LAND OF
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Land of the Dead
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DAWN OF THE DEAD
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LAND OF THE DEAD - 2005
USA Release: June 24, 2005
Romero-Grunwald Productions / Universal Pictures
Rated: Canada: 18A / UK: 18 / USA: R

"Zombies, man.
They creep me out."

Good line. But does that make this a good movie?

LAND OF THE DEAD was written and directed by George A. Romero (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD [1978], CREEP SHOW, MONKEY SHINES, DAY OF THE DEAD, THE DARK HALF). This is the next installment in his Dead series.

The movie opens with a quick recap of the situation. We learn that there are a few survivors who get by through raids on empty towns. Empty in the sense that no one living lives there. But zombies are everywhere.

A team of raiders lead by Riley (Simon Baker: RED PLANET, THE RING TWO) is hitting a small town late at night. We find out they do this at night so they can use fireworks. For some reason the zombies are fascinated by fireworks and will stand entranced, looking at the sky.

They gather anything edible (mostly canned goods) as well as liquor, cigars, clothes, etc. to bring back to Fiddler's Green, their fortress/city.

I liked this concept because I always thought that as big a disaster as a world-wide infestation of flesh eating zombies represents, it wouldn't mean the extinction of humanity. I was always sure that at least in a few places people would be tough enough and well organized enough to survive, and that's what happened here. Fiddler's Green is a section of a city that survivors managed to wall off. Inside there is a single large building with electricity, luxury apartments, and a well stocked, upscale shopping mall. Only the elite live here - everyone else lives in the ghetto that makes up the rest of the city.

During the raid on the small town Riley notices something. The dead here seem different. They're still going through behavior patterns from when they were alive - that's been seen before in some of the other movies - but Riley spots zombies communicating with each other. They're organized. One zombie in particular (Eugene Clark: ROBOCOP [TV], MILLENIUM) even shows empathy for his fellow zombies when the humans splatter their brains.

Riley's crew includes a rival named Cholo (John Leguizamo: SPAWN, THE HAPPENING) and the damaged but loyal Charlie (Robert Joy: THE DARK HALF, AMITYVILLE 3-D, THE HILLS HAVE EYES [2006]). When they return to Fiddler's Green both Riley and Cholo are under the impression that it was their last mission - Riley because he's leaving to establish a new settlement and Cholo because he's been doing plenty of favors for the big boss and thinks it's time for him to move into the elite class. Both of their plans will run into snags.

The big boss, Mr. Kaufman (Dennis Hopper: BLUE VELVET, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, UNSPEAKABLE, FIRESTARTER 2, WATERWORLD), doesn't give Cholo the reward he thinks he deserves and Cholo decides on some hefty revenge. This eventually leads to Kaufman drafting Riley to go get Cholo, a mission made more difficult by everyone's certainty that everyone else will betray them. Riley only trusts Charlie and another misfit named Slack (Asia Argento*: THE STENDHAL SYNDROME).

While Riley goes off to do Kaufman's bidding there is a growing threat from the smart zombies. They seem to be responding to the "attack" on their town and the movie attempts to make us sympathize with them. Not an easy task, given that they eat human flesh.

*
TRIVIA

Things that will be pointed out to you, ad naseum, throughout many critiques / reviews of LAND OF THE DEAD. Let's hold hands and skip merrily through them:

It's been 20 years since George Romero's last Dead movie (DAY OF THE DEAD - 1985).

This is the biggest budget George has ever worked with for his Dead movies.

This is the first time that George has had "name" actors in his Dead movies.

Asia Argento is Dario Argento's daughter and Dario helped put up the money for DAWN OF THE DEAD.

DAWN OF THE DEAD is considered to be George's best Dead movie.

tra la la la la

Whoa! Watch out for that freaking zombie as you skip!

Cool stuff to watch for:

Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright - creators of SHAUN OF THE DEAD - as tourist photo zombies.

This is a rough society. In fact it's the kind of feudal setup you'd expect to arise from the survivors of a civilization-destroying disaster. So you have the elites and their troops ruling over the peasants (everyone else) and much of the movie centers on the dissatisfaction of many of the characters with that arrangement. This struck me as odd and kind of forced. It would suck that the top dogs got all the best stuff but I think in view of the alternative wandering around outside the walls, I'd put up with it.

A lot of the movie is like that, in the sense that characters seem overly concerned about the wrong things, like local politics or about money, as if it still had value outside the city. Why aren't they clearing the area of zombies? They're not especially hard to kill and if humanity is good at anything, it's hunting something to extinction. Why aren't they building farms (or at least rooftop gardens) rather than relying on finding supplies in abandoned cities? There are a lot of (you'd think) obvious courses of action to take but no thought is given to that.

Other things don't make sense, like the elites shopping in the mall. With what? That doesn't make any economic sense but Romero was more interested in showing the undeserved privileges of the rich and revisiting the brilliant "mall scenes" from DAWN OF THE DEAD that so many critics praised him for.

Which raises the question, have I come here to praise Romero or bury him? Before I tell you that I have to take time out for a

!!!SCIENCE MOMENT!!!:
One of the cool things about all the Dead movies is that exactly why the zombies have appeared is never explained. I was hoping after twenty years that Romero would at least drop a few hints but that doesn't happen, so all I can do is speculate. I don't know how you could provide enough energy to maintain bodily animation after death (and after the resulting cellular damage from lack of oxygen), especially since the zombies don't breathe and hardly ever eat (most people are long gone and yet months or years later the zombies are still walking around). Some people like to wave their arms and shout "nanotechnology" but that's not a workable answer. Nanotech isn't magic and though it can do many things, it can't supply limitless energy from nothing. In fact, magic is the only answer I can think of.

Okay, I've put it off long enough. The truth is this is not a great movie. I had high expectations from Romero and he just wasn't up to the task. The movie is gory but DAY OF THE DEAD was gorier. The action is predictable and in general there's nothing special or impressive about this movie. It's just a formula sequel and after twenty years I expected more. Plus there is a moment where a character decides not to shoot a group of zombies, saying "They're just looking for someplace to go, too", as though humans trying to survive and murderous, flesh eating monsters trying to eat people were morally equivalent! George, what were you thinking? I give it two shriek girls.

Shriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2005 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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