Apr 30, 2019
Our family subscribed to HBO last year, partly to pick up a host of Oscar nominated films to prepare for year two, partly to start binging “Game of Thrones”. I was one of those fools waiting for the last book to come out before watching the show, but as we all know, whether you want to or not, the book will be out *after* the story’s told. I’m still going to read it, but it meant One Movie Spouse and I had to binge like never before.
Anyway, this week, I’m cleaning out the movies in the HBO queue, including today’s remake of the Romero classic. As you know, I love zombie films. For a few other zombie films, check out “Ravenous” (Episode #066), “Cargo” (Episode #139), “Day of the Dead: Bloodline” (Episode #140), “White Zombie” (Episode #152), “Overlord” (Episode #316), “The Night Eats The World” (Episode #372), Stephanie Campbell’s sneak attack review for “Anna and the Apocalypse” (Episode #425), and last week’s review for “Land of the Dead” (Episode #462).
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Here we go!
Today’s movie is “Dawn of the Dead”, the 2004 remake of the George A. Romero classic, directed by Zack Snyder and written for the screen by James Gunn, based on the original story by Romero. A disparate group of survivors flee from a worldwide plague of aggressive zombies into a shopping mall. Now the group must learn to survive against the zombies, and from each other.
The 2000s were full of reboots. Everything from Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of “Planet of the Apes”, perhaps one of the worst, all the way through to Christopher Nolan’s 2008 franchise hit, “The Dark Knight”, arguably one of the best. Video stores began hitting their peak, with the cost of home entertainment shrinking, and a host of older previously unavailable titles began hitting rental and retail shelves. The major studios and intellectual property owners began mining their reserves for content, as the Internet identified previously forgotten audiences, and began revising older content for newer audiences. Sometimes they brought forward a story in time and technology, like Disney’s “Treasure Planet” in 2002. Sometimes they took an outdated property and made a parody of it, like the ill-fated “Dukes of Hazzard” in 2005. But one of the largest prevailing themes was an obsession with the dark and gritty reboot, taking a story into more realistic and generally more violent territory, and upping the ante in suspense and terror.
The intellectual property rights for the “Night of the Living Dead” franchise has a turbulent history. The original film, due to a technicality, ended up in the public domain. The next couple of films took a while to happen, and John Russo went on to start another franchise called “Return of the Living Dead”. Romero attempted his own quasi-reboot with the 1990 remake of “Night of the Living Dead”. And then, in 2002, Alex Garland and Danny Boyle deliver the next evolution in zombies with “28 Days Later”, with the invention of the zoombies. So, how does Zach Snyder and James Gunn attempt to reboot Romero’s sequel? By upping the ante in practical effects, peppering the story with darker, grittier situations, and transforming the shuffling walkers into aggressive runners.
The film begins with a pretty intense cold open, establishing the setting and tension with news reports, and beginning with the pure nightmare around Ana (Sarah Polley), as she escapes from her suburban home towards the main setting for today’s film, the Crossroads Mall. Along the way, she connects with other refugees, and they adapt to living trapped within the mall. The cast is excellent, including Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, and Ty Burrell playing an almost perfect asshole named Steve. Everyone struggles to trust each other, conflicting over survival issues, until they hit upon a plan to escape. It’s a fairly thrilling ride, with just the right survival rate to maintain interest. And the practical effects are generally excellent.
However, it doesn’t have the same messaging as the original film, which was my favorite part. Romero’s shuffling zombies, when splayed against the mall storefronts, turns the zombies into a clear metaphor for mindless consumerism, something we only really get from a throwaway line in this remake. Romero’s original story showed the way that humans seem to destroy themselves in the face of a larger threat, whereas today’s film is focused on reacting to unexpected events and ideas. It’s the problem I have with most reboots, when they play fast and loose with the source material. Today’s remake seems to take the premise and setting and abandons the rest for new territory.
It’s not a bad remake, though. It’s pretty amazing that Zach Snyder’s directorial debut was written by James Gunn, for a Romero remake nonetheless. The production quality is far superior, with excellent effects and edge-pushing content of the sort that would get Gunn in trouble later on. I thought the characters were enjoyable, particularly Burrell’s performance, and there was just enough camp to stop it from being a gore fest. But it’s not Romero’s film, and despite all its great qualities, feels like another reboot and/or knock-off of Romero’s groundbreaking work.
“Dawn of the Dead” is a darker, grittier remake of Romero’s 1978 classic, keeping the premise and setting, but reworking the story in new directions. While the production quality is far superior, and the acting perfect for the genre, the film also suffers from a glut of zombie films, and a better zoombie film in 2002’s “28 Days Later”. Zombie film fans, and fans of either Snyder or Gunn, should definitely check out this film. Everyone else, just know it’s going to be gory.
Rotten Tomatoes: 75% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
One Movie Punch: 7.5/10
“Dawn Of The Dead” (2004) is rated Rand is currently playing on HBO Now.