. Hawke, Dafoe, Neill, and Karvan all deliver nuanced and interesting performances. In the end, it’s probably no surprise that The Spierig Brothers—the writers/directors of this dubious tale—went on to produce the likes of Jigsaw and Winchester.
Daybreakers was shot on 35 mm film (with a bit of HD video) using Arriflex and Panavision cameras and anamorphic lenses. It was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 “scope” ratio, appears to have been upsamped for its UHD release, and was graded for high dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are available). Titles and visual effects suffer from obviously lower resolution, while shots without effects look a tad crisper and better defined (but not much). Grain levels are moderate to occasionally more coarse. Texturing is decent, but still—this is a very soft looking image. If the studio had gone back to the original camera negative and rescanned in native 4K it could look better than it does. The filmmakers were obviously going for a high contrast Matrix look and most of the film takes place at night. That’s good in that the HDR really deepens the shadows and gives highlights a cold, sterile pop. But it’s bad in that a lot of detail disappears into the shadows. Colors are accurate but never really look natural; they’re not meant to. Honestly, Daybreakers is a very odd choice for release in 4K.
Audio is available in a new English Dolby Atmos mix that’s good for what it is. The soundstage is medium wide up front, with unexpectedly quiet dialogue scenes. There’s not much sense of space or atmosphere in these moments. The surround and height channels do engage nicely during action scenes, but those are infrequent. There are moments where the height channels really do kick in, though—during the starving vampire’s attack in Edward’s apartment, for example. Low end is modest and the score is understated. Understated describes the whole mix really. Note that optional subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
The actual 4K disc includes the following extras (video features are in HD with some SD content):
- Audio Commentary with The Spierig Brothers and Steve Boyle
- The Making of Daybreakers (23 parts – 121:38)
- The Big Picture – Spierig Brothers Short (13:51)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:27)
Not only is there a full-length commentary, the documentary is feature length too (The Making of Daybreakers has 4 sections with 23 parts including the credits). Surprise: It’s actually thoughtful—more interesting than the film itself. Again, you’re struck by how fascinating this film’s basic concept is, and how frustrating it is that the filmmakers really don’t do justice to it beyond the setup. Hell, the documentary starts with almost every cast member saying they don’t like horror and yet the film ends in pure carnage. The Post Production Part III segment is particularly telling, giving you a look at audience reaction notes from a test screening. One comment reads: “Had a lot of potential but felt unfinished.” Another is: “Ending could be better.” Indeed. Anyway, the credits don’t indicate who directed this documentary, but hats off to them. It’s quite good and revealing. The Spierig Brothers’ first film, The Big Picture, is included as well, as is the trailer. The package also includes the film on Blu-ray (with all the same extras plus two more listed below) and a Digital code.
- BonusView Storyboards and Animatics
- Poster Art Gallery
To be fair, Daybreakers isn’t a terrible film. It’s just not a particularly good one either. It’s also a damn weird choice to receive an upgrade to 4K from Lionsgate. But hey, if the studio is digging this deep into the catalog for Ultra HD, may we recommend Stargate, Gods and Monsters, Arrival (1996), and Mud? And maybe you guys could get Studio Canal to fix their abysmal 4K release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day for good measure? Just a thought.
- Bill Hunt
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