Friday, March 14, 2014

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series

Robert Rodriguez's new television series, From Dusk Till Dawn, is based on his 1996 feature film of the same name, which starred George Clooney (written by, and co-starring, Quentin Tarantino). Both stories follow the Gecko brothers, two Very Bad Men, who are on the lam and heading to Mexico after a bloody bank heist. In fact, season one of the television series will retell the same story that was presented in the movie, but both it and the characters will be fleshed out across ten, one-hour episodes.

The series premiered this week in the United States on the new El Rey Network (Spanish for "The King"), which just launched last December, and features English-language programming targeted towards Latino audiences. The network is owned and operated by Robert Rodriguez himself--and From Dusk Till Dawn is the flagship series for his fledgling network. When I first heard about this adaptation, my thought was, "Why?"--especially considering if you've seen the film, you already know how the first season of the series will progress, and likely end. Yet after watching the first episode, I'm now thinking, "Why not?"

Since time began, we have lived. In the shadows of the moon. In the blood of the earth. Today we will rise and the world will be ours. Beyond dark and light. Beyond fire and water. Beyond dusk and dawn.

So opens the first episode, which starts with a flashback that appears to show the origin of the Big Bad character, Santánico Pandemonium (played by Eiza González in the series, and both Salma Hayek and Ara Celi in the movies). It's your basic girl-runs-through-woods-being-chased-by-bad-men scenario, and seems a little pedestrian for Rodriguez, who directed this (and several other) episodes. This particular scene is just one of a number of flashbacks used here, most of which are superfluous and add very little to the story.

Sheriff Earl McGraw (Don Johnson)
Next up is a present-day scene introducing two Texas Rangers: Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia) and Earl McGraw (Don Johnson). The McGraw character also appeared in the original film, as well as in Kill Bill (2003/4), Death Proof (2007), and Planet Terror (2007). Johnson, who's best known for playing decidedly flashier characters in Miami Vice (1984-1990) and Nash Bridges (1996-2001), disappears into the role--and is one of the highlights of this episode.

Another surprise is actor Wilmer Valderrama (Fez from That '70s Show), who convincingly plays drug lord (and all-around bad guy) Carlos Madrigal. The actor recently noted that his character is "very feared, he definitely manoeuvres multiple organized crime outfits, but all of that is a front for a more underground operation. He'll be a little bit in touch with the paranormal world." Carlos is definitely different than the original character from the movie, who was much more amicable and played by Cheech Marin.

Richie and Seth Gecko (Zane Holtz and D.J. Cotrona)
But what of the leads, Seth and Richie Gecko? Well, the brothers are not your everyday anti-heroes, because one is a sociopath, while the other is a psychopath. They are villains through-and-through, with few redeeming qualities; after watching the first episode, I can't wait till all that bad karma finally catches up with them.

However, Richie Gecko, in particular, seems to have changed. In the movie, he was a sadist, rapist, and all-around creepy dude. In the series, he's equally as unstable, but his sex-offending nature is toned down (and his amorous hallucinations in the film have been replaced by supernatural ones that tie into the larger story). To counterbalance all the evil, good-guy Freddie Gonzalez, the Texas Ranger, looks like he'll be involved in a cat-and-mouse chase as he pursues the Gecko brothers in their race to get to Mexico. Gonzalez is shown to be very religious, a trait that may play a larger role as the series progresses (much like faith did in the film).

Thus far, there's additional back story and enough subtle changes to make the series seem different enough from the film; this episode covers about the first nine minutes of the original story. What's markedly different is the fact that supernatural elements are being introduced from the get-go. This is a far cry from the movie, which at first blush was a crime-drama that inexplicably took a hard-left turn into comedy-horror. (I should note that episodes are available on Netflix in a number of international markets, 24-hours after they first air in the United States.)

Rodriguez has stated that the series will feature the demon queen, Santánico Pandemonium, as the hitherto villain in season one, whereas in season two she'll become "the heroine of the story...up against things that are much more powerful." And it's doubtful she and the other monsters will ever be called "vampires," since Rodriguez doesn't really consider them as such. However, they are "vampire-like" creatures, dating back to an ancient sun-and-snake worshiping cult--possibly Aztec--that had a penchant for human sacrifice. As the series progresses, he plans to expand on this mythology, which was first hinted at in the last scene of the 1996 film. Only time will tell if the series will eventually feature characters and plots from the largely-forgotten sequel From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999), or the prequel From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (1999). Yet considering how sub-par these movies are compared to the original, it might be best if Rodriguez forgets they ever existed.

The huge drawback so far is the fact that most of the main story in this episode is told in flashback, which just draws attention to itself, and feels like an unnecessary gimmick. One hopes that the rest of the episodes will unfold in linear time, otherwise, this contrived storytelling method will wear itself pretty thin well before the end of season one.

Still, even though the vampires (or equivalent) have yet to show up, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series looks like it will be a healthy dose of good old fashioned bloody mayhem--and will feature creatures that should help us forget about the sparkly, cuddly vampires that have been infesting our modern stories of late. For that, and the fact that Quentin Tarantino will not be acting in this production, I am thankful.

1 comment:

  1. FDTD has been renewed for a second, 13-episode season, which will air in 2015.