More Futuristic Guns

Please, sir, I want some more… futuristic looking guns!

arx160-16The Beretta company, the people famous for the world’s most popular pistol, designed this baby as part of Italy’s own Future Soldier program.  Here, we see the souped-up version, with an additional 60mm grenade launcher and a computer-assisted, advanced optics, night-vision scope.

A relatively recent addition to the gun lineup, this weapon has still managed to make its way onto the pop-culture scene, showing up in the series Nikita, the Modern Warfare and Rainbow Six video games, and the movie Forces Speciales starring Djimon Hounsou.

chang_fengThe Chang Feng 05, a submachinegun that was developed by the Chinese arms manufacturer in response to the military and police’s demand for a new breed of handheld automatics.First seeing service in the late 90’s, it has some rather interesting design features. The first is the top mounted cylinder magazine, which feeds bullets in a rotating fashion into the chamber.

Despite it’s cool design, it has yet to really break onto the scene, appearing in only two video games: Mercenaries 2, and Firearms: Source. Give it time…

VektorCR-21-1Another South African creation, this is the bullpup Vektor CR-21. A composite stock assault rifle that is considerably lighter than its competitors, it also has the usual advantages of a modern weapon. These include a mount for a grenade launcher and a computer-assisted scope.

Not surprisingly, it appeared in the sci-fi movies District 9, Doomsday and Slipstream, the anime movie Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex, and a slew of video games.

HK G-36:
G36Now I know people here have seen these one before! Designed by German arms manufacturer Heckler and Koch back in 1996, this gun has made the rounds in the movie and game verse. Due largely to its futuristic look, sci-fi franchises have made sure to keep it stocked.

So far, it’s appeared in such movies as Equilibrium, Children of Men, DOOM, and V for Vendetta, animes such as Full Metal Panic and Cowboy Bebop, and more video games than I can name.

HK_MP7You got to hand it to the Germans, they make great guns! Another example from HK industries, known as the MP7, this weapon is a sub-machinegun that also has the honor of being labelled a PDW (Personal Defense Weapon). Developed in response to the proliferation of body armor in the field, the MP7 was specifically designed to combine armor-piercing rounds with a high rate of fire.

It’s cinematic appearances include such hits as Stealth, Live Free or Die Hard, Next, Hancock, Wanted, The Interceptor (Zapreshchyonnaya Realnost), G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Zombieland and District B13: Ultimatum. It also has a strong representation on television, including Battlestar Galactica, Stargate: SG1, and such video games as Half Life 2, and the Rainbow Six, SOCOM, Splinter Cell and Modern Warfare 3.

qbz-95Here’s another installment from modern China, this bullpup assault rifle was designed for the as a replacement for the aging type 56 and type 81 assault rifles (derivatives of the AK-47). Light, versatile and highly adaptable, this weapon can be modified to act as a machine gun, sniper rifle, light infantry weapon, and an assault rifle with a 35mm grenade launcher.

And because of its look and feel, it has appeared in the movies Inception, the series Stargate: Atlantis and Universe, and the Rainbow 6 series and Modern Warfare 3.

SAR-21_RAILAnd now to Singapore, a city-state famous for technological innovation. One such example is this, the ST Kinetics Singapore Assault Rifle-21, a rifle built for the 21st century and an intended replacement for the countries aging stocks of American made M16A1’s.

Having been unveiled in 1999, it has yet to make a big splash. Still, it has already made appearances in the movies Gamer, as well as the video games Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Ghost Recon Online.

tavor_05Everybody knows that Israel is famous for making some sweet-ass and powerful guns! The Desert Eagle, the Uzi, and now this, the Tavor TR-21. Much like the SAR-21, the name stands for Tavor Assault Rifle – 21st century, and it was built to become the mainstay of the armed forces to replace older weapons. A bullpup design, this weapon is compact, modifiable, and comes in many variants.

And of course, it’s made several appearances. These include the movies of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and Screamers: The Hunting, and the video games series of Rainbow Six, Batman: Arkham City, and Modern Warfare 2.

tkb022_1This gun never made it beyond the assembly line, and as such has made no appearances in pop culture. But you know what, who the hell cares?! Just look at the thing and tell me it’s not a futuristic gun! Based on a very unique take on the bullpup design, the Korobov, as its known, was intended as part of a new generation of weapons designed to replace the Kalashnikov.

Unfortunately, this proposed design was overlooked in favor of other, more conventional pieces. Too bad too. Maybe they could churn out a few test models strictly for science fiction directors. I know they’d pay to get their hands on them!

XM8_carbineAnd finally, we have the XM8, possibly the most futuristic looking gun available on the market. Designed in the late 90’s and early 21st century in the US, the XM8 represented a collaborative effort between Heckler and Koch (natch!) and the US Army to develop a lightweight assault rifle that could replace the M16 and its variants.

Thought the project was cancelled in 2005 (politics!), the gun made some pretty serious waves on the public mind and inspired its use in numerous franchises as an example of a futuristic weapon. Examples include the movies Children of Men and District B13: Ultimatum, the tv show Mail Call, and the video games series SOCOM, Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon, Raindbow Six, Command and Conquer 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, Crysis 2… the list goes on and on! Just goes to show you, you don’t have to be operational to make an impression!

Final Thoughts:
Looking at this futuristic array of weaponry, I notice a few things that might provide some hints as to the future of firearms. On the one hand, there is the clear indication that new designs which take advantage of bullpup or top loaded magazines are the way of the future. For quite some time now, gun designers have gone with the concept of a front loader and it seems that this is the result of convention. However, a paradigm shift is clearly in effect and I imagine that all future designs may very well phase this out.

Second, there is the Future Soldier program and how modern weapons are being designed to be consistent with its requirements. What this means is that new firearms models must be able to sport computer-assisted aiming (aka. ballistics computer scopes) as well as night vision and even thermal imaging. In addition, it is hopes that these scopes will be able to be connected to the new generation of Head’s-Up Displays (HUDs) which are being specially designed for infantry use.

Oh, and a possible third conclusion is that all future weapons will need to come with their own built-in grenade launchers. That may not be a requirement per se, but I sure hope it is since it’s just so freaking cool. And keep in mind they can be modified to shoot air burst shells so that police and peacekeepers won’t get go all nutjob on mobs of unarmed people. It’s all about proportionality…

Thank you, that’s all for now. As much as I’d like to make this a new series right now, I have too many of those on the go and I already spend too much time on those. Seriously, things are getting way back up with my regular writing and my real job! But if people like this enough, maybe I’ll stay on it and be sure to post new examples as they come along. Oh, and of course suggestions are always welcome. Good day and good hunting 😉

Top 10 Most Nostalgic SF Games

Hey all. The other day, a revolutionary idea came to me. What with all the other sci-fi stuff I cover, why haven’t I made any mention of sci-fi videogames? Not sure, really, seems kinda obvious now that I think about it. God knows I love talking about the stuff that inspired me, and I’m not ashamed to admit it that sometimes, those things have been games.

Whether they were first-person shooters, space combat simulators, or strategy games, there are some games which have stuck with me over the years. It might have been their cool game-play, inspired backstories, or classic sci-fi elements. Who knows? Point is, I liked them then and, with some exceptions, I like them now.

Anyway, here are the top then that stand out in my mind, in ascending order:

10. Halo 2
Granted, this game has not been with me too long, as I came to it a bit late in its existence. But I still count it among my top sci-fi nostalgic classics. And in that, I am hardly alone! For gamers, Halo 2 was one of the most anticipated sequels of the last decade. Combing kick-ass gameplay, a cool storyline, and some badass weapons and vehicles, Halo 2 remains a game that I can play over and over.

My favorite missions are the earliest ones when the Covenant are assaulting. Room to room and street to street combat with automatic weapons is much fun! And commandeering a Warthog and joyriding through the transit tunnels of New Mombasa? Pure action gaming art! And while I never really got into the multiplayer thing too much, I have to admit that it’s both extensive and endlessly entertaining.

In addition, I found the storyline highly respectable. In addition to having a classic sci-fi and space opera feel, it contained some genuinely respectable themes and plot devices. The whole backstory about the Forerunners was interesting; but then again, anything involving an ancient and extinct species who’s technology still litters the Galaxy is cool! And the way the Covenant theocracy was following what they believe to be the path to salvation, when in fact they were walking headlong into their graves – tell me that’s not significant!

9. Doom
Granted, it didn’t have the most inspired storyline, but do you think a 16 year old boy gives a damn about stuff like plot and character development? No, he cares about shooting guns and blowing shit up! And that’s precisely what this game was good for when I was a surly teen looking for some fun and adventure on my PC.

And in a lot of ways, this game was a pioneering piece of software. It’s first campaign was made available through shareware, it was one of the first first-person shooters of all time, and it established a new standard when it came to gore and violence.

Thousands of others would follow, each following Doom’s example of a varied arsenal, raw firepower and bloodletting! It was also spawn a slew of sequels, comics, and RPG, and even a horrible, horrible movie. It also provided me with the means to mispend my youth. Good job Doom!

8. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Speaking of time poorly spent, I can’t tell you how many hours I dedicated to playing this game when I first got it. As I recall, I was in my early 20’s at the time and living in a tiny bachelors apartment in Ottawa. One day this game came in the mail courtesy of one of my best friends (thanks Chi!). I spent the next three days playing it all the way through, pausing only to eat, sleep, and maintain some semblance of a life.

Yes, it was just that addictive. And all because it combined quest-based gameplay with lightsaber duels, a detailed universe, and a genuine Star Wars-esque storyline. Granted, its replay value is a little shaky given that most of the fun comes from completing quests and uncovering the whole mystery plot, but I still found ways to waste time with it!

Another appealing feature about this game was the fact that it took place during the Sith Wars, something that gets mentioned in the expanded universe but never really covered in any detail. So while you’re playing, you get the added benefit of having some important background info filled in for you. If you’re a Star Wars geek, which I admittedly am, this is kind of a big deal…

7. Starcraft
Granted, it took Blizzard FOREVER to make the sequel, but they been busy, what with Diablo, Warcraft, and all their various sequels. And in the meantime, they did give us that fantastic expansion pack to tide us over.

In any case, Starcraft has to be one of the most infinitely replayable games in the history of real-time strategy games. It’s creative, got a good storyline, and some genuinely awesome characters. The Terran Marines are delightful hicks, the Protoss religious zealots, and the Zerg horrifying beasts. What’s not to like? And let’s not forget the multiplayer, which kept gamers entertained for years after the original release date.

And as I said, the expansion pack was really great. As if the original storyline and units weren’t enough, they managed to make some truly worthy add ons with Brood War. I especially loved the Medics and the Dark Templar, the former making Marine shoot em ups more effective, and Dark Templars who’s dark look and hyperblades were just so cool. But the storyline was still what I liked best. Terran exiles, invading aliens, complicated alliances, double-crosses and intrigue. Can’t wait to see how what happens in SC II. Just need me a faster computer before I try to play the damn thing is all!

6. Command and Conquer
Speaking of real-time strategy games, the next up is the classic Command and Conquer! Though I didn’t take to the sequels so much, I thoroughly enjoyed this baby for like a whole summer between grades 11 and 12. And much like Starcraft, the multiplayer was the icing on the proverbial cake, taking all the guerrilla fighting and strategizing to new heights.

And the storyline, once again, is something which I certainly appreciated, being an alternate history and all. To break it down, the story takes place in a world where Hitler never came to power in Germany and Stalin became the big menace of the century in his absence. Once he was defeated, a global coalition known as GDI (Global Defense Initiative) was formed.

And in a way, the game predicted the “war on terror” a bit early, predicting that this coalition would have to fight against a multinational terrorist organization (Brotherhood of Nod) for global supremacy. This war was triggered by the arrival of an alien substance, known as Tiberium, to Earth, an organic-mineral compound that is also radioactive. Pretty cool, real science fictiony when you get right down to it. And the varied units were also neat, each side having their own distinct soldiers, vehicles and special abilities. These made things like rushing virtually impossible, as all units had their own strengths and weaknesses, and could not therefore make offensives unless they had support.

5. X-Wing
Another classic game and one of the most popular flight simulators of all time. Maybe it was because it combined space dogfights with the Star Wars universe. Maybe it was because every kid who grew up with the franchise wanted to fly X-wings and take down the Death Star. Who knows? Point is, it worked, and I for one got a real kick out of it.

Taking place before and during the events of the original movie, X-wing follows the exploits of a Rebel pilot who fights for the Alliance in a series of campaigns. These include raids, escort missions, seizure operations, reconnaissance, and ultimately, large scale assaults. While most missions involve piloting the venerable X-wing, you also get to fly A-wings, Y-wings, and even B-wings (in the expansion pack).

Over time, these campaigns culminate in an attack on the Death Star from the end of the first movie. In the expansion pack, the story continues with the evacuation of Yavin and the search to find a new base of operations, eventually leading to the establishment of a base on Hoth. These events, which took place between movies one and two, are fertile ground and get a good showing here. The same is true with all the early events of the franchise, stuff we hear about in the original movie and expanded source material, but never got to see.

One of the coolest things about this game was the details. When assaulting enemy ships, you could disable them as well as destroy them. This could include disabling subsystems with ion guns or missiles, or targeting things like engines and weapons and destroying them. When assaulting capital ships, you were also able to take out weapons and missile turrets, not to mention shield arrays. This made for a more realistic gameplay, something which other space combat games would emulate in years to come.

4. Wing Commander II
Coming in fourth on this list is the second installment in the Wing Commander series. Another space-combat simulator, this game emerged at about the same time as X-wing and was, at least in my neighborhood, its chief competitor for all the mispent hours we would play games!

In truth, I’m kind of hard pressed to pick one game in the series, since I loved the first three games. But when it comes right down to it, I think I spent the most amount of hours on this one, so WC II for the win! Picking up where the first one left off, this game in the series is set aboard the TCS Concordia and follows the exploits of the series’ protagonist Capt. Christopher Blair.

This is something that set the WC series apart from other space-combat simulators, which is the story-driven and personal nature of the game’s story. Even though the protagonist wasn’t given an official name until the third game (gamers got to use whatever name they wanted), everything centered around the life of this one person, their experiences being yours and helping to shape the course of the game.

In short, after being humiliated and demoted due to the destruction of your former ship, the Tiger’s Claw, you are relegated to a backwater assignment aboard a space station. You remain there, until the TCS Concordia shows up in-system looking for help. After defending her, you are transferred aboard her and become part of its campaign to fight the Kilrathi for control of the Enigma sector (if this is starting to sound familiar, then chances are you read my blurb on the Tiger’s Claw in the Cool Ships series).

In any case, by game’s end, you clear your name, defeat the Kilrathi, and gain control of the sector. Much fun! And because it was personally focused, you find yourself getting emotionally involved and being that much more concerned with winning each mission in your campaign. And of course, as with the first game in the series, this one also had spinoffs which added to the fun as well.

3. Wing Commander Privateer
Though this game bears the WC name, it was more of a spinoff than part of the series. And that’s one of the things I loved about it. Though connected to the main storyline, it was a standalone space combat simulator with a story of its own, and which delved into the world of pirates, smugglers and privateers.

Arriving in my game pile between WC II and just after Doom, I spent the better part of a year playing this game because it was just so replayable! What made it fun was the fact that with this installment in the WC universe, you were a private contractor, you pulled missions for hire, and you used your money to upgrade your ship and buy new ones altogether.

You also got to choose your focus in the game. You could become a merchant, a mercenary, both, and add to that with a little pirating and illegal trading. And of course, there was a larger story set to the backdrop of the Confederation-Kilrathi war and your own drive to get rich. Basically, it involved an ancient ship that was roaming around the quadrant, killing ships on both sides. If you chose to partake of this campaign, you followed clues, pulled jobs, and pieced together the mystery of the ship until it was destroyed.

But above all, the most cool aspect of the game was the richly detailed universe. There were literally dozens of systems and planets for you to venture to, as well as space stations and pirate hideouts. Every place had its own feel and aim, and the jobs you could pull on any given one were suited to match. Years later, I would remind myself of this game when it came time to develop my own sci-fi universe (again, the one I used to write Legacies).

2. Descent: Freespace
One such game was the smash hit and personal favorite of mine, Descent: Freespace. Released in 1999, this game remains one of the best fighter simulators I have ever seen. And I’m hardly alone in thinking that, seeing as how several games (including the online BSG game) have used its engine as a platform. Much like Half Life 2, this game has had many imitators and borrowers due to the sheer wickedness of its design.

But again, one of the things that I loved about this game was its backstory. Set in the 23rd century, the GTA (Galactic Terran Alliance) is at war with an alien race known as the Vasudans. This war has been ongoing and spans several star systems, with losses numbering in the millions. However, all this changes when a new race, known as the Shivans, appears suddenly and begins attacking both sides indiscriminately. After several attacks, the GTA and the Vasudans agree to put aside their differences and focus on this common threat, as the Shivans are clearly not playing favorites.

Also, the Shivans possess vastly superior technology. Their ships are shielded – something neither side has – and are very difficult to track on sensors. Their capital ships are also very tough and hard to disable, and their largest vessel, the Lucifer (expect to see it in the next Cool Ships installment) seems invulnerable to conventional attack. As a result, much of the game is spent conducting intel gathering and raids to procure pieces of the aliens technology. And things really escalate when the Lucifer discovers the location of Vasuda Prime and Earth.

What I loved about this game was how much it reminded me of Babylon 5 and the whole Earth-Minbari war, how Earth Force found itself so outmatched and struggled to try and find a way to beat Minbari technology. I often wondered if the game designers had been inspired by it, given the common elements. On top of that is the fact that you never really get to learn why the Shivans are attacking, or even what they look like. The mystery of who and what they are remains well into the sequel.

But even without all that, the gameplay itself was nothing short of awesome. The missions were realistic, the ships were realistic, and the space combat was realistic (and detailed). I’m not ashamed to admit that this game actually formed part of the basis for my own sci-fi creation, the novel Legacies and the kind of universe it was set in. Being gritty and realistic, I thought I’d found my perfect muse, and did my best to adopt, if not outright copy, a lot of its feel.

Ah yes, and according to an article I read recently, it appears that there might be a third installment at some point in the future. Efforts have kind of stalled, but apparently the developers who worked on the first two games said that they “would kill for a chance to develop Freespace 3.” Given how the sequel ended on a cliffhanger and just how kick-ass this series is, I count myself among them! Tell me who’s gotta go, I’ll take care of ’em!

1. Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri
Finally, coming in at first place, is Sid Meier’s sci-fi spinoff, Alpha Centauri! Much like the Civilization series which bore his name (and which I adored!), this game was a turn-based strategy engine that focuses on civilization building and conquest, with the player choosing a faction and then ensuring that they become the dominant force in the game.

However, what set this game apart from the Civilization ones was its uniquely speculative and futuristic undertone. Based in part on the Civ games, this story is basically an extension of the original series, where games would end when a player either conquered the world or won the space race by sending a colony ship to Alpha Centauri.

But far from just picking up where these games left off, this game revolves around the idea that Earth was abandoned by the people on the colony ship because of its rampant overpopulation, war, famine, chaos and environmental destruction. This puts the stakes much higher, as the mission is not just to colonize but ensure the survival of the human race.

The story begins with the colonist splitting into five factions before they make “Planetfall”. These include the Morganites (a bunch of monopolistic capitalists), the Gaians (environmentalists), the Hive (totalitarians), the Believers (religious zealots), the Spartans (survivalists), the University (rationalists), and the Peacekeepers (humanitarians). Together, they represent the entirety of the human race, all its particular drives and obsessions. Their struggle clearly mirrors of that of humanity in the present day world.

On top of all that, there’s a planet-wide organisms which is made up of pink fungi and “mind worms”. This organism, as a whole, grows and evolves towards super-sentience every few million years as the planet’ sun reach perihelion. Naturally, this has coincided with the arrival of the colonists, and therefore poses a threat to their survival. So in addition to dealing with the threat of the other factions, there is added threat coming from the planet itself.

In the end, there are any number of ways to win the game. You can conquer the other factions, in which case it is reasoned that you will be able to face the growing threat from “planet” unimpeded. There is a an economic victory, in which a single faction corners the “energy market” (energy being the basis of currency on this world). Then you have diplomatic victory where you basically ally yourself with every faction left in the game, followed by the “transcendental” victory where you become the first faction to achieve union with the planetary organism.

This last option is the biggest and best, being the one that deals with the biggest problem of what to do about the planet and in such a way that ensures humanity’s virtual immortality. By merging humanities consciousness with the planetary organism, you not only achieve a degree of immortality, you also help ensure that the organism won’t regress this time around. And it gives you the highest final score, which is why I always preferred it.

And then there’s all the cool units you get to make. As with the other Civ games, new technologies give you the ability to craft new units. This grows more complex and varied the more technologies you unlock, giving you the means to equip units with new weapons, armor, and special abilities. But the best thing about this game, aside from all the classic sci-fi elements, is the inspired nature of it all. Some serious thought went into the technologies you research, as well as the philosophical models you can adopt.

I’m telling ya, its like some serious sci-fi geeks got together, read all the classics, swallowed the works of Sartre, Plato, Nietzsche, and then waded through the theories of Einstein and Hawkins. This game was a favorite of mine during the early 2000’s, and recently, I managed to get an a copy of it through and have been wasting time on it once more. I’m a happy manchild!

Okay, now I’m feeling kinda weird, geeky, and like I got some serious wasted time to make up for…  But hey, I’m not sorry! Like most people my age, I grew on the dubious combination of television, movies, and video games, with a few genuine experiences thrown in for good measure. If we can’t appreciate the stuff we wasted our youth on, then what good is it? Until next time 😉

28 Days Later…

Hello all! In honor of Halloween, I thought I’d jump ahead on my review list again and cover a zombie flick! And not just any zombie flick, a good, scary and even poignant thriller known as 28 Days Later! Not only is this movie a cult favorite, its also a films that got in on the ground floor of this new zombie craze.

Yes, for some reason, zombie movies have been pretty popular in the new millennium. Maybe it’s a retro thing, but it seems that within the last ten years, there have been a plethora of writers/directors who have breathed new life into this old movie genre. After 28 Days was released in 2002, it was followed by the Resident Evil movie, House of the Dead in 2003 (another video game adaptation), the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004), Shaun of the Dead, Doom (2005), Slither (2006), The Zombie Diaries, I Am Omega (2007), I Am Legend, Day of the Dead (2008, another remake), followed by Quarantine, Zombieland in 2009, and the list goes on. In fact, I’m not even taking the time to mention all the sequels and lesser known titles that came between these ones!

The point is, whereas in previous decades, people could expect a low-budget zombie movie at least once a year, since 2000, there have been multiple entries every year, sometimes as many as a dozen! And with this explosion in titles, there’s been some variety to how zombies were presented as well. Whereas in the old zombie classics, zombies were slow witted and slow moving – literally the walking dead – in new movies and re-imaginings, zombies were fast moving and sometimes highly intelligent. In fact, there’s even a neat table over at Yahoo movies that places zombie films within the context of these two criteria:

How Dangerous Is A Zombie?

If one were to use that table to discuss this movie, the zombies would be placed on the high end of both speed and intelligence, making them VERY dangerous. And, as I will mention soon enough, their take on the creatures was also quite realistic, at least when compared to other franchises. Okay, get comfortable and be ready to get scared, its horror movie time!

Compared to most horror films, 28 Days had a relatively fair budget of about 5 million pounds or 7 million US$ (based on the 2002 rate of exchange). It’s overall gross, however, was over 82.7 million dollars, and it even spawned a graphic novel and a sequel (haven’t seen or read them yet, but working on it ;)). In addition, the movie was the result of collaboration between writer Alex Garland and esteemed British director Daniel Boyle, whose film credits include Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Sunshine,Slumdog Millionaire and The Beach (which Garland also wrote).

The film was also well received by audiences and critics, earning itself several awards for direction, cinematography and acting in both Europe and the US in the process. It was even placed on two top 100 and one top 20 list as one of the best horror movies of all time. In addition to its direction and acting, critics praised it for its story, allegory and humanistic elements. In short, the movie went in with a modest budget and limited fanfare, but came out a cult hit and a commercial success. Little wonder why its seen as one of the best movies of the genre, people love underdogs as much as they do hidden gems!

28 Days Later essentially begins with an act of activism, where some well-meaning animal rights people storm into an animal testing facility and try to free some chimpanzees who are undergoing weird tests. In the course of the break-in, one of the doctors tries to stop them, saying that the chimps are infected with “rage”. This opening kind of seemed hokey to me at first, but afterward I came to see how effective it was. We get a brief prologue that tells us how things began, but which doesn’t weight us down with long-winded or unlikely explanations.

This is always a challenge in zombie movies, explaining how and why the dead are up and walking. In this case, they chose to go with a virus that was like super-rabies, making the infected extremely violent and spreading through the exchange of bodily fluids. Kind of brilliant if you think about it, explains all the zombie-like behavior while still being somewhat plausible. Of course, they are basically saying that animal rights activists will be responsible for the apocalypse, but who cares? It’s fiction!

We then cut to a hospital where the main character – a bike courier named Jim (Cillian Murphy*) – wakes up from a coma and realizes he’s all alone (for some reason, we get a full-frontal shot of his junk here too!) He then gets up and begins to look for answers and food, finding only abandoned buildings and empty streets. After making his way out into central London, he quickly realizes something terrible must have happened. All the missing signs and news pinups about the “End of Days” seem to attest to that. Naturally, he travels to a church where he finds pews filled with corpses, and one survivor, who for some reason seems to want to bite him…

*People may remember Murphy as The Scare Crow in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

But of course, he is narrowly saved by two healthy people – a woman named Selena (Naomi Harris) and her friend – who explain to him what’s been going on. Here too, the exposition was kept mercifully brief, the two basically telling him that a virus has devastated the country and that its spread through blood, bites, etc. He agrees to team up with them, but only if they can swing by his house, as he needs to know if his parents are still alive. Naturally, they are not, and infected people soon attack them. Selena’s friend is bitten in the process, and she is forced to kill him. Jim is upset by this, but Selena explains that this is how it is now. Needless sentiment lead to hesitation, which in turn leads to death. Now Selena and Jim are alone to wander the streets looking for other survivors.

Their search brings them to an apartment building where a father and daughter are holed up, and using Christmas lights to attract other survivors. A desperate chase follows as they are forced to run up the stairs as the infected chase them. But eventually they get to the landing where the father, Frank (Brendon Gleeson), is waiting for them in full riot gear! After beating down the infected, he lets them in and they meet his daughter, Hanna (Megan Burns), and begin swapping plans. It seems Frank has a radio and from their high elevation, they’ve been able to picking up a military radio transmission coming from Manchester that tells of a cure, food and shelter. The four of them make plans to go there straightaway.

Getting there is an adventure to be sure, the four having to flee from infected as they get out of the city and there being a few pacing scenes along the way. But eventually, they arrive to find the town of Manchester on fire, and that the transmission is coming from a military base nearby. However, the base appears to be deserted, the only inhabitants being infected crows and bodies. What follows is a heart wrenching scene where Frank gets a drop of blood in his eye and begins to change. He has just enough time to tell his daughter that he loves her before they realize he’s been infected and he goes bat-shit crazy! That’s when the army men reveal themselves and open fire on Frank!

They are then taken to the base’s main compound where the CO, Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston), welcomes them. Jim and Selena are cautiously optimistic now that they have some protection and a roof over their head, but Hannah is understandably bitter. Her father is dead, after all, and these men were responsible. In the course of the next few days, the Major shows Jim their set up and explains what they’re doing. Seems they’ve been luring the infected to the compound and then killing them with bullets and landmines. They’ve also been keeping a live one for study so they can see how long they survive without the ability to feed. This one they call Mailer, since he was once one of them…

However, things go awry when a few things become clear. For one, the boys seem to like Selena, and are quite pushy on that fact. When Jim tries to intervene to keep them off her, the Major explains that his mens’ sanity has been hanging by a thread and he’s had to make promises to keep their morale from collapsing and them from offing themselves. In short, he promised them women… Suddenly, the signal, the one that lured them in with promises of safety, food and a cure makes perfect sense. The Major and his men, who think the world has gone to hell, are looking to create their own little society here, and need breeding stock! Jim resists, as does one of the soldiers, and the Major orders that they be shot.

While Selena and Hannah are forced to don dresses and prepare for an evening of rape, Jim manages to give the soldiers the slip and runs off. Before the other soldier is shot, he gives Jim some words of encouragement. The Major and the others insist the world is dying, he says, but he’s seen planes going overhead and thinks that’s a pretty strong indication that the carnage must be reserved to Britain. Jim takes some hope from this too, and begins to hatch a plan. He returns to the abandoned outpost where they first met the Major’s men and sets off the siren. This lures the Major and some of his troops, as they know that the siren will draw unwanted attention. When they show up, Jim manages to kill some of them, with the help of some infected, of course.

Back at the base, Selena sets Hanna free and is cornered by one of the soldiers who is about to rape her. However, Jim has returned to the base at this point and unleashes Mailer on them. While he creates all kinds of carnage, Jim manages to break in and kill the soldier who was going to rape Selena with his bare hands. Selena thinks he’s been infected too and is prepared to kill him, but hesitates just long enough to realize he’s clean. We quickly realize that she’s in love with Jim now, as she showed no hesitation when killing her old companion. The two kiss and reunite with Hannah, and all three commandeer a vehicle outside and prepare to drive off.

However, Major West is waiting for them and shoots Jim in the stomach. But Mailer shows up in time to grab West before he can shoot anyone else, and Hannah drives while Selena tends to Jim’s wound. The three then drive to a hospital where Selena tends to his wounds in a frantic montage of quick cut-scenes. Then, after being in a coma for another 28 days, Jim wakes up and finds that he’s recovering in bed, this time in some remote cottage. The three of them are now in the countryside where Hannah and Selena have prepared a massive cloth banner that spells out HELLO. Jim is now awake just in time to help them deploy it and to see a Finnish fighter jet fly overhead. The movie ends with Selena asking sarcastically, “Do you think he saw us this time?”

Apparently, Boyle and Garland also came up with a number of alternate endings as well, two of which were filmed and a third which never made it past storyboard. In the first, which was meant to be the original ending, Jim dies in the hospital, leaving Selena and Hannah to carry on. However, this ending was rejected after some test screening audiences said it was “too bleak”. Though the scene was meant to convey that the two ladies survived, audiences believed they were marching off to certain death. The second alternate ending included the rescue banner at the very end, but without Jim being present, so as to show that the ladies made it without him.

A third, which never made it past storyboard, was a radical departure. In this one, Jim, Selena, Hannah and Frank converge on a medical facility rather than a military base, the same one where the infected apes escaped from at the beginning. Frank is still infected, but it turns out that there is a cure available here. Unfortunately, the doctor at the base informs them that the cure consists of a full blood transfusion, and only Jim is a blood match. He therefore sacrifices himself to save Frank, and the movie ends. This ending was rejected by Boyle and Garland though, since they realized it was unrealistic. In essence, if an infection can spread through even a drop of blood, no amount of transfusing would work!

While they didn’t go with the ending they wanted, the movie still conveyed the same message all around. In it, we are given a pretty realistic take on zombies, one which ties in with the dangers of epidemics and how modern, industrial societies are vulnerable to infectious diseases. In addition, we get a story that’s chock full of allegory about the human condition. Whereas some people survive by becoming selfish and doing whatever they have to to go on – in Selena’s case, cutting all ties, in the Major’s case, promising his men women – ultimately, people are redeemed through acts of self-sacrifice and empathy.

Frank shows this through his abundant sense of generosity and how he’ll do anything to make sure his daughter survives. Selena demonstrates this by saving Jim and Hannah, allowing herself to care for them even though she’s presumably become hardened and only cares about staying alive. And of course, Jim demonstrates this by putting himself in danger to save Selena and Hannah, even though it nearly costs him his life. And of course, the three make it in the end only by mutual dependency and love. There’s even the bit about the rogue soldier who would rather die than give in to hopelessness and take part in a gang rape.

And that’s the movie. Simple, scary, effective and entertaining! It’s rare that a movie will come along that can cover all these bases, but this one managed to do it quite well. Its also a reminder that within the realm of low-budget cinema, there are some genuine gems waiting to be found. Hell, one could even make the case that low budgets are essential to the success of some movies. It ensures that there aren’t any over-the-top special effects to make it look fake, or a sense of mass appeal to water down the plot. And it just goes to show you what can happen when good acting, writing and direction come together!

28 Days Later
Entertainment Value: 8.5/10
Plot: 9/10
Direction: 9/10
Total: 9/10