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Land of the Dead: Unrated Director’s Cut DVD Review

Land of the Dead: Unrated Director’s Cut

February 7, 2006

Director: George A. Romero,
Starring: Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, Robert Joy, Eugene Clark, Joanne Boland, Tony Nappo, Jennifer Baxter, Boyd Banks, Jasmin Geljo, ,

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DVD Review

Recent years have seen a resurgence in the zombie film with the good (28 Days Later), the bad (Resident Evil) and the funny (Shaun of the Dead), but all of them pale in comparison to George A. Romero’s trilogy of zombie films. The first two have been remade already, most recently it was Dawn of the Dead (2004) and both failed to build on or even recapture what made Romero’s films so great in the first place. They seem to only be in love with the gore and miss (or just didn’t understand) the socio-political message of them. The good news is that Romero is back with a new zombie movie that has been years in the making but it was well worth the wait.

As with his other zombie films, Land of the Dead (2005) is a stand-alone movie but looks like it could exist in the same universe as the others. The zombies have completely taken over and the dwindling human population tries desperately to hold onto what little land they have left. A small, heavily armed group venture regularly into zombie territory to scavenge whatever supplies they can find and then return to an island complex known as Fiddler’s Green. The island has been heavily fortified by the military who rule with complete control with rich businessman Kaufman (Hopper) as their leader.

Society has degraded even further since Day of the Dead (1985). The wide gulf between the rich and the poor is even more pronounced. In the slums of the city people can get their pictures taken with captive zombies or shoot them with paintball guns. At one point, they even throw a woman (Argento) into a steal cage with two zombies for sport. The rich people aren’t much better as represented by Kaufman who is corrupt and amoral enough to make money off of and sacrifice his own people. It’s as if Romero’s saying that it wouldn’t be so bad if the zombies wiped us out. Look at what we’ve become.

The glimmer of hope is represented by Riley (Baker), the leader of the scavengers and his sidekick and ace sharpshooter Charlie (Joy). Like the protagonists in Romero’s Dead trilogy and Knightriders (1981), Riley is a reluctant leader who is tired of this corrupt world and is quietly planning an escape route to a more natural way of life. However, this is disrupted by another member of his group, Cholo (Leguizamo), who represents the dissenting voice. He’s only in it for the money and has a secret pact going with Kaufman. However, when Kaufman rips off Cholo, the mercenary goes rogue and takes off with Dead Reckoning, the island’s heavily armoured vehicle. So, Kaufman cuts a deal with Riley to find Cholo, kill him and bring back the vehicle.

To make matters worse, the zombies are getting smarter as exemplified by Big Daddy (Clark) who not only learns how to use a gun but is also able to organize legions of the undead. It’s nice to see a return to the slow moving zombies that we all know and love, but with a definite upgrade in the intelligence department while the humans continue to regress, embroiled in more bickering and in-fighting. After all, the zombies are the ultimate have-nots in this world. They are clearly tired of being shot at and exploited by the living. It’s almost as if Big Daddy is some kind of zombie Che Guevara leading an undead revolution that wants to take down corrupt, rich capitalists. In fact, Land of the Dead can be read as Romero’s critique of the current Bush administration with Kaufman as a Donald Rumsfeld stand-in.

Romero has crafted a very smart horror movie which is something of a rarity these days what with all of these lames remakes littering the landscape. Land of the Dead has all of the requisite gore (and the unrated version has even more) while actually trying to say something. There are plenty of powerful images, like the undead rising out of the water at night (a nice nod to Carnival of Souls, one of the films that inspired Night of the Living Dead) or zombies crashing through the posh apartment complex and feasting on the wealthy. Like with his other zombie films, Land of the Dead is a commentary on the times in which it was made. And for that alone, his movie is a refreshing breath of fresh air.

Special Features:

“Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead” is a promo puff piece as the cast and crew gush about Romero who looks like he is having a blast getting to play with a significant budget and working with name actors like Dennis Hopper. Unfortunately, the more substantial making of doc that aired on IFC is absent from this disc.

“A Day with the Living Dead” features actor John Leguizamo taking us on a tour of the set and shamelessly mugging for the camera. He talks to an effects guy and Dennis Hopper but it all reeks of inside jokes.

“Bringing the Dead to Life” takes a look at how all of the nasty gore effects are done. Make-up guru Greg Nicotero demonstrates why he is probably the best zombie effects guy since Tom Savini. Nicotero went all out with this film to create some truly astounding (and unsettling) effects.

“The Remaining Bits” is a collection of deleted footage that is only just little bits of business amounting to three minutes. While hardly essential it would’ve been nice to know why it was cut.

There is an audio commentary by Romero, producer Peter Grunwald and editor Michael Daughtery. Romero delivers a typically low key track and clarifies that this film is not meant to be a sequel to his original trilogy (which also weren’t really interconnected either). He’s not quite as chatty as he has been on other commentaries but this is a newer film and he doesn’t have the same kind of distanced perspective that he has on his other work. This results in several brief lulls between insightful comments.

“When Shaun Met George” chronicles the classic meeting of Romero and Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright who made Shaun of the Dead, an excellent satire on Romero’s zombie movies. This is an amusing featurette that follows the boys as they film their cameo for the movie, showing their transformation into the undead and basically living out every fanboy’s dream.

“Scenes of Carnage” is a brief montage of some of the film’s most gruesome scenes scored lovingly to classical music.

“Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene” shows a few scenes before CGI was added and after. It was used mostly to flesh out the backgrounds in the scenes, making them look more elaborate or amping up the gore a bit more.

“Bring the Storyboards to Life” cuts between storyboard drawings and the final version or a few sequences in the movie.

Finally, there is “Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call,” a pointless clip showing the early CGI tests of zombies dancing around a la the undead in Michael Jackson’s music video “Thriller.”

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 91%

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