Dawn of the Dead (2004) - DVD Review
By Widge - posted 12.13.04 @ 8:24 pm
Written by: James Gunn, based on the original screenplay by George Romero
Released by: Universal
My Advice: Zombie fanatics should own.
As I expressed in an e-mail to screenwriter James Gunn, the original Romero flick is one of my favorite films of all time. It's my zombie Casablanca. So the idea that somebody would have the cojones necessary to come along and remake it--well, it scared the shit out of me, to be truthful. Considering the last time somebody remade a Romero flick, 1990's Night of the Living Dead redo, was an abysmal failure, I think my semi-panic was warranted.
Well, the folks behind this film must have seen that one and taken notes. Because they managed to dodge its mistakes. Rather than try to do what the original film did and do it better, or crank it up a notch, they instead took the initial concept--survivors in a mall vs. zombies--and ran with it. Then, further showing their understanding of what was at stake, they made it clear from the get-go that this is not your father's Dawn of the Dead. The sheer vicious, hardcore nature of the violence and the shocks that occur--even before the opening credits--draw a firm line in the sand that tells you, "This is something else." And after that, I was okay with it.
The good news first. This is one of the best use of songs in a thriller I've seen in a long time. Yes, I said thriller and not horror movie--you got that, did you? From Johnny Cash's "When the Man Comes Around" in the opening credits to the dueling versions of The Disturbed's "Down With the Sickness," Snyder's choice in music is impeccable. Even the Muzak in the mall--including "Don't Worry, Be Happy"--is inspired.
Also, the cast they've assembled is good. Polley isn't given much to do, to be frank. Having much more of a blast are Ving Rhames as the stoic police officer and Jake Weber, who is by far the standout as Michael, the guy who nothing seems to faze. Even Matt Frewer shows up for an effective extended cameo. They also get huge points for bringing in Tom Savini, Scott Reiniger, and Ken Foree from the original to do cameos. And they even manage to get Foree to reprise saying his famous line--and it works. So how cool is that?
The zombies look great, the action sequences are fairly choice, and the tension is palpable. So what went wrong? Well, along with the fact that this is a thriller (i.e., shit jumps out at you to scare you) as opposed the original (i.e., you're literally horrified at what you're seeing--except for one scene that was given away in the trailer, there's none of that), they also threw all of the characterization out the window. A guy that hardly has any dialogue (not wanting to spoil anything here) gets more development than anybody nearby. As a result, it's very hard to feel anything for anybody but the principals. And characters change in ways that make no sense--the raging dick suddenly becomes a good guy...what, did I miss a scene?
Also, these characters make so many dumbass mistakes--even for a "horror" movie--that you eventually have to just turn your brain off and run with it. (You were going to mention the sewer tunnels when, exactly?) Things like that. And lastly, did we really need that unnecessary coda in the film's credits? Answer: no. They get points for trying to make a different film rather than an ill-advised "update" or "re-imagining." And in the end, it's an enjoyable flick--but it's the true definition of a flick, as opposed to a film. Is it worth seeing? Yeah, if you're a zombie fan, go for it. Is it worth sitting through again? Nah.
The features are a mixed bag as well. The additional footage of the character Andy gives the actor more stuff to do than he had in the film, so that's something, but it looks like they tried to cram in some weird subplot that got cut from the film. And it was obvious from the get-go where it was going, so it's fairly pointless. Also a good idea but the execution suffers is the extended newscast footage. While it helps to give the catastrophe a more global scale, the whole point of the film is to show things on a micro-scale, so while it's a nice attempt, it doesn't do too much for me.
The commentary is fairly entertaining, with producer Newman and helmer Snyder joking around and actually giving some good background on the process of creating this thing. They talk about the cameos from the first, wanting to show homage to the original without falling over themselves. They talk about finding a nice mall to work in--and then building a mall inside of it. Crazy things like that. And it's also somehow gratifying to hear Snyder say "And that's what you came for" when you get a nice money shot of a limb being severed or something equally disgusting.
The best out of the bunch, though, are the featurettes. The makeup featurette, about the process that went into creating a world of zombies for them to deal with, was nice. We hear about the three stages of makeup (i.e., you turn into a zombie and you're not instantly grey-blue like the original) and also how in a pinch, just stand someone back and hose them down with gore. Sweet. The featurette involving the lead zombies picks six major undead players and focuses on their scene and makeup. The best is the headshot featurette: how do you make a convincing head exploding bit when you need one? Answer: a prosthetic top of the head and an air-ram. This is not what They Might Be Giants were singing about, I'm sure.
So is the movie good? It's eminently watchable and a nice thrilling gore-fest. It lacks the depth of the original but it never intended to have it, so I can't give it demerits for that. In fact, they get points for recognizing the scope of what they were taking on and then coming up with creative ways of dealing with it. It's a lesser film than the original, but it's good for the zombie fanatic out there. The features make the disc worth owning for the fan, but everyone else should give it a rental.