Dylan Dog: Dead of Night [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (30th August 2011).
The Film

What the hell happened to Brandon Routh? The answer, I guess, is “Superman Returns” (2006). Routh’s short tenure as Clark Kent/The Last Son of Krypton in Bryan Singer’s misunderstood (if also misguided) love letter to Richard Donner simultaneously launched and then – when the movie failed to recoup its bloated budget – promptly wrecked his assent into superstardom. I’m a fan of Singer’s film, despite its issues, and an even bigger fan of Routh, despite his sometimes-questionable roles. I think he’s an actor deserving of more than his (admittedly terrific) scene-stealing side parts in “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” (2008) and, more recently, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” (2010) (“Scott Pilgrim” is already awesome; Routh’s Todd Ingram just makes it more so) and his season-long stint on the geeky-chicy TV series “Chuck” (2007-present).

It seems that Routh finally has another leading role with “Dylan Dog: Dead of Night”. Never heard of “Dylan Dog”? That’s okay; the film just kind of awkwardly showed up in theaters earlier this year, the same way Tommy Wiseau’s Johnny sauntered onto the rooftop in “The Room” (2003). The film bombed at the box office and was torn to shreds by critics. It was out of exhibition just a few weeks later, faster than you could throw your water bottle to the ground and say, “Oh hi, Mark.” I missed it at the local cineplex, and I assume most others did too, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Dylan Dog” is the sort of movie usually destined for DVD (and Blu-ray), so it seems fitting to view it on home video.

Routh plays the titular Dylan Dog, a supernatural detective based out of New Orleans. In Dylan’s world, the dead – or, rather, the undead – and the living peacefully coexist (if only barely). At one time Dog was the intermediary between the two cultures: a smooth-talking gumshoe and gunslinger who protected the monsters (ghouls, vampires, werewolves, and the other kinds of things that go bump in the night) from the monster hunters – human zealots who thought it was their duty to rid the planet of the plague that is the undead. Dylan used to police the supernatural population too, making sure they didn’t attack the living (on his watch, lethargic Zombies eat worms, not human flesh). But Dylan eventually tired of that life, and the semi-retired private investigator just does regular sleuthing, wasting his days away snapping photos of cheating spouses, now. When a mysterious (and obviously supernatural) creature murders a dealer of rare antiquities, and steals a priceless artifact, the dead man’s daughter (Anita Briem) hires Dylan to find out who – or what – is responsible, pulling the paranormal P.I. right back in the game. To uncover the truth of his client’s case, Dylan must cross paths with old friends and older foes including the leader of a werewolf clan named Gabriel (Peter Stormare), and a villainous vampire played by Taye Diggs.

“Dylan Dog: Dead of Night” is based on a series of Italian comics from the eighties by Tiziano Sclavi. I’ve never read the comics. Honestly, I’d never even heard of them before someone (I guess that’d be producer/director Kevin Monroe) decided to adapt the source material into a film. Whether or not the film is faithful to those books is immaterial as far as I’m concerned. Although, I’ll note what I’ve read: the filmmakers have taken mild liberties, namely with Dylan’s sidekick, played by Sam Huntington. In the comics the hapless lackey is an imitation Marx Brother. He’s just a plain ol’ zombie in the film (although there is a nice nod to “Duck Soup” (1933) in the form of a poster in Dylan’s office) and that sort of sounds like an upgrade; as much as I love me some Chico, Harpo and Graucho, they just don’t fit into Dylan’s dark world… but, then again, what do I know?

With a sorry 6% on the Tomatometer and an even sorrier set of box office receipts (making $1.1 million domestic off of a reportedly $20 million budget), “Dylan Dog” is sure to put the final nail in the preverbal coffin that was once Routh’s hopeful career. And that’s sort of a bummer because, looking at the basic concept, the film should have been good (or, at least pretty cool, through a properly calibrated B-movie loving lens). And I’m still rooting for Routh, even if he was again cast in a bad role. Hard-boiled detective stories of the noirish Marlowe school are awesome. Zombies: awesomer. Werewolves who wear shirts, and vampires that don’t sparkle? Well, they certainly don’t make me cringe and contemplate committing the sort of crime that usually ends with a judge handing down a life sentence (or, in Texas, the electric chair) like their shirtless and sparkly genre counterparts do.

But, despite a decent foundation, for whatever reason, “Dylan Dog” doesn’t really work.

Perhaps part of the problem is that Routh’s an actor only as good as the character he’s asked to play. Give him depth, personality, and something to work with: he’ll give you excellent stuff. Saddle him with a blandly written dick – an emotionless “badass” who comes with a simple and formulaic action star arc – and you get… well… Dylan Dog. Routh’s performance is largely lifeless, and the supporting actors aren’t much better. Every member of the cast – even Taye Diggs – is better than the performance they give here, but the weak acting is rarely the fault of the actor (and is instead either the result of bland characterization, or weak direction; perhaps both). The only time Routh is any good in “Dylan Dog” is when he’s sharing the screen with (his fellow “Superman Returns” alum) Sam Huntington. Their characters have a fun, banter-filled, partnership that plays well. (Unfortunately, they’re constantly pushed apart by the plot, meaning the bantery goodness is few and far between.) Stormare chews scenery, but is in the film for such a short amount of time that he’s basically relegated to cameo status. Anita Briem is a paper-thin near non-presence; essentially dead weight for a basic romantic subplot that’s required, but not thoughtfully developed.

The practical creature makeup is well done, but the CGI – however slight the use of CG may be – is awful. And there’s little doubt in my mind that an interesting concept is hiding in here somewhere. But the crew certainly didn’t find it. The film’s just the odd, if almost immediately alluring, mix of horror, action, pseudo-western and noir that flat out doesn’t work in the hands of director Kevin Monroe, who fails to balance the constantly-clashing genres competently (or, really, in any meaningful way). The film is bogged down by Monroe’s low budget production values and weak direction, and worsened by a crummy, poorly constructed screenplay written by Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer (the guys who wrote the forgettable “Sahara” (2005) and the monstrously awful “Sound of Thunder” (2005)). Their script, especially in the hands of Monroe, falls victim to cliché after cliché in the late second and third acts.

Despite everything I’ve just written, I didn’t hate “Dylan Dog”… at least not as much as it seems most other critics did. But, I’m not going to argue that it’s a good movie. “Dead of Night” is about as far from a good movie as you can get – if perhaps not as bad as Wiseau’s awe-inspiringly awful “The Room”. And it’s really too bad that Routh’s return to the big screen as a leading man is as Dylan, because the actor is not the problem. Or, perhaps more correctly: he’s not the only problem. Routh is a miscast cog in a larger contraption about to collapse. He’s part of a clumsily handled, could’ve-been-better, B-movie, about vampires and werewolves and a whole mess of other horror clichés, wrapped in the trappings of a noir, and laced with some decidedly mishandled comedy. I think the person I was watching this with said it best: “the film is just bad enough to be watchable.” I agree. “Dylan Dog: Dead of Night” most certainly is watchable, but only barely. And only once.

Video

Fox’s 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 high def transfer is a surprisingly decent one – single layer encode and all – even if it isn’t perfect. Shot on 35mm film, “Dylan Dog: Dead of Night” looks considerably better than I initially thought it would. The use of film (and not digital video like so many other, more amateurish-looking, low budget features) gives “Dog” a stronger appearance. And, expecting the over-smoothed and lifeless look of video, only to find fine grain in plenty of scenes, I was more than satisfied with the resulting reasonably sharp image, completely unmolested by unintended DNR and edge enhancement. Unfortunately, an over-stylization of the image haunts the Blu-ray like a wickedly cruel demon. Skintones are overly pasty, or, conversely, overly oranged due to nasty color tweaks. A dank darkness invades the plentiful nights scenes, and some rather severe black crush robs the film of rich shadow details – again, probably purposefully. Whites are blue-tinted, if intentionally so, and the color spectrum is definitely shifted towards cooler, desaturated tones. A couple of random spats of noise are the result of compromised compression to fit the two-hour feature on a BD-25. Definition is strong, and I spotted no serious encoding errors outside of the minor artifacts in a few scenes. This is a solid presentation, but will hardly be the latest and greatest demo title to show off your system.

Audio

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48 kHz/24-bit/~ 3.8 Mbps) mix is certainly loud, with active surrounds and powerful bass. To that end, the track proves to be a generally impressive. Dialogue is clear, if largely confined to the front of the soundstage. Ambient effects are appropriately balanced, but pushed to the rears. And the western-y score, by Klaus Badelt, accentuates themes and tone appropriately. Where the mix fails is in its restraint and consistency. Effects explode, but only in bombastic bursts. Panning is limited to only a few over-exaggerated pratfalls and hokey gimmicks. Yes, the mix has the clarity and power of a bigger-budgeted blockbuster, but it doesn’t have the finesse and steadiness needed to bring the action and the subtlety to an appropriate middle. Does “Dylan Dog” sound good? Oh yes. Great? Well… I didn’t think so. Optional subtitles are available in English and Spanish.

Extras

I suppose, given “Dylan’s” single layer confines it’s a good thing the release is essentially barebones (and, because of the bomb-tastic box office, not entirely unexpected). The only extras – none of which are the least bit related to the film – manifest in the form of pre-menu bonus trailers. Nic Cage’s latest bit of failure, “Season of the Witch” (1.78:1 1080p, 2 minutes 19 seconds), is the only proper trailer. The DVD and Blu-ray release of the atrocious “Buffy: Season 8 Motion Comic” (non-anamorphic 1.78:1 480p, 1 minute 2 seconds) gets a brief and terrible nod too. The presence of a Fox Digital Copy promo (1.78:1 1080p, 48 seconds) seems oddly irrelevant given the complete absence of said bonus feature on “Dylan Dog”.

The disc is also authored with the resume playback feature and the ability to add bookmarks.

Packaging

“Dylan Dog: Dead of Night” sleuths its way onto blu-ray from Fox Home Entertainment, cloaked in a scant and slight package. The BD-25 is basically barebones, housed in an eco-Elite case and is marked as Region A on the back of the case.

Overall

“Dylan Dog: Dead of Night” is just bad enough to be watchable. It isn't a completely worthless movie; I think some of the acting is solid (mostly just Routh with Huntington), I like the concept, and absolutely love the idea behind the mixing of genres (even if, ultimately, it’s poorly handled, and then merely interesting). But, the cheap production values, poor direction, and limp script, which falls apart in the second and third acts, just about cancel out any goodness suggested by the cast or concept. With pretty respectable video and audio, but no extras, I’d suggest a cheap rental… but that’s about it. “Dylan” is mostly a dog, and dangerously close to being declared dead on arrival.

The Film: D+ Video: B Audio: B Extras: F Overall: C-

 


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