Saturday, April 5, 2008
Land of the Dead (2005)
Land of the Dead is George Romero's return to the zombie films that made him a household name, after a twenty-year sabbatical away from the genre to pursue other projects like Monkey Shines and Bruiser. Released on June 24, 2005, it opened to a respectable 10 million dollar weekend in 2200 theaters and took in 45 million dollars worldwide. Critics received it pretty well too. And yet I see it garner far more hate than it deserves around the Internet. What's the problem here, then?
What Turned Them Away?
- Revisionist zombies. A lot of George Romero/zombie movie fans really dislike Land of the Dead - as far as high-profile zombie movies go, it is by far the most maligned. One of the big reasons, as far as I can see, is the distinct set of changes made to the zombie itself. Previously a non-functional, shambling undead husk, the creature begins to develop a whole new skillset in Land of the Dead...tool use, primitive thought/reasoning, and analytical ability, to name a few. I myself see no problem in George Romero making this type of change to a monster that he single-handedly popularized anyway. Though it may not have been his change to make, who's going to contest him? It's not like it was that blind of a retcon anyway - look at Bud, from Day of the Dead. And further, the plot simply would not have worked with conventional zombies, which I'll get into a bit more later. To me, it seems perfectly natural that a zombie should be able to restore some of its lost processing abilities, but I guess the more hardcore zombie fans felt otherwise.
- Change in genre. This movie is not Dawn of the Dead! Let's face it - there is very, very little room for horror in the zombie genre anymore. They've become more campy than creepy. Romero was perfectly aware of that when he made this movie, and revised it as such. Instead of the conventional horror movies that Night, Dawn and Day were, he produced a gory action movie with a few scary touches and an exponentially high body count. Again, a step in a different direction, which I don't feel should be viewed as a flaw.
- Perceived lack of quality. Okay, so the special effects kind of suck. I can't argue that. It's the price Romero paid for taking a 20-year break from an effects-driven subgenre. But really, is it that huge of a deal? Are people seriously trying this hard to suspend disbelief while watching a zombie movie?
What Should Have Kept Them?
+ Same ol' zombie fun. Even if the movie itself is a lot less dark than Romero's previous forays, Land of the Dead is still an entertaining vehicle for undead carnage. The setting is very new for the genre; it's a post-apocalyptic, almost cyberpunk movie, and there's not much else cooler than zombie dystopia. The conflict, a battle between sequestered rich-man's haven Fiddler's Green and the slums of what's left of the world, may be somewhat predictable, but watching it come to a close is more than satisfying. Fiddler's Green is a near-impenetrable fortress...to the lesser zombies. Their development of intelligence is something that bad old Dennis Hopper never saw coming, and that much-maligned change in the zombie canon was a necessity for the final showdown. Even before the zombie war, the movie is littered with gory, exciting sequences. George Romero really knows his craft.
I'll never understand some of the snobbery over, of all things, zombie movies. In my opinion, it's one of the most harmless and fun genres of films ever. The balance between camp, violence and giddy horror that a good zombie movie reaches is downright blissful; Land of the Dead and its ilk make great movies to watch with friends, maybe after a few drinks.
+ Asia Argento. Okay, maybe not this reason so much as the other one. She's a decent actress at best, but she has ****loads of presence. Whenever she's on screen she's the first character you look at and listen to. This, I think, is partly because she's hot and partly because she's just damn interesting. Look for her in three 2008 movies, all of which sound to be at least entertaining.
I wouldn't call Land of the Dead a perfect movie, but then again it doesn't need to be. The writing's a bit heavy, the CGI is obvious, and of course it's not really a patch on Dawn of the Dead. It does stand on two very strong decayed legs as an excursion into the action-horror-zombie genre, however, and you can't say no to the return of an old master.