I think that it's only fair that I own up straight away to the fact that I have a major geek adoration (some may even go as far in calling it a Geek crush) for the work of Mr Guillermo del Toro. However, It saddens me at say though, that the adoration that I have for his work has been tested on the odd occasion recently. It had all started to well with masterpieces such as The Devil's Backbone and the truly sublime Pan's Labrynth, as well as other favourites of mine including Blade II and the wonderful Hellboy. I genuinely thought for a time that he could do no wrong and no matter that the odd dud may be bound to come along in his career, I would still love his work....nothing but nothing could test my geek adoration. I was a sure as sure could be that I was safe in that assumption. That was until Battleship Pacific Rim.........
I wanted to like Transformers Pacific Rim, I really did. And for a good while into the film I was almost bearing it pretty well, for a start it had one or two noticeably familiar and enjoyable 'del Toro touches', so all was OK. It was going better than I had anticipated. That was until I heard the line "Today is the day we cancel the Apocalypse". Oh. Deerie. Me. Oh deerie deerie me.
To be honest, I almost fell out of love for the work of the Mexican maestro right there and then. I thought that this was quite possibly the end of a beautiful friendship. Almost, but not quite, because around the time of the cinematic monstrosity I also chanced upon del Toro's first novel, written in collaboration with Chuck Hogan. The book, called The Strain, was a deliciously gruesome and intelligent tale of New York City being overrun by a virulent Vampire plague. I read, nay, devoured the story in a matter of hours. It was del Toro at his gruesomely descriptive best.
Now I know what you're thinking, the book was released way back in the dim and distant days of 2009 with the other two in the trilogy following within a couple of years - not exactly a blogger with his finger of the pulse of all that is good and nerdy is it? Well, maybe you're right, but as she said "Better late than never, I suppose"
A full and frank review of the books is something for another time and place. The point of this article (be quiet, there is occasionally a point to some of my articles) is to talk about the the TV adaptation of the story and its subsequent release onto DVD and BluRay. Suffice to say, reading those books went a long long way to helping me out behind me the memory of Godzilla Pacific Rim.
So you can imagine my delight this after being contacted all the way from Los Angeles by a representative of Fox Home Entertainment, who have been recently performing a takeover of the Fox Horror website in anticipation for the Season 1 release of The Strain on Bluray/DVD and the launch of http://bit.ly/TwoStrainsSite which will give users a look at how the graphic novel was turned into a television show. I was asked whether I would want to tell people not only about what they are undertaking, but also to talk a little bit on my blog about The Strain. Of course I did!
To see what delights the new website has in store then visit http://bit.ly/FoxHorrorStrainTakeover but be quick as the takeover ends on Monday 8th December.
The Strain begins with the team from the Centre for Disease Control investigating the mysterious arrival at New York airport of a plane in which the whole of the passengers & crew are seemingly dead.
At this same moment Abraham Setrakian, owner of an old raggedly pawnbrokers in downtown New York, is also heading to the airport after hearing the news. He knows that this is no 'ordinary' viral outbreak and is convinced that it is a new, potentially catastrophic chapter in an horrific and age old series of events designed to wipe out humanity.
Adapting from page to television is traditionally some of a hit and miss affair. In fact it's safe to say that pleasing some of the more, shall we say, vociferous fans out there, is something of a no win situation (Yes, some Game of Thrones fans, I'm talking about you). If I've heard "well that's different from the book" once, I've bloody well heard it a thousand times. Give it a rest people!! Remember, we don't actually own the work we're watching or reading. If the writers etc want to change their work for whatever reason then that's their choice. Though I would say that a certain Mr G Lucas has tested even my open-minded stance in the past.
It seems though, that generally, The Strain's first season on Fx was on the whole well received by critics. Perhaps more importantly, many fans of the story (of which I'm proud to class myself as one) seem to agree as the viewing ratings, particularly in the States, held up strongly thought its first season run. The fact that the show was picked up for a second season pretty quickly into it's run speaks volumes in the cutthroat world that TV series now seem to inhabit.
I must admit that on a personal level, the first season of The Strain was, apart from a couple of issues, an exceedingly satisfying experience. This was probably helped in no small part by del Toro's continued involvement in the concept and production of many of the episodes. Yes there are noticeable differences from the books, but actually some of those differences actually benefit the viewing experience. For example, the character of Abraham Sektrakian of the books is far more softer and likable then he appears on screen as played the the magnificent David Bradley. This could have alienated some of the literary aficionados, however turning the character into a far more driven, obsessive and often unlikable person is something of a masterstroke. In doing so, the frequent back stories of him and his experiences of past deaings with the vicious Nazi Vampire, Thomas Eichorst, is given even more gravitas and importance. Both Bradley and Richard Sammel (Eichorst) simply chew up the dialogue and scenery with the power of their relative performances and if anything, flesh out far more than expected, the characters than they appeared in the books.
In fact, the cast as a whole provides an essential excellent ensemble performance. I must admit that for me it did take a number of episodes for the characters gel with the more action orientated segments, which may have been something of a risk perhaps for the modern I-want-It-now audience in order to give the character development some time to breathe. However, The Strain is not meant just to be a series of gruesome action set -pieces (albeit some rather excellent ones) but it's also a tale driven by some very strong characterisation.
This element of actually caring for the characters has benefited the likes of The Walking Dead, beyond all expectations. For example here, the always excellent Kevin Durand gives a beautifully measured performance as the rat-catcher, Fet, one moment sharing a tender moment with his estranged parents, the next becoming one deliciously mean son-of-a bitch killing machine. The scene where he quickly decides that he must be the one who has to 'dispatch' a close friend of the team is shockingly effective.
That's not to say that the production values and action set-pieces of of less impressive standard, because I assure you they're not. The visualisations throughout, especially the scenes where there Vampires morph into their tongue lashing yucky finery are excellent in their biological squeak inducing state. I know there will be some who miss some of the more elaborate methods that the parasitic worms find their way through various orifices in the books (I'll leave it up to your dirty imagination to connect those particular dots). Instead we have to make do with the worms entering through the eyes, which while still looks rather excellent, may lose some of the gruesome factor for some who like their inventive worm entering orifice scenario - as it were.
The memorable set pieces throughout the first season come thick and fast as the episodes progress. The segment that takes place with the gang cornered in a secluded city store is not only perhaps one of the most exciting episodes, it's also the first time where we see the disparate members first begin to gel together as a real team. Add to that a number of scenes with a wonderfully claustrophobic quality about them that take place in the tunnels and catacombs of the increasingly decaying city and you have an ever improving mix of characterisation and action as the series reaches a stunning climax.
All in all there is much to recommend the first season of The Strain - I plan at the earliest opportunity to get myself a copy on DVD or BluRay - I would do so yourself, you know it makes sense.
I will be the first to admit that not quite everything works well in series one, with perhaps the least satisfying aspect being the first revealing of the Master vampire. I'm not sure whether it was the way the scene was directed or lit, but the moment when we first witness the personification of vampiric evil appear should have been far more hard-hitting. Instead it is left the the wonderfully ambitious scenes of ever increasing human/vampire transformation that succeed on most every level to provide a genuine feel of terror and stomach-churning chills.
Check out http://bit.ly/FoxHorrorStrainTakeover when you get the chance.
Also, if you want to, you can compare scenes from the graphic novel to scenes that occurred on the show by clicking on http://bit.ly/TwoStrainsSite. I promise you though, that if you do, you may well be there for a few hours because it's crazily addictive!