Sunday, June 26, 2005

Land of the not-so dead


This is a big week, no a huge week for zombie fans everywhere with the release of
"George A. Romero's Land of the Dead" the long-awaited fourth installment in his living dead series that started with "Night of the Living Dead" way back in 1968. The original "Dawn of the Dead' is a long time favorite of mine. I remember seeing it at the midnight movies back in 1978. My junior high buddies and I would walk over to catch the double features every weekend. Some how they film we wanted to see was always the second movie, so we'd have to struggle through the often lame first film to get to the goods. We had all been reading about Dawn in Fangoria and Starlog and that brief, but highly effective TV commercial that showed only a flash cut of the zombies springing towards the camera and a little narration to stoke the imagination. when it finally made it to the midnight movies, it played after "The Town that Dreaded Sundown" which, at the time, seemed liked the longest and most boring film ever made. Dawn set the standard that few films have ever been able to live up to. He had a gritty, documentary style that only added to the feeling of chaos and crisis. The characters weren't perfect, no heroes here, just people trying their best to live through a horrific situation. In all other areas, Dawn delivered the action, gore, dialogue and drama. I can't recall how many times I've seen it, a guess would be twenty times. It was always be a favorite.

Fast forward to now. It's been twenty years since the last film in the series, "Day of the Dead" and George has finally been able to get backing (thank's ironically enough to the success of the Dawn remake and "Shaun of the Dead") to shot Land. Universal in it's infinite wisdom moved the film up from an October release to June 24 and after seeing the film, I have to wonder how much it may have hurt to lose those months in post. I went to an afternoon, 3 pm show and was pleasantly surprised to see nearly thirty people there. Not a sell out, but considering this is not one of the mainstream tent pole films, a respectable showing. So how was it? I gave it a seven on IMDB. What I liked: The characters, down to the secondary and even the background players, everyone was interesting and seemed to have a life beyond the ninety-three minutes. We need more Pillsbury. Also, I've heard some pick out Dennis Hopper's performance as being weak, however I liked the take he took with Kaufman, as I've encountered several executive types who are "bad actors" and always trying to sell their agendas and don't realize their falseness is so obvious. How else could Kaufman be played? Next, the look of the zombies and effects over all: Gregory Nicotero and his crew found a new "look" for the undead and I was amazed and shocked at how much gore the MPAA let through. The "director's cut" DVD is going to quite a show. Finally, the dialogue: Some great lines often coming out of the mouth of John Leguizamo's character, Cholo or the hound dog sidekick character played by Robert Joy, Charlie. Kaufman got a few zingers, but often they sounded too scripted, too sound-bitey and don't you know they are the ones that wound up in the trailer. What I didn't like: The third act, the pacing was way off, there was a real lack of urgency and energy and I think it was a causality of the June 24 release date. I'll be curious to see how this section looks on DVD. And finally,


--- SPOILER ALERT ---

I have mixed feelings about the zombie (r)evolution. For me it changed the dynamic completely and made the zombies less frightening. If this idea is carried on to the point where the zombies are talking and really getting organized, then you might as well just have human against human (and then of course the whole metaphor falls apart). There were also small, sloppy bits here and there like the skateboard kid wearing earphones, alone on the wrong side of the fence and the ease with which the zombies broke through the city's defenses, but all in all it is a good ride. Just checked box office numbers and Land has scored $10.2 million on it's opening weekend, not bad for a $15 million film. Wonder what George will do for the sequel.