by Douglas Bankston
Unit photography by Peter Mountain
Photos courtesy of 20th
Late one night, three animal-rights activists slip into a primate
research facility and discover chimpanzees undergoing a visual
assault of violent imagery. As the activists are about to release
the chimps from captivity, a lone scientist stumbles onto the
scene and frantically warns them to stop. He explains that these
particular primates have been injected with a manufactured, highly
contagious virus that causes the stricken to be consumed by a
state of unrelenting rage. Of course, in typical government fashion,
a cure has yet to be developed. Dismissing the good scientist's
pleadings, an activist opens one of the cages . . . .
Twenty-eight days later, a bicycle courier named Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens from a month-long coma in a hospital
to find his intravenous bags empty, his heart monitor silent
and a lengthy scar on the side of his head. Something ominous
has occurred during his incapacitation, which resulted from a
collision with a car. Wandering from his room, he finds the hospital
deserted, and when he ventures outside, he finds that all of
London is equally empty.
Seeking some form of solace, Jim eventually enters a cathedral,
where he discovers that the pews are packed with decaying corpses.
Growing anxious, he shouts out a futile "hello," expecting
no response. But his call interrupts the resident priest and
two other gentlemen - who, after being "infected," are
now feeding on the dead. Hemorrhaging blood and full of rage,
the three tear after the fresh meat (i.e., Jim), who scrambles
out of the church in a what-has-the-world-come-to panic. Just
before he is ripped limb from limb, however, Jim is rescued by
a pair of "normals," Selena
and Mark (Naomie Harris and Noah Huntley), who whisk him to relative
safety. There, they give him the bad news about the world.
With the World Health Organization announcing virus alerts at
an almost daily rate, 28 Days Later seems especially timely.
The film has been a smash in the United Kingdom,
where it was released late last year. It also offered Brits the
chance to see something they'd never seen before - a London devoid
of people - thanks to skillful compositions by cinematographer
Anthony Dod Mantle, DFF and an incredible
job of traffic control.
While Dod Mantle
was shooting All About Love in Sweden for Thomas Vinterberg,
director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, The
Beach) flew over to chat with him about his ideas for the
horror film. The duo had already worked together on a pair of
BBC productions, Strumpet and Vacuuming Completely
Nude in Paradise. "Danny was splaying these pretty horrific
pictures of violence on a table in front of me and saying, 'This
film is, of course, quite violent,'" Dod Mantle says with dry understatement. "There
was a lot of location work and a lot of building on location,
and that's expensive in London. We knew that if we shot on 35mm
stock in a conventional format, we would probably have to lose
quite a few scenes."
In order to maintain the integrity of Alex Garland's script,
the filmmakers opted for MiniDV, a
format at the lower end of digital video's resolution scale.
The advantage of MiniDV, however, was that its inherently small cameras could
be set up quickly, which proved key to pulling off the stunning
shots of deserted London. "If I had shot those on a big
negative, it would have looked absolutely stunning," Dod Mantle reflects. "It was
extraordinary to see those city streets deserted. I knew how
beautiful those could have been, but we made an artistic decision
and I stood by it. In those particular instances, of course,
we would not have been allowed to shoot and take up so much space
[in 35mm] for two weeks at such a delicate time before early-morning
rush hour. Just out of frame, I heard people screaming serious
dissent that I won't quote!"
Even at 4 a.m., traffic control could hold back angry commuters
for just so long as scenes were shot at Piccadilly Circus, Westminster
Bridge and the Docklands. These sequences necessitated the use
of as many as eight Canon XL1 MiniDV cameras to cover all angles, allowing shots to be
made as quickly as possible. "I placed them all and framed
them all," Dod Mantle
recalls. "It was very difficult because we had to deal with Walkie-Talkies,
screaming commuters just out of frame, police asking when we'd
finish and six or eight people operating cameras. Even my gaffer,
Thomas Neivelt, and producer Andrew
MacDonald were operating some of the cameras. I was trying to Walkie T-stops
knowing that they were at six different angles in accordance
to the constantly rising sun. It was hell.
"As I watched the morning light come over St. Paul's Cathedral
with all of these beautiful violets, yellows and magentas, I
thought, 'How much of this information am I going to be able
to maintain on the final print for a massive throw in a big cinema
house in London or the States?'"