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Zombies: We do more before 8:00 AM than
most people do all day

Land of the Dead
(Hollywood remake or sequel, or film based on a comic book, book, play or video game # 32, since January 1st, 2005. Click for full list of Hollywood's lack of original ideas.)
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Some time ago  ...

Universal used to have that black and white globe with the fake looking miniature plane flying around it (I still say you can see the wire).  Low-budget horror movies were filmed in black and white, even though most films had moved on to color.  And Night of the Living Dead gave millions of horny teenagers a movie so good, they actually went to the drive-in theater to watch it, rather than feel each other up.  This is where Land of the Dead begins.  It's in gritty black and white (at least for the first couple of minutes) and the fancy new CG Universal logo is ditched for the old-fashioned one with the little toy airplane.  We hear news reports of the walking dead.  We see quick glimpses of the zombies of yesteryear eating the flesh of their living counterparts.  And then we move on to ...      


Today zombies have evolved.  They're not engaging one another in stimulating conversation, but their intelligence has risen to the level of your average Vin Diesel fan or NASCAR dad.  We're quickly introduced to a sort of Alpha zombie.  He seems to be the smartest, because he roars like the Incredible Hulk a lot and likes to pretend he's pumping gas for customers.  At the same time, humans have learned to co-exist with the walking dead -- or at least ignore them.  While the upper-class live in a protected urban environment, a group of middle-men fight with the zombies to get various supplies to bring to the rich folk.  The zombies are getting pretty sick of being treated as second-hand citizens, and the middle-men aren't much happier about their own situation.  Only the suit-and-tie urbanites remain unaware of the conflict, misery, jealousy and hate that their comfortable, cushy lives are causing all around them.

War on terror

Today's political message is ... the war on terror is a waste of time (or at least it's being improperly conducted)!  Early on in the movie, a lower-class citizen wonders if the extraordinary amount of security used to prevent the zombies from infiltrating the city is keeping the zombies out, or trapping the humans in.  Later in the film, his question is answered, and it wasn't the zombies that had to worry.  The other issues the film's writer and director, George A. Romero addresses are immigration (one character, who's headed for Canada, says, regarding the zombies, something like, "let them be -- they're just looking for a place to go, like us.") and the homelessness crisis.  The impoverished are kept down by the vices (drugs, gambling) provided to them by George Bush this rich industrialist (Dennis Hopper, totally camping it up), to keep them too occupied to question how unfair it is that a small amount of people have all the wealth, while they are living in the streets.  The zombies, headed by that roaring Hulk dude, aren't sedated with drugs, but with fireworks (known as "sky flowers").  The sky flowers keep them too occupied to figure out that the city-dwellers' exorbitant lifestyle is the reason for the zombie's miserable existence.  These zombies (in the film they're called something like, "stenches") are essentially in possession of all the goods that are then taken from them and given to the wealthy handful of people living in their industrialized nation ivory tower.     

Not exactly subtle   

The political messages in the film are less allegorical and more public service.  This leads to the main problem with Land of the Dead -- it's rushed.  Romero has always taken the time to slowly introduce us to his themes, his characters and his zombie-infested world.  In this movie, he's somewhere between Romero of old and the newest hip "fresh from MTV" director-of-the-week.  The film is "Zombie-Lite."  It's similar in feel, not to Romero's original Dawn of the Dead, but to Zack Snyder's remake of Dawn of the Dead.  I liked Snyder's remake (blasphemy, I know) quite a bit.  It was a big, loud, punk-rock, zombie-lovin' orgy.  Was it as good as Romero's Dawn?  No.  Sad to report, it's a better film than Land of the Dead

Sold his soul for Universal?

I'm guessing Romero agreed to bring his film in at around 90 minutes, in exchange for Universal's funding.  With Dawn of the Dead running 139 minutes and Day of the Dead coming in at 102, the 93 minutes that is Land of the Dead feels condensed.  Like the abridged version of a much better Romero film.  Especially when you consider that Romero seemed to have more to work with in this picture than he did in any of the previous Dead movies.   So many near brilliant ideas are introduced, only to peter out.  The studio already insisted on an "R" rating, which severely cut down on the gore level of the flick (watch Dawn or Day right after watching Land, and you'll be astounded over how tame this movie is, in comparison) -- couldn't they, at the very least, have let the man explore the plot he developed, rather than limiting him to an outline?

Who cares?

Of course the first thing to go, in this abbreviated version of Romero's vision, is the character development and the horror.  You may jump a couple of times, but you will never be scared in this film.  Why?  Because you don't care about a single character in the movie.  There is no slow, painful zombie transition to be found.  One character, before turning, says, "I've always wanted to know how the other half lives."  So, we get a joke out of it, laugh a little and the next time we see him he's already turned into the walking dead.  Showing the fear and pain of turning (something even the Dawn of the Dead remake managed to include) would take too much time away from the comedy and action.  Other than a quick zombie chomp to the neck and some spraying blood, we never see the suffering and pain that a zombie bite can cause.  The other problem, one that started with Day of the Dead, is that Romero wants you to root for the zombies.  That begs the question ...

If you're rooting for the monster, who the hell are you supposed to be afraid of?

Major spoilers contained in the next two sections of this review.  If you'd like to avoid the spoilers, skip to the "But, until the end ..." section of this review.

Romero has gotten so caught up in making his zombies the poor unfortunates, he doesn't have the balls to let them kill off a single one of the good guys.  Conveniently, the zombies attack nameless extras and some of the nastier bad guys, but avoid ever hurting the heroes.  This isn't the same Romero that had the one remaining survivor in Night of the Living Dead getting shot down in the final moments, by overzealous redneck cops.  This is the new "MTV-ready" Romero.  He's so concerned with getting his message across -- that of treating people like equals and giving everyone a fair share of the pie -- he forgets he's making a horror movie.  The film's ending caused the entire audience to let out an audible groan.  All the zombies, who had just torn apart a city (literally), are walking into the newly vacated area and one of the good guys is ready to shoot them down with a shitload of missiles.  The hero of the film looks through his binoculars and sees the alpha Hulk zombie looking back at him.  He decides there's no reason to shoot and gives a little speech addressing a future of peace and harmony between zombie and man.  I was waiting for the "ding, ding, ding" sound and a "The More You Know" logo to pop up.  The guy even goes so far as to order all of the fireworks/sky flowers shot off into the air.  "We won't be needing them anymore," he tells his friends.  I was seriously waiting for the alpha zombie to smile, wink and pop out a roll of Mentos, before our heroes drove off into the sunset firework-emblazoned sky. 

How it should have ended 

Romero should have let the guy give his speech.  He should have let the Alpha Incredible Hulk zombie and the human hero have their Mentos moment.  And then, just as the guy smiles and says they don't need the sky flowers anymore, he should have had a zombie jump up and tear the dude's neck out.  Blood sprays, freeze-frame, go to credits.  That would have had the audience cheering like never before and would have made the film an extra 20-30 million dollars.  But Romero's heart doesn't seem to be in that dark place anymore.  So we get what was quite possibly the lousiest ending to any horror movie in history.     

But, until the end ...

The movie's entertaining, but it's empty. Don't go in expecting the depressing, disturbing, substantive Romero you knew from the first 3 Dead films. Land of the Dead is a light, fast, comedy/action/horror movie, with almost no horror and almost all comedy and action.  There are a couple of scenes where humans are shown mistreating their dead counterparts.  In one, people take pictures in front of chained up zombies.  In another, people use zombies as roosters in a sort of living dead cockfight.  The alpha Hulk zombie roars when he sees other zombies hanging upside down with targets on them.  But that's it, as far as anything dark and disturbing.  The rest of the film is basically Lethal Weapon 2, or Blade -- full of funny one-liners and ass-kicking action.  The kids will love it.  Unfortunately for the studio, the audience at the screening I attended averaged about 30 years in age.  Those diehards, such as me, who have been waiting for this movie for years, are going to be left disappointed.  It was thought that George A. Romero would save the weakening horror genre.  Instead, he joined it.

Here's to a 2 hour, gore-filled uncut DVD Director's Edition!  Available to buy, now!

Agree? Disagree? Have questions?  Comments?  Email this critic at alex@juicycerebellum.com

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