DAWN OF THE DEAD
George A. Romero started his legendary "Dead" trilogy in 1968 with the low-budget but incredibly effective, shocking, and edgy film known as "Night of the Living Dead". In it, the outbreak begins as we meet a group of people trapped in a house where the flesh-eating undead linger outside attempting to break in and get them.
"Night of the Living Dead" became a fixture of horror films and ended up becoming like salt; everyone has at least a couple of them in every home, and it's impossible to imagine anything without it; hell without realizing it even I have three copies of my own. George A. Romero perfected the sub-genre of zombie movies and practically created what would become a fixture in horror movies. He even implants his social commentary presenting the times in the shocking final ten minutes of the film which I won't ruin it for you.
In 1978, Romero followed up his classic with an even bigger horror hit known as "Dawn of the Dead" this time showing the world only weeks after the outbreak where the world is now over taken by the undead and carnage ensues as people struggle to comprehend what is happening and how it happened. "Dawn of the Dead" was a gripping and shocking film with intelligence giving commentary about war, religion, murder, capitalism, and modern consumers through zombies which are allegory's for his message.
He later finished his trilogy with 1985's "Day of the Dead", the lesser received of the three. Being such a fan of the original 1978 film, I was against a remake, and after talks of turning the remake into a PG-13 fiasco, later scrapped and turned into an R film, I was ready to crucify this without even watching it, and after watching the first teaser trailer, I dismissed this solely as a "28 Days Later" rip-off with the "Dawn of the Dead" title on it, then after I viewed the second teaser trailer, I began wondering if maybe my pre-conceived notions were off.
Fans of George A. Romero's film experienced a similar incident with the 1990 remake of the 1968 horror classic "Night of the Living Dead", but the film, directed by makeup master and friend of Romero's Tom Savini, was equal to the original product, and in some ways superior. After watching this film I soon learned that I was wrong about my first thoughts and had one hell of a time.
For the record, fans of the original might not respond to this with an open-mind simply because of the drastic changes added to the characters, plot, and delivery; but my suggestion is to approach this with an open mind and explore the possibility of enjoying this. After a long shift at a hospital a young nurse named Ana returns home to her husband for a night of love-making and a relaxing weekend...if only she'd paid attention to the numerous attack victims entering the hospital, and the emergency broadcasts on the radio and television. She awakens to horror when her young neighbor attacks her husband who also begins attacking her. She manages to escape their attacks and looks out onto a war zone in her neighborhood where people are running back and forth attacking one another.
In a desperate attempt to escape the confusing carnage she accidentally crashes her car and stumbles upon Kenneth, a security officer and a slew of other survivors. They flee to the local mall where they set up camp and must hold up against the thousands of zombies waiting outside the door, but as they attempt to escape and flee to an island where they'll be in safety, they'll find the escape is harder than it looks. I found myself shocked and amazed at the sheer energy and polished decor presented in this. The opening is shocking and very tense as we watch Ana's husband get his neck torn out five minutes into the film. Director Snyder relies very heavily on tension and foreboding events to get the audience stirring in their seat. Right at the opener we watch the nonchalant Ana stagger around anxious to get home after a long shift while person after person is rushed into the emergency ward in critical condition instantly signaling to the audience something isn't right, though Ana doesn't catch on until it's too late.
For the lovers and hardcore fans of Romero's original film, I feel this should be given due process and not be automatically shun, because as a lover of the original and what it had to offer, this also had plenty to offer. Both openings of "Dawn of the Dead" are acceptable whether we watch a young girl nearly miss being attacked by two zombies and drive through the streets witnessing the shocking carnage, to SWAT teams invading an apartment complex taking on zombies and shooting them as they squirm to break free from body bags, I was rather amused and ate it up with a spoon (pun not intended).
Though director Snyder and Gunn (who wrote the infamous "Scooby-Doo" movie) give their own take on the tale, they also manage to pay respect to director George Romero with very subtle, almost miss-able homages to the original film. There are a lot of references here to the original film; in the opening of the original, a woman gets her shoulder bitten off by her zombie husband, in this, the character Louis gets his neck torn off by a zombie girl ten minutes in, one of the characters Luda is pregnant as was Francine in the original, and the scene with Matt Frewer and Ving Rhames waiting for him to turn is very reminiscent to the original where Peter is waiting for Roger to turn, and then there's the sick jokes involving music; Romero used skating rink carnival music to play with the audience, especially in the closing credits, and muzak is used here to a great and odd extent; it's nice to see writer Gunn and director Snyder actually paying tribute to the man known as Romero.
Also look for cameos from Tom Savini who plays a sheriff who is very educated in the zombies, look for cameos from the original cast including Ken Foree as a priest spouting the famous catchphrase: "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth", you can see the name Gaylen Ross up above the mirror in the scene where the character Monica is trying on the lingerie. Gaylen Ross played Francine in the original, and if you focus, you can see Scott Reineger, the guy who played the bad-ass Roger as a general on a television newscast giving an interview as the U.S. army is gathering behind him, and (this is odd), the trucks used in this are the same trucks the characters Roger and Peter used to block the malls entrances; weird but actually a very interesting meticulous detail.
The original classic had a small principal cast of likable characters: There was average Joe Stephen aka Flyboy, there was the older African American leader Peter, there was the pregnant and conflicted Francine, Stephen's wife, and then there was Roger, the kick ass young SWAT officer who was quick with the gun and never hesitated to take the zombies head on.
And the remake has a larger cast of characters that are easily memorable as well, and some are obviously just there to die but the characters are played by such a great cast of actors it's hard not to root for even the disposable characters. Aside from the disposable characters, the sexy girl Monica (Kim Poirer), the hillbilly Tucker, the crusty old lady, the security guards, and Matt Frewer's character, there are also some new addition of characters that are very memorable; there's the gangster Andre played by the always enjoyable Mekhi Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer gives an excellent performance as the unconventional gangster whose sole purpose is to protect his pregnant Russian girlfriend Luda.
Andre isn't your stereotypical gangster: he's very smart, very level-headed and is given a very tragic and heartbreaking subplot involving his girlfriend and his baby *hintzombiebabyhint*, there's the emotionally fragile Nicole (Lindy Booth) who forms a bond with the young security guard Terry (Kevin Zegers) and a dog named Chips, and then there's my three favorite characters: Michael, the humble salesman played by the always enjoyable Jake Weber who forms a romantic bond with the heroine Ana, there's the gun-toting, ass kicking, diesel security guard leader Kenneth played by bad mutha Ving Rhames, there hasn't been a movie yet that this guy wasn't enjoyable in, and he proves he's a very underrated actor rivaling the original hero Peter played by Ken Foree in the original film, and last but certainly not least there's the tough-as-nails, charming, and beautiful reluctant hero Ana played by gifted indie actress Sarah Polley whose previous film credits include the acclaimed "Weight of Water" and "My Life without me". She takes her first dip into the mainstream, and it's a rather risky one but she comes out of it unharmed giving a great performance as usual. She will no doubt gain new followers with this performance to her already large cult following.
From the heroes there are also some people to hate that make the situation more difficult including the gun-happy security guard CJ, and the smug sarcastic salesman Steve, but I found it very hard to dislike this guy because he was so damn funny and likable with some hilarious witty one-liners. What's interesting is that every character is a contradiction of the the next, which I wonder if that's what the writers had intended. There's Michael the humble salesman, then there's Steve the smug salesman, Andre the gangster, Ken the officer, Monica the seductive blonde extrovert, and Ana the reluctant introvert, there's CJ the obnoxious security guard, and there's Terry the likable young security guard. It's rather shocking upon realization to people who doubted the intelligence of this film.
There's a lot more subplots than the original had including, my favorite involving the character Andre and his pregnant girlfriend Luda who was scratched by a zombie and is turning quickly, then there's the charming subplot with Michael and Ana bonding romantically as they reach common ground, and there's a real touch of humanity in the film when the hero Kenneth sparks a friendship with a man named Andy who is marooned atop his gun shop across the parking lot. They communicate through marker board considering the fact that they may never talk in person and may as well be worlds away considering the sea of millions of zombies that are below them, and as Andy's food supply draws low, they must find a way to keep him from starving to death.
The original also managed to spark some original and creative subplots with the small cast including the character Francine and Stephen's relationship and the tension between them as Francine rebels their staying at the mall and wants to move on. Also, there are some truly great scenes where the group begins looting the stores though they have no use for most of the merchandise. They take watches despite the fact that time has no more meaning, they take jewelry despite the fact it means nothing, and (in my favorite clever scene) they walk into a bank, take all the money from it, and walk out casually, nodding at the hidden camera above. Purely witty and comical.
I really enjoyed the tension and teases from the director who really plays with the audience using sound and imagery to scare them out of their seats. The scene in the parking lot where the group has to re-fuel the generator is rather tense, and the scene in which the group attempts to bring food to the gun shop owner Andy is also edge of your seat suspenseful. I watched with wide-eyes and a hanging jaw and was satisfied in the end. Be sure to stay in your seat during the closing credits, and you'll learn the fate of the surviving characters and it's quite a surprise to see it become an homage to Fulci's "Zombie".
True, this film is a lot slicker than the original, but this lacks the truly sick and sometimes twisted satire and jabs that are in modern culture and the consumer era. In the original, the zombies hover around the mall for no particular reason; there's no need for any of them to be there, they have no use for anything in the mall, yet they still walk around, and even fight the survivors for control over it, for no particular reason except territorial purposes.
Then when the Utopia the four survivors build in the original, so enters a violent motorcycle gang who destroys everything and lets the zombies in. The mall in the original film was a character and a presence; the survivors and the zombies stood there and lived there amidst an endless supply of merchandise at their disposal. In the remake, the mall is simply a plot device and only half of the film takes place in the mall. In the original film, the mall was the central and pivotal surrounding, the setting for the story. In the original, Romero dares to take a jab at consumers and capitalism while spoofing many of society's faults; it was intelligent.
The original is lacking from the remake as the remake is lacking in the original. The original lacked true acting effort, but this film is very well acted with a grade A cast of actors including Rhames, Pfeiffer (whom I always like), Combs, Lindy Booth, and Sarah Polley who is your classic female Romero heroine with balls. The acting in the original wasn't exactly Academy award fodder. The dramatic scenes involving the characters often induced a smile from me, including the scene where Roger is about to turn into a zombie. But this remake lacks in social commentary the first one seeped with. Rhames mutters the famous line of why the zombies are coming to the mall, but we never learn why the first escape for the survivors is the mall; we never learn their reason, nor are we given a true argument for their action.
The motive in the original is to observe
the zombies and the survivors in their element and watch them trying to
co-exist with these zombies, while this is merely displaying a cast of
Humans are conditioned to eat and destroy everything, so even after we're dead we're still programmed to flock to the stores and malls and places where consumption runs rampant. The zombies flock to the mall as do the survivors because they feel comfortable, yet neither knows why they're there despite Francine's arguments. In this, when Ana asks where the survivors are going, the character Micheal replies "to the mall". We don't know why they're going there, only to assume it was planned beforehand but where's the commentary and satire? This lacks social commentary the original so richly achieved and becomes a very shallow piece of horror.
Example: take a scene from the original film in which the characters Stephen and Francine are on the roof of the mall observing the slowly gathering mob of zombies: "What are they doing? Why do they come here?" Francine asks, "Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives." Stephen replies. Thus is a line that resonates even today; it was such an intelligent and accurate comment, it tends to make you think Romero may be doing something else aside from telling a story about zombies.
The remake can be intelligent if it wanted to and it's scary in most moments, but it seems as if it doesn't try to or doesn't want to make the audience think. The original had survivors fighting the living dead and a murderous motorcycle gang, the paradox of living fighting the undead, and fighting the living. The line is drawn instantly in this: People fight flesh eating ghouls. Example: here is the redo of the line from the original, this time with the heroine Ana, and the hero Kenneth as they watch the quickly increasing number of zombies outside the mall: "Why do they come here?" Ana asks, "Instinct, memory...maybe they're here for us." Ken replies; right there is the scene that made me cringe because not only did they water down the comment and suck the intelligence right out of it, but it was a surefire sign to me that this wouldn't take a jab at modern consumers as the original did.
Also, as where the original film hovered around four people who had to live with one another, we watched the tension quickly rise between them as they went stir crazy looking for ways to amuse themselves while there's a larger cast in the film but there's characters here included only to be killed later on, and the audience catches on quickly. We know why the bloated woman is taken to the mall and focused on, we know why some of the characters don't have a lot of dialogue, we know why the hot girl is there, and despite being a veteran character actor, Matt Frewer barely has a role to be considered a part of the cast and is killed very quickly.
The original cast members became our friends, and when they died or turned we genuinely felt bad, and there was always this bugging tension that the survivors were so close to the zombies in the mall. Though the ending is very exciting and filled with tension and gore galore, it tends to blatantly drift away from the actual plot and goes off into a slight action motif. Stay for the last minutes of the film which many audiences missed because it logs the survivor's journey to the island and leaves the door open for a sequel. It's highly unlikely the sequel to this will be "Day of the Dead" since it seemed the ending set the audience up for a new movie, and considering "Day of the Dead" is the least received of the trilogy. Maybe the title will be kept and the plot changed drastically, we'll have to wait and see.
I found it entertaining, scary and very well-acted, but it fails to hold a torch to the original which was intelligent, witty, satirical, much more gorier and genuinely scary and shocking. Romero did it first and he did it best, to paraphrase Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, there ain't nothing like the real thing.
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