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June 24, 2005

Land of the Dead

George Romero - 2005
35 mm movie

Today I did my part to help Hollywood out of the box office slump. If anybody deserves opening weekend success, certainly George Romero is worthy. Land of the Dead is one of the most satisfying films I've seen in a while.

Admittedly I was hooked from the opening credit with the classic Universal logo from about seventy years ago with the airplane flying around the world. The sound and image montage at the beginning sets up the story in addition to paying tribute to the original Night of the Living Dead. From there we follow a team of zombie hunters and their tank like vehicle called Dead Reckoning.

What makes this film fun to watch is Romero's evolution of his zombies. Danny Boyle made the zombies of 28 Days Later fast. Romero's zombies have become smart. They still move slowly. In the opening scenes we see the zombies are pretty much like the ones portrayed in Dawn of the Dead, acting out of habit when not chomping on unlucky live people. One of the zombies, Big Daddy, is introduced stumbling out of the gas station he operated when he was alive. He witnesses other zombies killed around him and cries out in heartfelt pain. The zombies are normally slaughtered at night, distracted by the sight of fireworks. While Romero doesn't explain things (nor should he), Big Daddy discovers his ability to communicate with and organize the zombies. Eventually the zombies learn how to use tools and weapons. For me, the best and most inventive scene showed the zombies walking through a river that had until then kept them a safe distance from the city where the humans were barricaded. The actor who played Big Daddy, Eugene Clark, has done the kind of performance that perhaps only Romero would envision: a soulful zombie.

In a scene taking place in the city, Romero playfully pays a kind of return tribute to the makes of the Shaun of the Dead. Not only are the filmmakers included, but Romero further elaborates on the domesticating of zombies as seen in Shaun. But what makes Land of the Dead a success is that Romero has created a film with a budget more substantial than before to develop the themes of his previous films with the benefits of a more polished look.

In discussing his newest film, Romero was interviewed at horrorchannel.com. "Initially it was about ignoring the problem, ignoring social ills like homelessness and AIDS and just telling people, "Don't worry about it, that's their problem" and I think this is more impactful. I don't try to put it right in your face, I just try to get it in there. Maybe it's a little too on the nose when he says, "We don't negotiate with terrorists". I have to say somebody noticed. A reporter I talked to earlier today said, "Boy that truck, when it comes down that little street in that town, you just can't help but think of Iraq". So I guess the stuff does get noticed but I try not to put it right up in there."

The above quote helps illustrate why Land of the Dead is more than a great genre film. Romero has added a poignancy that one usually doesn't expect in zombie movies. Even the living dead are appear at moments to be sympathetic. One actually is thrilled to see the working class Big Daddy take on Dennis Hopper's Kaufman, a corporate leader who believes he is protected by his money and mercenaries.

George Romero not only has brought his zombies back to life, but for me has brought back the joy in film going.

Posted by peter at June 24, 2005 05:28 PM