Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

How was it?


It's kind of difficult to explain.

The movie itself, is definitely better than, say, Resident Evil, which I basically enjoyed. As a scary, gross-out, thrill-ride action-horror movie, it works. Definitely.

There are much worse zombie movies that I've watched and thrilled to. Mind you, some of them got bonus points for being made on low budgets and/or with an inexperienced crew. This is from Universal Pictures, it gets no such slack.

There are too many characters for any of them to quite shine, but a couple of the actors are very charismatic... especially the always super-motherfuckin'-cool Ving Rhames in a pathetically underwritten part. In fact, aside from a very nice bit with the always brilliant Matt Frewer, almost all attempts at character development clink terribly and create bigger plotholes than were needed.

A too clever for its own good insertion of a lounge cover of Disturbed's "Down With The Sickness" made the whole theater - myself included - laugh, but distracted from a rather important montage and with lyrics that played directly to the moment and music that played ironically against it, there was no clear artistic intent. I suspect someone just thought it was funny, which it is, and put it on without regard for the potential benefit/harm ratio to the film as a whole. For the record, the song is by Richard Cheese & Lounge Against The Machine and is available on their second album. As a record on its own, I'm sure it's hysterical.

Not to mention the horror movie feeling of not knowing who might die when is gone in favor of the action movie telegraphing. It's this kind of change of style that makes Aliens an action movie in a horror motif, while Alien is safely a horror movie. Knowing who will live and die, even if subconciously, makes it difficult to be truly terrified.

It wisely tries to distance itself from the original, using none of the same characters or even more than a skeleton of the story. Some of the original parts are the highlights, such as the gun store owner across the street who becomes the most oddly endearing character in the film. His storyline devolves into a major plot hole and an incredibly pathetic bit of body makeup before it concludes, though. Other stories have potential but never develop, such as the former thug and his pregnant wife, and also ultimately devolve into a predictable conclusion and bad special effects.

The only thing that makes this truly troublesome as a bit of buttery popcorn zombie delight is the fact that its very being invites comparison to the original film. George A. Romero's Dawn Of The Dead is a great movie. It is exciting, powerful, moving, funny and terrifying. It also has something to say.

This remake wants all of the trappings without the substance, and yet it makes enough references that you can't help being hungry for the substance.

In the original, Stephen answers the question of why the zombies come to the mall by saying, "Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives."

This is a statement of purpose. We are the zombies. We are burning a need to go to the mall so deep into our brains that we're already mindlessly going to it.

In the remake this becomes a much more abstract list of possibilities from memory to just sensing there are people there to eat. This essentially means nothing. We could've figured that out ourselves.

The segment where time passes shows little comfort, understanding of the bizarre comforts of a deserted mall, sense of humor or meaning. In the original, they settle in, begin to feel oddly at home and they consume with a lusty joy. This sequence was nicely borrowed in 28 Days Later for its own purposes, but done here mostly to show the passage of time and a rather crass but uninteresting sex scene.

The wonderful cameo by Tom Savini that evokes the ending of Night Of The Living Dead while giving fans a moment to cheer and nice bit of cameo characterization, mostly underscores the necessity of the biker gang to the original film. That's where the outside world and the chaos created there comes up and shows them how consumed they've become with the comforts of material.

The zombies themselves are much more Danny Boyle than Romero, from their symptoms to their actions. This could've been fine, I'm sure. I loved Boyle's movie, but he made clear that he was re-evaluating the genre through a mix of the new through the skeleton of the old - the film very clearly moves through the original trilogy in its story: from abandoned house to wild excess to a military base - while this seems content to merely, well, feast on the flesh of the original without utilizing any of the soul that makes it such an enduring work.

All I can say is that the action scenes are wonderfully chaotic, exciting and cool. I enjoyed the experience of watching it a lot. In the end, I was left with more disappointment than pleasure... except for the sweet, sweet t-shirt I caught after the intern from an incongruous sponsoring radio station gave up on asking questions about his radio station and college sports.

My only conclusion of whether others should bother seeing it are simple. The thrill ride will work a lot better on the big screen than they would on video, where the flaws would likely shine through the cracks more during the experience. Not only that, it's hard not to hope that a big showing for this would improve the chances Romero will get funding to get Dead Reckoning made and made properly. That could be wishful thinking, though. It may only make it more likely someone will make an entertaining but ultimately mediocre and hollow remake of Day Of The Dead.

We'll see.

For now, I await the 4-disk set of the original that Anchor Bay is supposed to have out before the year is out. Three seperate, legitimate versions of the original film and more. It should lead to me having one weird weekend. For now, there's a new single disk out with a commentary for me to sit and enjoy as well as the commentary for Day Of The Dead. I should be able to get my zombie on just fine without this.

And, no, I'm not bitter that it stole the opening to my zombie screenplay. 28 Days Later already took the end - and executed it better than I probably would have - and I have only good things to say about it.

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