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Movie Review: "Dawn of the Dead" (2004)

Updated on August 24, 2014
3 out of 5 stars from 1 rating of Dawn of the Dead

DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers.

The original "Dawn of the Dead" from 1978 happens to be one of the best sequels ever made. It's right up there with "Aliens", "Terminator 2: Judgment Day", "Die Hard With A Vengeance", "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan", and "The Dark Knight" for starters. You can whine and moan as much as you want about the zombie make-up, the clothes, and the hairstyles, but the fact remains that this film was crafted with such brilliance and charm that it's enough to outshine its few shortcomings. And if you're too blind to look past the things that make it look outdated, then I feel sorry for you.

Why they would want to remake "Dawn of the Dead" in the first place is quite questionable. It seems like they were using the outdated elements as a disguised reason to remake it, but in reality, it's just another way to cash-in on this movie; to get fans of the original curious enough to go see it and to also trick retards from today's generation into thinking that this is some original movie because they're too stupid to even bother with a movie from the '80s or '70s, regardless of how great it may be.

Let me first say that I have no issues with the "Night of the Living Dead" remake from 1990. It didn't take a dump on the original movie, they followed it closely and built upon the things that made it great. They added a neat and memorable soundtrack that was creepy, the performances were good, the zombie make-up worked as well, and the fact that it was in color this time (not that I have anything wrong with the black and white original version). Simply put, it didn't feel inferior to the 1968 original. That's because director Tom Savini knew what the heck he was doing.

The new "Dawn of the Dead" isn't completely terrible, it's not the worst remake ever made. The problem is that this film works only as a standalone zombie film, NOT as a remake of the original "Dawn of the Dead". The 2004 film knows how to entertain a movie audience without a doubt. It uses foreshadowing very well, there's high production value, stellar action sequences, and many easy-to-understand shots. In fact, there's a lot of good things to say about 2004's "Dawn of the Dead":

  • I love the opening, the entire first ten minutes of the film is literally attention-grabbing.
  • The negotiation scene in the mall's elevator where Kenneth, Ana, and the other outsiders first encounter the security guards.
  • The scene with the fat lady zombie. Very creepy and intense.
  • The scene where the group plays "Shoot The Celebrity Zombie" on the rooftop.
  • Using the dog to send food to Andy, the guy barricaded in the gun shop across the street from the mall.
  • I love the character of CJ. He actually has an arc in this film, he goes from complete a-hole to likable badass.
  • The character of Steve is also a welcomed (and very entertaining) addition. He's rude, overly sarcastic, and just plain full of himself. He's one of the reasons to watch this movie.
  • Kenneth and Andy's relationship. This was an excellent way for the two characters to bond.
  • I like the fact that there's an interracial couple in this movie. Seeing more of this in the media not only helps to widen the minds of racist fools that still run rampant in our society but also to broaden the minds of young children who may have racist parents. The more of this we have in movies, music, and television, the better.
  • CJ's use of propane tanks.
  • CJ using the bitten guy as a gunman while he and the group escapes.
  • The modified shuttle buses were a good idea, but they also spelled confusion for many of the people who don't really follow these 'Dead' movies. Because "Land of the Dead" was released the following year and featured Dead Reckoning, a similar vehicle, and many non-Dead fans had mistaken it as a rip-off.
  • The entire third act is as good as the first ten minutes. Everything from Nicole's rescue in Andy's Gun Shop, the zombies breaking into the mall, the chase in the modified shuttle buses, right down to the explosive finale on the docks.

As with any remake, I will be making quite a few comparisons between both films here. You may argue that I'm not being fair because this is such a blockbuster movie that delivers, but the problem is that the filmmakers labeled this as a "remake", so therefore it's just begging to be compared to its original counterpart. I have no choice but to do so here, regardless of its good qualities. If this were a standalone movie, then it wouldn't be sitting on my crap list.

As a remake, this film fails to live up to the original "Dawn of the Dead" on so many levels that it's not even funny. First up, I don't see what was wrong with continuing off from the 1990 remake of "Night of the Living Dead"? That would have made for some great 'remake continuity' since they wanted to remake Romero's 'Dead' trilogy altogether. Second, other than the fact that this film takes place in a shopping mall and has zombies in it, I don't see how it is a "remake" of the 1978 movie.

Remember when we opened the original to a chaotic TV news station where everybody, including the two guys on the air, were at each other's throats? Where's the oppositional news reporters and TV broadcasts that felt so genuine and suspenseful? Or how about the one with the one-eyed patch guy arguing with another TV host about the zombie epidemic while the audience booed and laughed despite the fact that the whole world was already fighting a losing battle?

In the 2004 version, we just get your typical straight-faced news reports that are not interesting at all. The one with Tom Savini's cameo, however, is an exception. This movie pays a poor tribute to the original in so many ways. Let the journey begin...

"We're going to the mall"...

That's what Jake Weber's character, Michael, tells Kenneth and Ana roughly ten or so minutes into the film. One of the most distinguishable things about the two versions is that the remake's story is too rushed and fast-paced for its own good.

First, we see the shopping mall way too soon. In the original, we spent a good 20-25 minutes or so exploring the apocalyptic world outside of the mall. We got to see a chaotic TV news station, an abandoned docks plus a good shot of city lights shutting down as the heroes fly away in the chopper. They stopped at an abandoned airfield to fill up on gas and almost got killed, they saw rednecks and military guys hunting zombies. It felt like we were really getting to know this world that was going down the toilet.

Granted, the remake did try to add in that whole part where the characters have secured the shopping mall and are 'living the life', but even that part is so short-lived here. It's obvious that all this was being done to try and minimize the running time which in turn would generate more theatrical showings which equals more box office. Money, money, and more money.

Characters for $0.99 each -- Get 'em While You Can!

A huge problem with "Dawn of the Dead" is that there's way too many characters for its own good. First, there's the main characters which are: Kenneth the cop, Ana the nurse, Jake the nice guy who sells TVs at Best Buy, Andre the thug with the pregnant Russian girlfriend, CJ the security guard with his two co-workers, and Steve the rich a-hole (whom we meet a bit later in the film).

Everyone else in the movie doesn't really do much or have a lot of screen-time to begin with. They all consist of stock characters that seem to exist just to fill a certain stereotype: An old lady who can handle guns and drive big trucks, a gay pastor, a slutty model, a father who's infected and his airhead daughter who has a crush on one of the security guards.

I must question what the reasoning was behind having so many characters when the original "Dawn of the Dead" only had four and everything turned out fine? In the 1978 version, we had four easily identifiable main characters whom we had plenty of time to get to know. There was Stephen, the clumsy helicopter pilot who made a lot of bad choices and ends up getting bitten; his girlfriend Fran who was pregnant and worked as a camera operator for a TV station; then there were the two SWAT guys -- Peter, the wise and resourceful badass who led the group; and Roger, his cocky and overconfident partner in crime who lets the whole zombie apocalypse go to his head and also ends up getting bitten.

And that was it. We didn't need a million gazillion side characters to fill in every stereotype in the book. As John Bender from "The Breakfast Club" would probably say while watching this film, "I see that all the food groups here are represented."

The Area is Secure... and Boring

One of the best parts of the original "Dawn of the Dead" was watching our four heroes as they work together to lock down and secure the shopping mall as their new sanctuary. They were only four people and they got the job done through hard work and gritted teeth. The remake has like twenty characters and they don't really do much to seal off the mall, it's kind of already sealed off for them by the time everything hits the fan. Shatterproof glass, you say? Wow, that's pretty convenient.

In the original, our characters sealed off the entrances of the shopping mall by blocking them with trucks. One of the characters, Roger, gets bitten in the process of this. Then, they had to lock all of the entrance doors from the inside, by using one of the on-display cars to move safely from Point A to Point B, as well as get rid of all the zombies that were left within the mall. Both of these operations, so to speak, were extremely dangerous considering that there were only four of them. They both involved a lot of covering, picking up and dropping off, hot-wiring, and working in the midst of hundreds and thousands of zombies at all times.

Those sequences were very well executed and kept you on the edge of your seat. I don't know about you, but I truly cared for Roger when he was losing his mind while caught in between two trucks with zombies coming at him on both ends. In the remake, there is no homage to the car sequence inside the mall, there is however a BP truck just like from the original. The additional characters use this truck to drive to the shopping mall.

So the only "homage" to the trucks scene is seeing this one stupid truck driving up to the shopping mall and parking under a ladder that leads to the roof. Oh yeah, two of the main characters, Michael and Andre, attempt to go out the mall to the door nearest the parked truck to try and help the survivors but Ana is already helping them climb up the stupid ladder on the roof. So Mike and Andre get chased back inside by zombies. The end. What kind of a tribute is that!?

The only real effort these people do in securing their new home is modifying a couple of mall shuttle buses for an escape plan and painting 'Help' signs on the roof. They don't really have to do as much work as Peter, Fran, Stephen, and Roger did in the original -- All because the mall's locked doors and windows are reinforced with shatterproof glass. Wow, no skin off my lazy behind.

Dead Runnings

Slow zombies are simply far more creepier than fast zombies. The only reason they're fast in this remake is because they were trying to cash-in on the success of "28 Days Later" (another great film, by the way) which came out a year earlier. Mind you, there were no zombies in "28 Days Later", they were just 'infected with rage'.

Granted, there's a lot of people out there, mostly from the new generation, who have many complaints about the slow zombies. The core problem is that they are misunderstanding these 'creatures', if you will.

The slow zombies has four major advantages in these movies.

1. The World as We Know It, in Romero's Universe, Does Not Know What a Zombie Is

See, Romero's zombie series (as well as most zombie movies in general) are set up in a universe where such a thing as zombies don't exist to the world. These movies are acting under the impression that no one in the film has ever seen or heard of a zombie before. Therefore, they would not know automatically to shoot them in the head. We, as fans and as people who have seen a zombie film or two, know that this is how to kill them.

When the epidemic begins in this series, the whole world does not know that these are zombies. If you recall the initial news reports in "Night of the Living Dead", many of them referred to these things as people in some kind of trance or possibly members of a murderous cult. Some even thought they were injured people and offered them help only to get bitten.

With this advantage, the zombies already had a head start on the human race. Now, if this were the real world and this same epidemic took place, we would most likely have a head start over this advantage because WE have already been exposed to zombie material in film, video games, etc. Romero's characters have not.

2. Human Beings are Just as Bad During Great Catastrophes

This is a running theme in the zombie films and even in real life disasters. Not all people are bad, but there are quite a number (and believe me, it's no small number) who are not willing to work together and are out for themselves only. Some people may even see the disaster or epidemic as an opportunity to do what they want. The epidemic could possibly drive initially sane people into doing such drastic things that they normally wouldn't do.

Ben and Cooper had conflicting ideas on how to lead the group of survivors in "Night of the Living Dead". In "Dawn of the Dead" (the original, at least), almost everybody was not getting along despite the extremely dire situation; there were people looting like the biker gang and the police guys on the docks, there were people running away and abandoning their own posts (including police and military men), people were arguing during live news broadcasts.

Let's also not forget two very important ones as well: a) As one of the newscasters mentioned, lots of people still had a sense of humor about the situation despite all that was taking place, that goes to show you right there that many weren't taking this seriously; b) The US government attempted to initiate martial law and dispose of the dead bodies but large amounts of citizens were not willing to give up their recently bitten or recently departed loved ones and instead gave them shelter (i.e. the apartment raid in the beginning where dozens of zombies were being housed in the basement of a project).

Mass panic, hysteria, theft, and lack of cooperation on a global scale. Obviously, this would eventually result to more people dying and adding to the ever-growing number of the dead. Therefore, the 'Human Condition' was nice advantage to the slow zombies.

3. As Long As People Die with the Brain Intact, There Will Always Be More Zombies

In Romero's universe, there are two ways to become a zombie: Getting bitten by one or dying from homicide, suicide, or natural causes with your brain still intact. If it were just narrowed down to the zombie bite itself, then we may have an upper hand of sorts here and there, but hundreds upon thousands of people die every single day of the year all sorts of different ways. Now couple that fact with the presence of this zombie epidemic. It's a global disaster.

Even if we were to kill off the initial batch of zombies that appeared on the Northeast Seaboard of the US in "Night of the Living Dead", there would still be plenty of people dying naturally today, the next day, and so on, therefore more zombies to deal with. It would be a never-ending battle. Humans become corpses who become new zombies, hence the dead are blessed with a never-ending supply of reinforcements until there's no humans left at all.

4. You Can Just Walk or Run Right By Them!

That is true. Barbara actually brings this up in the remake of "Night of the Living Dead". But here's the problem... You can walk or run, but where to? What about the millions more waiting for you in the next town, city, island, and country? Are you really going to kill every single one that you meet? This was Dr. Logan's argument in "Day of the Dead". The epidemic would be everywhere and, like I said, people dying naturally AND from the zombie bite everyday is an additional problem.

The slow zombies would eventually get you in the end. Their strength is in numbers and I've already proven that they have more than enough of those. The remake to 'Dawn' missed all of this by a long-shot, thus failing to incorporate the widespread terrifying atmosphere of the original by using fast zombies.

Will the Real Goblin Please Stand Up?

For a horror movie alone, one of the most memorable things about the original "Dawn of the Dead" was the soundtrack conducted by the Italian group Goblin. Who can forget the music during:

The opening at the TV station

The scene where they first land on the roof of the mall

Peter, Roger, and Stephen running through the mall to get supplies

Peter and Roger blocking the mall entrances with trucks

And that's just a taste right there of the masterpiece that was the soundtrack for the original "Dawn of the Dead".

So now I pose the question: How can a remake to "Dawn of the Dead" happen without Goblin on the soundtrack or at least someone equal to or better than them?

Even in tense scenes like when the group first break into the mall and are running from zombies they encountered inside the shops, the music is really lacking. It's like they just handpicked some library music from somewhere and threw it into this movie.

Remedies for "Dawn of the Dead"

  • Either you're going to do a remake of "Dawn of the Dead" or you're not. There's no gray area in between. Honestly, I didn't see any real reason to remake it to begin with, the original is fine as it is despite the few technical shortcomings I mentioned earlier.
  • Just make it a standalone zombie flick that has nothing to do with "Dawn of the Dead". Yes, that means leaving the shopping mall setting out of this as well.


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