Worth A Look: 48.89%
Pretty Bad: 6.11%
Total Crap: 7.78%
15 reviews, 90 user ratings
|Land of the Dead
by Scott Weinberg
The arrival of another George Romero-directed zombie flick is, to the horror freaks, not at all dissimilar to a fourth "Godfather" film from Franky Coppola or a new "Star Wars" chapter from Uncle George. Say what you like about the oft-maligned genre of horror, but "Land of the Dead" is an absolutely monumental release. Too bad the movie's only "pretty damn good" instead of "amazingly great."Working with a much larger budget than he's normally accustomed to, George Romero returns to the genre he created with Land of the Dead, a whip-smart and fast-paced tale of human greed, gory action, and zombie apocalypse. It's the sort of movie that genre fans will devour ... not unlike the titular zombies would devour your intestines: greedily, hungrily, and with their fingers.
"The Godfather of Gore delivers some more!"
So it was with much excitement and a healthy dose of Romero reverence that I sat down to experience Land of the Dead, the fourth chapter in a series that includes true-blue classics like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, as well as the reasonably admired Day of the Dead. I tried to keep my expectations at a rational level, but ... c'mon! This is George Romero doing another ZOMBIE movie! For a full-fledged horror freak (such as yours truly) there's just not much that's bigger than this.
Cutting right to the point: Land of the Dead works, and at times it works amazingly well -- but it's no classic, and I seriously doubt it will ever be considered as such. The movie's biggest asset somehow manages to create its largest problem: it's the pacing.
Land of the Dead rockets by at an amazingly brisk clip; a whole lot of plot background is told in an extremely efficient fashion, and the numerous characters are introduced in fine form. But it seems that while the set-up was given extra care and attention -- it came at noticeable expense to the second and third acts.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here.
As the movie opens we learn that pretty much all of our planet has been overrun by the cannibalistic undead. Apparently there are still a few isolated pockets of humanity still remaining -- although I use the word "humanity" lightly. One such outpost of human survival is Fiddler's Green, a gleaming tower that lords over the rotting husk of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Scattered throughout the urban sprawl beneath the tower's shadow are the dregs of humanity, the undesirables and the poverty-stricken. And inside the shiny skyscraper are the rich, the powerful, and the spoiled rotten. The man in charge of this arrangement is a guy called Kaufman, and all you need to know about Mr. Kaufman is that he's played by Dennis Hopper at his most amazingly evil.
Kaufman has a cadre of blue-collar grunt-workers under his thumb, and it's these folks who do all of the dirty work: body disposals and the acquisition of supplies from the "outside world," more specifically. But when Kaufman decides to play the elitist card to the wrong henchman ... well, let's just say it's the first step in a series of mishaps that ultimately lead to (all together now) zombie invasion!
Romero cobbles his fourth Deadventure together from a variety of colorful sources: plot-wise, much of Land of the Dead feels like a remake of John Carpenter's Escape from New York (only Carpenter's flick didn't have the ravenous undead), and the hero characters are painted in a distinctly Dirty Dozen-esque brush-stroke. The social commentary, of which there is plenty, focuses on the wide gap that exists between the haves and the have-nots, only here it's broadened into a metaphor that involves the frequent chomping of human flesh.
Regarding the people-eaters, Mr. Romero has decided to bump his zombies up one level on the evolutionary scale. After spending so many years as mindless eating machines, the shuffling corpses have slowly become able to think -- and the first thing that occurs to a creature after being able to reason? Why, the insatiable desire to wreak vengeance upon those who've been nasty, of course!
As lead hero Riley, Simon Baker does a bang-up job; he creates a swaggering hero-type who's a lot of fun to watch, but the character is broad enough to remind us that, hey, we're watching a zombie movie, after all. The background is populated by several successful performances, and each of the remaining humans are colorful and intriguing in their own specific ways...
But this is where the problem comes in, and while it's a relatively minor one, it's something that nagged me through the entire final hour of Land of the Dead. This is a movie in an awful hurry to hit those end credits. I'd bet a bag of money that there's at least 25 minutes of character development, subplot threads, and story payoffs that didn't make it into the final cut. Not only is our first glimpse inside the world of Fiddler's Green entirely rushed and somewhat cursory, but Land of the Dead makes it a point to introduce several fascinating characters ... only to end up giving them practically nothing to do. There's a butt-kicking femme fatale anti-heroine, a scar-faced crack-shot of a sidekick, a goofily likable and massive Samoan solider, and several random henchmen -- very few of whom are allowed to do anything even remotely interesting.
There's a point about 70 minutes into Land of the Dead where the movie seems ready to rocket forward on all cylinders, and instead it just sort of ... wanders off into the distance. Just as the movie seems to be rolling towards a phenomenal finale, Land of the Dead trickles to an end with all the inertia of deflated beach ball. Frankly it seems like Romero was asked to snip scene X and scene Y ... but in order to do that he also had to cut scenes R, S, T, and U. It's a somewhat disconcerting way for such a devilishly entertaining movie to finish up, but I suppose this gripe is similar to complaining that "this rather delicious steak is simply too darn small." Needless to say, I look forward to the Unrated Director's Cut on DVD -- which you just know is bound to happen.But all things considered, it's just great to see Mr. Romero hop back on to the zombie bandwagon that he created back in 1968. "Land of the Dead" has more jolts, more gore, more canny subtext, and more bullets to the head than just about any "studio" horror flick you'll ever see, and I applaud Universal for giving the hero of horror a chance to bring this latest chapter to the screen. This one might not live up to the standard set by "Dawn of the Dead," but ... c'mon. Did you really think it would?
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12288&reviewer=128
originally posted: 06/24/05 16:01:48
|OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2005 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.