LAND OF THE DEAD
Fans of horror films already know the name
George Romero well. The man pretty much changed the face of that genre
in 1968 with his masterpiece NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The film
defined the zombie character, establishing rules for what they do and how to
stop them. It also contained some interesting social commentary within
it's storytelling. George followed NIGHT with two sequels,
DAWN OF THE DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD. Since then there have
been several attempts to duplicate or just pay homage to what Romero created.
But many still feel that he's the only one who ever truly got it right.
Now the man who started it all is back to present what the studio calls his
"ultimate zombie masterpiece" in LAND OF THE DEAD.
film opens with a montage of images and sound clips that basically recap
what's been happening up until now. Flesh-hungry zombies are taking over
the earth. A small group of survivors have holed up in a city surrounded
by rivers, which seem to keep most of the undead away. There are three
types of people living in this city: the rich, the poor, and the armed
military types who kill zombies whenever time permits. Everything is
controlled by a man named Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), who sits atop a high tower
in the middle of the downtown area. Those who meet his elite criteria
are allowed to live inside the building as well. Kaufman routinely sends
out his armed forces to protect the city, and observe the surrounding areas.
This team is lead by Riley (Simon Baker), who is about to retire. Riley
constructed a train-like rolling fortress called Dead Reckoning, which his
team uses to get around without falling victim to the zombie threat.
They do things like launch fireworks into the sky, which distracts the zombies
long enough for them to steal supplies from leftover stores outside the city.
Some of the men let their greed get the better of them, like Cholo (John
Leguizamo), who plunders liquor stores instead of just getting the bare
necessities. Up until now things have worked out, at least the way
Kaufman wants them to. But the zombies appear to be getting smarter.
Aside from many of them carrying out traits from their former lives, one in
particular (a gas station attendant named Big Daddy, played by Eugene Clark)
has apparently become aware of what's going on, and decides to lead his fellow
undead in a march after the men who threaten his kind. Inside the city,
there is also unrest amongst the poor people living on the streets, who want
to revolt against the upper class, if only they had the power to do so.
As the zombie army moves closer, things begin to unravel within the community.
Cholo steals Dead Reckoning, and threatens to destroy the Kaufman tower.
So Riley must go after him, and stop whatever he has planned. With it's
greatest weapon in the hands of the wrong man, can the city possibly survive
the impending doom headed their way?
zombie films. To me they're fun and scary, and usually very
entertaining. This movie has several great moments in it. The
zombie attacks are ultra-violent, and done in many unique ways. Another
great aspect of the film is that it manages to do several unexpected things,
keeping us wondering what will happen next. But unfortunately the end
result is little more than cool moments spread throughout a pretty standard
horror flick. The characters are pretty well thought-out, just not very
well executed. Simon Baker, the hero of the film, just isn't that
interesting. Watching him act is like watching paint dry. Where is
the intensity a man like this should have? Asia Argento shows up as a
tough bad girl type who allies with Baker, but surprisingly she never does
anything too great either. Robert Joy plays a mentally challenged friend
of Riley's, who despite being slow is one heck of a good shot with a rifle.
He's not bad, but like many of the characters just doesn't have enough to do.
John Leguizamo turns in the most effective performance in the film.
Perhaps it's because of the way his character was written. He gets the
best chance to actually exhibit some emotions, and thankfully he does it
pretty well. Dennis Hopper is pretty much a by-the-numbers baddie.
It's the same old rich guy atop his tower character we've seen countless times
before. Granted he's a pretty mean dude, but it's just too familiar to
stand out in a film like this. I was very impressed with Eugene Clark as
the lead zombie. Keep in mind it's hard to make an impression when all
you can do is shuffle and moan, but Clark really pulls off his part well.
I actually bought into the idea that this guy had become aware, and was
adapting to fight the men who threatened him. There are some cool
supporting characters, like a big guy named Pillsbury, played by Pedro Miguel
Ace. He's a fun character, and one of the better characters in the film,
even if he's not in it all that much. One of the coolest moments in the
movie is a cameo by make-up legend Tom Savini, who you'll wish was in it
longer... at least I did.
Simon Baker and Dennis Hopper
confer in LAND OF THE DEAD.
All of the gore effects were great. Greg Nicotero handled the make-up
here, and once again has proven himself to be a competent genius in that
department. There are a few moments that will really have your stomach
turning, but not in a bad way. I mean after all, we're supposed to be
sickened by what these zombies are doing, right? Every zombie death is
carefully played to full effect. When they get shot in the head, it's
intense and bloody. Heads explode when bullets hit them, and many of the
kills are played to graphic extremes. I think the biggest problem here
is that Romero is trying to inject too much social commentary in the story.
Instead of just having the humans versus the zombies, we have to endure the
varying classes of humans and the effects the zombies have on them. It's
too much exposition for what should be a very simple situation. One
refreshing aspect was the visual characterization of the zombies, and being
able to tell what they once were as normal people. That's something I
thought was handled well, and makes for a more interesting experience. I
like the fact that George Romero tries to make his stories layered and
interesting, but in this instance it's too complicated for it's own good.
The directing is pretty decent, and paces the film well, but there are a few
moments where you long for some more dramatic shots, like what you could
expect from today's hot young directors. Perhaps the most disappointing
and unforgivable aspect of this movie is it's horrible ending. I could
not believe George Romero would use an ending like it. It's so wrong for
this film, I'm convinced the studio must have had a hand in it.
Overall LAND OF THE DEAD is still pretty entertaining. Parts of
it are actually great, but on the whole it's not what it could've been.
I mean come on, this was supposed to be Romero's big finish. I expected
a better experience from the film. What I got was a satisfactory
feeling, which left me wanting something better. I think this is the
problem with our "legendary" directors these days. When you talk about
guys like George Romero, John Carpenter, and even George Lucas for that
matter, you must understand that they'll never be as good as they were when
they first impressed us. Part of it is they're dated in style, and
another part of it is they're constantly trying to live up to what they're
best known for. It's a losing battle for these guys, and in many ways a
losing battle for us too. I'll always respect them for what they've
done, but I can't promise to love what they're doing now. Horror movies
these days keep trying to raise the bar. You can't do the same old
scares anymore, because people want everything to be bigger and better.
I often go back and watch the horror films of the good old days, and while I
still appreciate them, that kind of movie is just not what audiences want now.
In the instance of LAND OF THE DEAD, I can say I liked it. But I
certainly can't say I loved it.
BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of
1 to 10, 10 being the best, I give LAND OF THE DEAD a 7.
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