Worth A Look: 21.99%
Pretty Bad: 9.62%
Total Crap: 10.31%
16 reviews, 195 user ratings
|Dawn of the Dead (2004)
by Scott Weinberg
All us movie freaks LOVE to get all huffy-puffy about "The Remakes". They're cheap, they're lazy, they're tacky pieces of self-promotion coasting by on a wave of nostalgia-laced brand-name recognition. But hey, years of unmitigated garbage have taught us to cast a suspicious eye towards any sort of remake, revisit or "re-imaginging". Fortunately the remake machine seems to be on the upswing these days, at least as far as us horror freaks are concerned.This wacky internet thing bulges at the seams every time a new horror remake is announced. Michael Bay is producing a remake of Tobe Hooper's immortal Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Blasphemy! How DARE he! And what's this? Universal Pictures is mounting a big-budget adaptation of what's arguably the Gone with the Wind of horror films: George Romero's Dawn of the Dead? It's gonna SUCK! Why even BOTHER...?
"I'm old enough to respect the classics; young enough to dig the new toys."
Perhaps it's just easier to accept the simple fact that remakes are just like any other 'genre' you might enjoy: some of the movies are going to suck, some will be brilliant, and most will fall somewhere in between. I mean, the works of William Shakespeare have seen thousands of "remakes" over the centuries, and we call that High Art. So surely the modern classics of Horror can stand a little modernizations...imitation being oh so flattering, and all that stuff.
As someone who considers both The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead brilliant movies and not just great horror films, it's safe to assume that I was skeptical (yet cautiously optimistic) as this new wave of remakes began to slide down the pike. Marcus Nispel's Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake managed to be a damn entertaining joltfest in its own right, while never once "disgracing" its source material, as all the gorehound hand-wringers were sure it would.
Nispel's movie gave me high hopes that a newer and sleeker Dawn of the Dead could prove a worthwhile experiment after all. And wouldn't you know it? These new kids are now 2 for 2.
It's when remakes rely too heavily upon their predecessors that we get uninspired crap like The Haunting or pointless copycatting like Psycho. But David Cronenberg set the standard way back in 1986 when he remade The Fly. Using the campy old classic as a mere jumping-off point, Cronenberg forged some brilliant new ground, resulting in a movie that paid due homage to its father while standing quite capably on its own two feet. (Plus the remake is just plain old better than that silly old "Help Meeee!" chestnut.)
So the formula seems to be this: take a great old horror movie that you love, snatch the proper moments and key touchstones that the fans will want to see, and then go out and make your OWN movie. And that's just what director Zack Snyder and screenwriter James Gunn (with a little help from uncredited wordsmiths like James Tolkin and Scott Frank) have done. The result is a fantastic modern horror flick that clearly holds a lot of respect for Romero's original, but is itself a new beast entirely.
We all know the story by now: End of the world, the streets are packed with cannibalistic zombie corpses, a few lucky survivors end up hiding out inside of a suburban shopping mall. But while Romero's film was half horror and half social commentary, Snyder's version is a horror/action combo with a healthy side dish of swanky new blood-splatters.
Whereas the earlier legions of undead were content to shuffle around en masse while waiting for some unlucky human to stumble into their paths, the 2004 models are quick and speedy and more than a little persistent. Consequently, some of the movie's best sequences feel more inspired by Aliens than by a traditional zombie flick. But that's certainly not a bad thing.
If the movie suffers from one glaring deficiency, it's the intermittent and scattershot way in which the numerous characters are developed. One suspects that Snyder's first cut ran closer to two hours and that the first scenes snipped (in favor of a snappier pace) were those in which certain relationships were strengthened. Obviously it would be no surprise to learn of an Extended Director's Cut come DVD time.
Here's the meat: Dawn of the Dead is a harsh and brutal and devilishly nasty little horror movie. It sets a starkly effective tone of impending apocalypse, which serves to make the frequent attacks even more horrific. The flick moves at a lightning pace, the screenplay (barring one odd plot hole involving a sewer system) is tight and twisted, and Snyder's directorial style is more than a little impressive. (There are a few 'far-off' shots that will boggle your mind!) And the whole thing's capped off with a clever finale; how 'happy' the ending is depends on how far you make it into the end credits scroll!
Sure, it's fair to say that Romero's Dawn will never be surpassed, and that's probably true. But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy a spiffy new souped-up version, given that it's delivered in winning style.
And hey, this one is.The bottom line seems to be that remakes, just like any other movies, deserve to be SEEN before they're dismissed as shameless and/or pointless. Would you rather have a quality remake or something that's 'original' but crappy? There are dozens of zombie movies out there that AREN'T remakes, and this one's easily more entertaining than just about all of 'em.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8887&reviewer=128
originally posted: 03/20/04 19:05:50
|OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 ScreamFest L.A. Horror Festival. For more in the 2004 ScreamFest L.A. series, click here.
Horror Remakes: For more in the Horror Remakes series, click here.