Directed by George A. Romero (2005)
Reviewed by MaT, added on Jun 25 2005
Despite the fact that you may have read a bevy of orgasmically induced "masterpiece" reviews of this film from horror fanboys who can't quite control themselves when they hear the words "Romero" and "Zombie" in the same sentence, this is not anywhere even close to a "masterpiece". In fact, Land of the Dead is a mediocre film at best and yet another nail that has been pounded into the coffin of one of horror's most beloved icons.
Judging from Romero's recent directorial history, Monkey Shines, The Dark Half, and Bruiser, you'd be hard pressed to find anything that warrants the "God" status he holds amongst horror fans. He's done nothing of any real merit the past twenty years, something that most horror fanboys conveniently "forget". But once it was announced that the man who made zombies chic would once again return to his beloved three trick pony Dead series, expectations were high and geekdom ran amok. Certainly Land would be the film to bring the King back to his throne, to silence the growing number of zombi..er..critics that were slowly but surely gnawing away at the mystique and aura of Romero. Land of the Dead arrives with a thud, or more appropriately, a digital gun shot wound to the head.
Night of the Living Dead is without a doubt, a classic. I consider it completely separate from Dawn and Day, which are far weaker films not only because of the use of color film, but because they are much more "Auteur Romero", whereas Night comes across as a "team effort" that is much more primal and straight to the point. The one thing that Romero did keep relatively intact with all three films was the sense of isolation and claustrophobia. Whether it be a house, mall, or underground military base, for the most part, the occupants were stuck there. Much like John Carpenter, Romero is most effective when there are only a few characters that are trapped, making the audience feel like there is no chance of escape. Land eschews that concept and we are treated to a sprawling city and a giant skyscraper filled to the brim with people. Sure, he goes out of his way to show us that the city is surrounded by rivers and that the bridges don't work, but gone is that feeling of isolation and no chance of escape. It honestly feels like anybody in that city can leave whenever they want.
The film is hampered by an incredibly lame story. I don't care about John Leguizamo being pissed off at Dennis Hopper for not letting him live in a skyscraper. Seriously, there are some truly stupid sub-plots in this film. And what the hell was up with Asia Argento's character? There's a running gag between her character and another about her being "useful", but she isn't. She doesn't do a single thing in this movie that warrants her inclusion and I was left scratching my head as to why her character was in the film in the first place. Maybe George owed Dario a favor or something? If we've established one thing about Land, it's that the plot, storyline, and atmosphere flat out suck. There's a fleeting stab at character development, but it's practically invisible. Hell, it's a sad day indeed when last year's re-make of Dawn of the Dead has better character development than Romero's latest. It was nice to see the natural progression of the zombies from Day. Now they are beginning to learn things on their own, however that interesting concept is mostly tossed to the wayside in favor of stupid storylines like Leguizamo's.
But what about the zombies? This is probably the film's only real saving grace but it is still somewhat disappointing. Most of the gore is CGI now. Gone are Savini's amazing "hand made" splatter of Dawn and Day, replaced with computerized skull explosions. There is quite a bit of gore and it still is cool to see zombies munching on people in graphic detail. I think Peter Jackson might be talking to his lawyers right now about the "severed head" zombie, but at least it looked kind of cool. Romero has long lost his touch at being able to make a film "scary", so there are quite a few jump scares in the film that utilize the loudest possible noise with the most unexpected location you would think the zombie is lurking. For more effective jump scares, I'd recommend playing Doom 3.
This review probably sounds like I completely hated the film, but that isn't entirely the case. I enjoyed Dennis Hopper being a jackass, I always like zombies getting killed or eating people, and Asia Argento is always nice to look at. I thought the concept behind the fireworks was a nice touch and seeing Tom Savini brought a smile to my face. But overall, I'd recommend checking it out on dvd or at a cheap dollar theater in a couple of months. I think Romero's best times are well behind him and his latest entry isn't even near the top of the pack in terms of best zombie flicks of the past 5 years. Land relies too much on graphic gore whereas it should have focused on a much more coherent script and character development.
Oh yeah, if you're looking for the "social commentary" that Romero is famous for, it's pretty non-existant. He dangles a few carrots about capitalism, the social status between the "rich and poor", and morality, but you'll probably miss it with all the machine gun fire and explosions.
What's that I hear? It sounds like the coffin is almost completely nailed shut...