In a nondescript office building on Cahuenga Boulevard, Frank Darabont is putting the finishing touches on the end of the world. The writer-director, famed for such Oscar-nominated feature films as “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” is now masterminding the zombie apocalypse with his new television series, “The Walking Dead.”
Adapted from Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels, “Walking Dead” follows a band of survivors struggling to retain their humanity in a nightmarish world overrun by the undead. While it might seem at odds with the prestige pictures for which he’s so widely known, Darabont insists that the show, which debuts on AMC on Halloween night, is allowing him the opportunity to marry that A-list sensibility with his inner geek.
“Shawshank” and “Green Mile” were based on Stephen King novels, after all, and early in his career, Darabont wrote the screenplays for projects including “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” and “The Fly II.”
“My earliest memories are of watching the great Universal monster movies when they were in television syndication in about 1965 — I’ve always loved the cinema or the literature of the fantastic, it’s always been my special bent,” Darabont, 51, says. “Having made those more mainstream dramatic films, people are surprised to know that I can converse in the secret geek language.”
Certain elements of “Walking Dead” will seem familiar to anyone who shares that particular fluency. In the pilot, which Darabont wrote and directed, small-town sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) awakens in a deserted hospital after being shot in the line of duty. Determined to find his wife and son, he sets off — on horseback — toward a rumored survivors settlement in Atlanta, fending off flesh-eating ghouls along the way.
It’s difficult not to think of director Danny Boyle’s haunting thriller “28 Days Later” during those hospital scenes, and the zombies themselves are straight out of the George Romero school, the latter point being something that Darabont himself proudly acknowledges. But “Walking Dead,” he maintains, is unique because it’s serialized, meaning that he can explore how Grimes and the other characters cope over the long haul.
“We’ve all seen the one-off zombie movies,” Darabont says. “I didn’t want to try to compete on that level because it’s been done and done very well, either as a serious film or as a comedy. We can name those really great ones. But to do it as a television series, to really invest in those characters over the long term, that struck me as a pretty exciting notion…”
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– Gina McIntyre
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