Land of the Dead
February 21, 2006
There’s a certain irony that after all the recent homages (Shaun of the Dead) and remakes (Dawn of the Dead) of George Romero’s iconic zombie movies, the man himself was inspired to get back in the director’s chair once again for Land of the Dead: the forth in the Dead series. As usual we’re treated to zombies tearing limbs off people and eating them and the not-so-subtle socio-political commentary (zombies being a metaphor for asylum seekers or, if you want to be really bold, Iraq) but it’s been twenty years since the man made Day of the Dead, so how does his new film fit sit with the MTV generation?
The answer is: pretty successfully. Certainly the gore and zombie effects are some of the best ever created by long-time fan and make-up genius Greg Nicotero (witness a man pulling out a corpse’s tongue as another bites out someone’s eye), and the characters are refreshingly human, if not particularly memorable. Lead Simon Baker is too calm to have much of an impact, and Hopper once again phones in his bad guy role, but such low key performances do bring a certain air of naturalism that suit these apocalyptic settings.
In essence Land is the forth in a series, but can also be taken as a stand-alone film. Much in the way Resident Evil and Shaun of the Dead began with hazy government spillages causing said zombification, here we get a pre-credit sequence that gives you an idea of what created the problem whilst simultaneously homaging the previous three movies by using radio newscasts as exposition. Thereafter we meet Riley (Baker) and Cholo (Leguizamo), rival henchmen who work for shady mayor Kaufman (Hopper). When Cholo is betrayed by Kaufman and steals the Dead Reckoning zombie battle-truck, Riley is sent out to bring him in. Meanwhile zombie leader Big Daddy emerges as intelligent enough to launch an attack on Kaufman’s upper-class suburb.
Yes, Dennis Hopper based his performance on Donald Rumsfeld, and yes Big Daddy is the little man fighting the system, or the black man fighting his white oppressor, or whatever you want him to be, but at the end of the day all the political subtext is a little silly when your film is essentially about flesh-eating monsters. But taken simply as a B-movie for a Saturday night viewing it’s a great success, sure to elicit laughs and screams, especially as this is the director’s cut with loads more gore. It’s also a return to form for Romero. Yet it’s also not as good, oddly, as the Dawn of the Dead remake, or for that matter the Resident Evil games Romero inspired. If he’d spent as much time on the story arc as he did the make-up, Land of the Dead could have been more memorable, and less of a run-up to the fifth movie due out in 2007.
George is such a fan of Shaun of the Dead that creators Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg were invited over to Canada to be zombies, and their trip was documented in ‘When Shaun Met George’. ‘Undead Again’ is a decent half-hour making-of, and ‘Bringing the Dead To Life’ predictably focuses on the make-up effects. ‘A Day With The Living Dead’ has John Leguizamo giving us a tour of the set and talking to various cast and crew in a refreshingly candid manner.
‘Scenes of Carnage’ is a short clip show of gory set pieces that never made it into the film, followed by ‘Bringing the Storyboards to Life’ and ‘The Remaining Bits’ deleted scenes. Finally the evolution of effects since Day of the Dead is showcased in ‘Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Screen’, showing us how cityscapes and bullet-hits were created entirely by computer.
If you’re a die-hard Romero fan feel free to add on another ten percent to our rating, but otherwise this is a merely satisfactory horror movie.