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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Day 199: Land Of The Dead

Land Of The Dead
Hands Across America was a complete success

I love zombie movies. Until recently, zombies were only for the serious horror fans. They were not dangerously romantic like vampire movies and didn't have the classic pedigree of werewolves or even mummies. Zombies are special because anyone can become one. There is no reasoning with a zombie, no cutting a deal to let you live. Zombie movies boil down to the basic animal instinct of survival and self preservation. The king of the zombie movie is George Romero. His original trilogy of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead is perhaps the best horror trilogy ever. It's mixture of violence, blood, social commentary, and smart writing gave it a gritty realism not too common in movies. A few year ago, I was overjoyed to hear that he would be making another zombie movie. Would it live up to the first three?

Land Of The Dead is a 2005 zombie movie starring Simon Baker (The Mentalist, Red Planet) as Riley Denbo. Three years after the zombie outbreak spread across the globe and crippled the United States, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has become a haven for survivors. Surrounded by rivers on three sides and an electrified fence on the fourth, the city is divided among the haves, who live in luxury within a tower called Fiddler's Green, and the have-nots who live in the streets and scrape by just trying to survive. The city is run by a wealthy businessman named Mr. Kaufman (Dennis Hopper, Easy Rider, Speed) who also owns a heavily armored truck called Dead Reckoning which goes through the towns outside the wall, killing zombies and bring back supplies. On a trip outside the city, Riley observes a zombie with the nametag “Big Daddy” remembering and learning things. He even sees Big Daddy communicate with other zombies. Riley is the recently retired commander of Dead Reckoning when he sees a woman named Slack (Asia Argento, xXx, Transylvania) being used as bate for zombies in a gambling event. Along with his friend and partner Charlie (Robert Joy, Fallen, The Hills Have Eyes), Riley rescues Slack, but all three are arrested. Meanwhile, Dead Reckoning's second in command, Cholo (John Leguizamo, Summer of Sam, Assault On Precinct 13) has stolen the vehicle because Kaufman refused to let him purchase an apartment in Fiddler's Green. Cholo, along with the crew, plan to shell the city if Kaufman does not pay a ransom. Kaufman employs Riley, Charlie, and Slack to get Dead Reckoning back in exchange for their freedom. At the same time horde of zombies, led by Big Daddy, cross the river and launch an attack on the city. Will Riley and his group be able to get Dead Reckoning back and save the city before it's too late?

So many zombies, so little time

Land Of The Dead has all the calling cards of a George Romero zombie movie. There is lots of fun, creative violence with loads of blood and gore. There is a good amount of action throughout the movie with lots of gunfire and flesh-eating. The movie creatively uses fireworks, dubbed Sky Flowers) to distract zombies. Next 4th of July, take a look at the people around you watching fireworks. They look just like the zombies in the movie. Of course this ruined fireworks for me, but that's is fine. Sometimes you need to see something else to see yourself. The zombies look great with a mixture of traditional make-up and computerized effects. Some may complain about zombies using items such as tools and weapons, but it is important to keep in mind that Romero already touched about this concept in Day Of The Dead. This is not something new, but if you haven't seen the previous movies, you may not pick up on all the references and nods. There are plenty of jokes as well, making for a close, fun watch.

More importantly, thought, the movie is full of smart social commentary. The movie shows the reality of American life, perhaps even moreso now than in 2005. With the economy being sluggish, the rise of the Occupy movement and corporation being declared “people,” Land Of The Dead is full of apt analogies and satirical metaphors. Zombie movies work the best when there is a true enemy other than just the zombies. The story itself is decent, but doesn't really live up to the previous three movies. I think the movie focuses too much on Dead Reckoning and not enough on human emotion. Kaufman is a good villain with the combination of his ruthlessness and disconnect with the real world. He's sort of like Mitt Romney without the Reed Richards hair. Dennis Hopper plays his part convincingly well. John Leguizamo does well as Cholo and I wouldn't mind seeing him in more serious roles. 

Fight the zombies or go to Cleveland? Tough choice!

If anyone knows how to make a zombie movie, it's George Romero. Land Of The Dead keeps with the themes of the previous “...Of The Dead” movies and expands it for a wider audience. By doing this, the movie does lose a bit of the spark that made Romero movies so special. It is a fun zombie movie, but it doesn't reach the greatness that we have come to expect. Perhaps Land Of The Dead is one of those movies that needs to be watched over a period of years so that it ages like a fine wine. It is a fun movie with all the things we love in zombie movies. Maybe one day, it will be a great movie.


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