LAND OF THE DEAD
** (out of 5)
June 24, 2005
Simon Baker as RILEY
John Leguizamo as CHOLO
Dennis Hopper as KAUFMAN
Asia Argento as SLACK
Robert Joy as CHARLIE
Eugene Clark as BIG DADDY
Directed by: George A. Romero
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
In recent years, the zombie world has opened up. For decades, this land was ruled by the likes of George A. Romero, the man who gave us the original “Night of the Living Dead.” While Romero only cranked out three “Dead” films between 1968 and 1985, there have been literally dozens of major releases with these types of zombies in them. Open up the playing field to independent filmmakers, and the land of the Dead easily includes hundreds of films.
I’ll be honest. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Romero-style of zombies. Once you get past the initial uneasiness you’ll feel about flesh-eating ghouls roaming the world, it gets old fast. Sometimes movies like Peter Jackson’s “Dead Alive” break new ground, but even this only is notable because of the ludicrous and excessive blood and gore. Other than that, zombie movies don’t have much meat to them.
But then things changed a couple years ago. We had a revitalization of zombies. Not only did we get some fresh perspectives on the genre, but we had some fun with it. “28 Days Later” gave us our first taste of fast-moving zombies. The concept was continued with last year’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake.
George Romero has gone on record to say that zombies shouldn’t move fast. They’re meant to lumber about like Robert Downey Jr. after a night of heavy drinking. And yes, I respect Romero as a horror master who broke new ground with the genre almost forty years ago. And I understand that he’s now honked off that other people’s “Dead” films have been getting more attention than his own. (But then again, who didn’t have fun watching last year’s “Shaun of the Dead”?)
George Romero should lighten up. Yes, he was a pioneer, but the man hasn’t had a really unique idea in years. His best films still manage to be Stephen King adaptations (like “Creepshow” and “The Dark Half”) rather than what he’s really known for.
Reportedly, Romero had trouble getting backed for “Land of the Dead,” his latest answer to the zombie marketplace. However, after the success of these new zombie flicks, he’s been given a chance. Unfortunately, “Land of the Dead” puts us back into the same old concepts and ideas he gave us in “Dawn of the Dead” and “Day of the Dead.” Call me a blasphemer, but I like the new zombies that have more of a spring in their step.
Part of the problem with “Land of the Dead” is that there’s really nothing new, even compared to Romero’s own films. We’ve got a bunch of people holed up in a mall to protect themselves from the zombies. Seen that in “Dawn of the Dead.” We’ve got a bunch of commandos running missions into zombie-infested areas. Seen that in “Day of the Dead.”
Sure, these new zombies can communicate and think – sort of. But even with these new ideas, nothing is done with them. And really the only intelligent zombie is some gas station attendant with a rotten nose.
Ultimately, the quality of a zombie film lies not with how the zombies act, but the story that drives the characters. You’d think that Romero would know that after crafting some pretty complex character relationships in his first three “Dead” films. But in “Land of the Dead,” he’s relying on John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper to lead this less-than-stellar cast. Big mistake.
I pity Romero for this film. Not because his own genre has been co-opted right out from under him by younger, more talented filmmakers. But rather because his feeble and futile grasps at creativity are nothing more than rip-offs of the rest of the genre. He’s stolen not just from his own films, but from films like “Resident Evil.” Instead of a fresh “Dead” film, we’re given a bizarre mixture of “Day of the Dead” and “Escape from New York” – and not in a good way.
Yes, “Land of the Dead” marks the return of George Romero to the big screen. But ultimately it’s… well… dead.