on November 4, 2004
Zombies...the living dead...is there a more misaligned population segment in Hollywood monsterdom? Perhaps, but on the scale of sheer numbers, they seem to represent the largest group. In general, they're not evil, malicious beings, but only doing what their limited instincts command them to do...eating the flesh (and sometimes brains) of the living, and when I say living, I mean humans, as they seem not too interested in lesser forms of life like polecats, porcupines, or plankton. And there's that whole thing of transferring their `undeadness' (I sometimes get a cold from a co-worker, and I find that highly annoying, so I wonder how much worse it would be to catch the death in the same way) to those of us who find themselves in the awkward position of being viewed as a hot lunch for these ravenous creatures, there by propagating the species, if you will. And let's face it, even if we could work around that whole thing of them wanted to eat our flesh, there's still the issue of rank, flatulent, rotten, putrid, decaying flesh to deal with...also, these creepy, cadaverous automatons suffer from a severe lack of personality, focused solely on the intent of fulfilling their need for our warm, juicy, tasty fleshy parts, inhibiting any attempts to open up a meaningful, personal dialog...oh well, they sure can make for some entertaining viewing...
In essence, The Dawn of the Dead (2004), directed by Zack Snyder (S.W.A.T.) is a remake of George Romero's 1978 film of the same name, and a pretty good one, at least in my opinion. The film stars Sarah Polley (eXistenZ), Ving Rhames (Out of Sight), and Jake Weber (Wendigo). Also appearing is Mekhi Phifer (8 Mile), Ty Burrell (Black Hawk Down, Michael Kelly (Unbreakable), Matt `what the hell happened to my career' Frewer (Max Headroom) and special effects artist/director/stuntman/actor Tom Savini (From Dusk Till Dawn).
The film, set in Wisconsin (that's all we need...zombie cheese heads) opens pleasantly enough, with Ana (Polley), a nurse working in a local hospital emergency room, returning to her suburban home to meet her husband/boyfriend (I'm unsure which). They share some intimacies and then retire for the evening. Seems like a pretty good ending to a normal day...enjoy it while you can, as the morning brings forth a whole boatload of bad mojo (and zombies). As the film progresses, a small group of survivors, including Polley, Rhames, Weber, and Phifer, make their way to a local shopping mall, seeking refuge from the insanity that has ensued, as the epidemic of the dead spreads quickly. The local, still-living population is ripe for the picking, as they are still unaware of what's actually happening, and the nature of the disease, virus, or whatever...tensions run high as personalities clash and more information becomes available, and those not infected begin to understand the reality of what's happening, and also their new place on the food chain. Haphazard plans are formulated and tossed about, but how do you escape from something that's everywhere? No...this becomes an exercise in survival, and a seemingly futile one at that. Is this the end of the human race? Are we destined to become zombie chow for the ever-growing legion of the undead? It's a zombie nation, and we're the minority...
I did have fun watching this film, and thought it was done well, despite certain changes from the original. The direction from Snyder was slick, fast paced, and engaging, showing he's certainly a capable director, able to take an established storyline and infusing a certain amount of creativity, keeping most of the relevant parts, losing the outdated material from the original, while maintaining a level of respect from whence the story came. I did feel the production lost a little bit of heart from the original film (the group here never really seemed to gel as well as those in the original), focusing more on high-tech special effects rather than the character driven elements of the story, resulting in sometimes 2 dimensional characterizations (CJ the gun totin' hick, Ana the bleeding heart liberal, Michael the somewhat logical pragmatic) that you really couldn't care for if they lived or died. I thought the actors did reasonably well, but I felt they probably had little to work with, and ultimately wasted at times, which is a big difference for me from the original. There really weren't any standout performances, but I did like the guy who played Steve (Burrell), the ever-sarcastic pessimist always handy with a smarmy comment. His part was small, but memorable. I suppose the biggest difference between this film and the source was the speed of the zombies (who look really excellent, by the way). I think most of us are used to the shambling, doddering, slow as all out undead, ones we could easily evade, unless their numbers were too great. Not so here as the creatures moved extremely fast, showing excellent mobility and agility. This goes against what I would think of how a dead person would move, especially once rigor mortis begins to set. I suppose this was done to heighten the tension, which it tends to do, but it seems entirely uncharacteristic. I prefer my zombies to amble about, rather than running around like hyper children hopped up on Pixie Stix and soda pop. I did like the special effects a lot, especially those of a grand nature (do kerosene tanks really explode like small A bombs when fired upon?) Gore hounds will find sweet spots throughout, but I was a little surprised at the overall lack of visceral material (what there is is pretty intense).
The widescreen picture looks excellent, and the Dolby digital audio is clear and sharp, pretty much what I would have expected from such a recent release. Included are scads of extra features, listed here adequately enough so I won't do it again, but I did find them entertaining and worthwhile. All in all, I thought the effort was really good here, albeit superficial.