DVD Review Of Dawn Of The Dead
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 4/27/06
Ok, so the 2004 Zack Snyder remake of George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead is better than his own fourth Dead movie, Land Of The Dead, but it’s still not nearly as good as the original 1978 Dawn Of The Dead. The basic problem is that the film violates its own universe’s rules so many times that the film falls apart narratively. One can get away with things that are illogical in real life, but not according to the film’s own precepts. In contrast to the Romero canon, zombies in this film can run like Olympic sprinters. Why? No reason except the financial success of the British zombie film 28 Days. Also, in the Romero canon, anyone who dies becomes a zombie, whereas in this film you are zombified only by a bite. Yet, if so, how did the first zombie, Zombie Zero, come to be?
That said, this film is not bad, merely a solid action/horror flick that follows the same general pattern as the original Dawn Of The Dead, except that instead of four survivors in a mall there are a dozen or so. Illogic rules, as in all horror and sci fi films, and the plot is propelled by the characters doing the dumbest things possible, such as the climactic scene where they make a dash from the mall to a marina to head for an island they think will be safe haven. But, why do they leave? Because one character, Kenneth the cop (Ving Rhames), doesn’t want to die in the mall. Yet, it’s clear that weeks, if not a few months have passed, and without food, the zombies’ flesh would decay and they would wither to nothingness. Surely, the survivors could just wait out the zombies? These flaws rest with screenwriter James Gunn, and Snyder, who in the film’s commentary track seems to toss things in for their ‘wow’ or ‘cool’ factor alone.
In the original film, the four survivors became overconfident, and that
was their undoing, as only two barely made it away in a helicopter, to an
uncertain future. In this version, the few who make it to the boat, are greeted
by almost certain death at the island they land on, as their boat is out of gas.
There are some solid performances, like from Sarah Polley as the lead female,
Ana, whom we first encounter in the film. She’s a nurse who finds the coming
plague perplexing, to say the least. She’s also the closest thing to a
political message in this film- as an unabashed liberal concerned with the
ethics of killing infected people. In the original there was multitudinous shots
at consumerism in virtually every shot of the film. The film is set in
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but was shot at an abandoned mall in Toronto, Canada.
Other characters include Michael (Jake Weber), and Andre (Mekhi Phifer), whose
trying to care of his pregnant Russian bride wife, Luda (Inna Korobkina). This
fact sets up the almost Alien-like site of a zombie baby being born to
the zombie mother, with Andre deludedly going murderously mad in their defense.
Why? Not for character development, but because the idea of a zombie baby is
‘cool’. And how did he get to lock his wife away without Ana the nurse
attending this most critical of patients. Why not go all out and have zombie
breastfeeding and biting off nipples? That said, this film, in its theatrical
version, which I have on DVD, is surprisingly gore-less.
Of course, what would a zombie film be without humans who end up costing the lives of everyone? In the original it was a band of mercenary bikers whose stupidity and greed doomed them all. In this film it’s three idiotic mall guards: CJ (Michael Kelly), Terry (Kevin Zegers), and Bart (Michael Barry). The newcomers who arrive at the mall, in a truck, include a wiseass, Steve (Ty Burrell), a sex bomb blond Monica (Kim Poirier), a father and daughter, Frank (Matt Frewer- yes, the original Max Headroom!) and Nicole (Lindy Booth), Feminazi icon Norma (Jayne Eastwood), and the level-headed Tucker (Boyd Banks).
In the Romero canon the dead rise due to a virus brought back from a Venus probe in the original Night Of The Living Dead. This film owes no allegiance to that canon, though, and why the dead rise- or thee bitten and dead, is never made clear. But, it does not matter, for, lacking a social context, the dead here could as well be Aliens from that film franchise. They are merely a generic threat, not a social metaphor. Unless, one wants to see this film in a post-9/11 context, where the zombies represent the collapse of civilization due to some external means. But, that’s a thin way to try to prop up the screenplay’s flaws- and by that I don’t mean the argument over whether the dead can run. I can accept that if the dead can rise and become cannibals, due to a virus, the fact of whether they walk or run is not central to the premise. My major problem is that there really is no sense in caring for any of these characters because the script telegraphs a) its pessimism, and b) never makes any of them more than stock characters, at best, and caricatures, at worst.
The extras are quite good, and some, in a sense, provide a de facto extension of the film. In one extra we see videotaped evidence of the survivor in the gun store- Andy. In the film he’s eventually done in by starvation, then the zombies, but here we see his last days on videotape. We also have a feature of news reports, and some narrated deleted scenes, a trailer, and a hit and miss fellatio-filled commentary track with director Snyder and producer Eric Newman, as well as some DVD-ROM features. For fans of the Romero canons there are a few cool cameos by Tom Savini (Romero’s original makeup man), and Scott Reiniger and Ken Foree, from the original Dawn Of The Dead, with Reiniger as a military man interviewed on television, and Foree as a televangelist repeating his famed declamation from the original, ‘When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.’ This, and a bevy of other little ‘moments’, is enough for me to recommend the film as a solid reinterpretation of the superior original, despite its reliance on the ‘humans are their own worst enemies’ mantra, although the DVD features make this a much stronger recommendation for those zombiephiles out there.
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