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Movie Review: "Land of the Dead" (2005)
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers.
In 1985, George A. Romero completed his zombie trilogy with "Day of the Dead". The survivors -- John, Sarah, and McDermott -- safely made it to (supposedly) uninhabited island in the Caribbean and began life anew while the rest of the world rotted away.
Over the years to come, Romero would drop hints and talk about how things would go in a fourth installment, which was initially titled "Twilight of the Dead" (unfortunately, the 'Twilight' part went to the wrong franchise). He talked about how the survivors would ignore the dead as if they were nothing more than a nuisance (i.e. like homeless people). Everyone would live in these fortified cities with electric fences and go on with their lives.
However, Romero could never find financing for his fourth film, being that there were too many fingers dipped in the pie, so to speak. Nobody wanted anything to do with him until Paul W.S. Anderson adapted "Resident Evil" into a film in 2002. Mind you, this was supposed to be helmed by George Romero but the owner of the game franchise didn't quite like the script for some reason (so what on Earth did he see in Paul W.S. Anderson's vision? How dumb can you be?).
Hot on the heels of that film's success, "28 Days Later" followed. While not necessarily a zombie film (the people were infected with rage), it did help revive the zombie genre along with "Resident Evil" -- For better or for worse? Well... unfortunately... for worse. The thing is, it wasn't until after all this happened, that Hollywood began to pay attention to "Land of the Dead".
And now here it is, after twenty painful years of waiting. Is "Land of the Dead" all it's cracked up to be? Well, yes and no. It could have been better, but it sure beats the abomination that was the "Day of the Dead" remake.
"Land of the Dead" opens three years after the initial outbreak of the zombie plague in "Night of the Living Dead". The walking corpses are slowly decomposing but are steadily regaining their intelligence (i.e. Bub the zombie from "Day of the Dead"). Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is one of the few fortified cities left in the US, harboring hundreds of survivors who go on living their lives without a care in the world.
A rich man named Kaufman runs this city and wants to keep the finer things for himself and his 'people' who deserve it. He runs his own little economy and employs a group of scavengers who go out of the city to raid zombified towns for essential supplies. This group is spearheaded by Riley Denbo (Simon Baker), our film's protagonist, his handicapped but useful friend Charlie (Robert Joy), and Cholo (John Leguizamo).
The group makes use of heavily armored jeeps, motorcycles, and a special vehicle known as the Dead Reckoning, which has more than enough firepower and rockets -- It's also the safest vehicle to travel in this post-apocalyptic world. Anyway, Cholo has been saving up money to get a place in Kaufman's property (called Fiddler's Green) while Riley is retiring from work and moving up north to Canada ("A world without fences", as he says).
Things go bad for the both of them. Kaufman denies Cholo residency on the 'Green', his excuse is that there's a waiting list, despite the fact that Cholo is one of his best employees. Then, someone steals a car which Riley had purchased. Things really go haywire when Cholo takes matters into his own hands and steals the Dead Reckoning, threatening to blow Kaufman out of his tower unless he gets his money.
Riley and his friends are recruited to talk Cholo down and return the Dead Reckoning vehicle. But what Riley really wants to do is steal the Dead Reckoning himself and take it up north. While all this is going on, an army of the dead from Uniontown (a place they raided in the film's opening) is making their way towards Pittsburgh. Big Daddy, the next generation of Bub the Zombie from "Day of the Dead", is in charge of the 'march'.
Let's begin with the great things about "Land of the Dead"...
- The news report bits during the opening titles - They could have used a little more of this, but not too bad.
- I love the characters of Charlie and Cholo, they are nice additions to the overall series. John Leguizamo gave an exceptional performance as Cholo.
- Riley has a lot of good lines.
- The fact that the film used the old Universal logo is pretty cool.
- There were some nice subtle connections to "Dawn of the Dead" like Tom Savini's cameo as a zombified Blades. Also, Kaufman's town raiders bare a strong resemblance to the looters in "Dawn of the Dead", they're most likely the same organization, especially being that the Monroeville Mall is literally just outside of Pittsburgh. Even the fact that Blades himself walked all the way back to Pittsburgh kind of hints at this as well.
- The entire first 15 minutes of "Land of the Dead" is great, including the town raid sequence.
- The Dead Reckoning vehicle is an interesting idea that makes sense in this universe.
- Using the fireworks to distract the zombies.
- The fenced-in city of Pittsburgh, PA. as the film's main setting.
- The abandoned buildings inside Pittsburgh. I strongly feel that we needed a bit more of the film to take place within this part of the city.
- The scene where Cholo goes into an apartment to kill a zombie who committed suicide. This scene had the potential to be as good as the one from the apartment raid in "Dawn of the Dead" but it fell kinda short.
- The club scene and the zombie arena.
- The scene where cholo shoots the lawnmower zombie was funny.
Here we are, yet again, at the one point which many bad sequels tend to screw up -- The almighty transition. I'm beginning to feel as if the emphasis on this is no use anymore because so many sequels crap all over it.
First things first, like I mentioned above, I loved the old news reports as a way to open the film but I felt that it was extremely underused here. Secondly, "Day of the Dead" was a very bleak film therefore it ended on a bleak note. The overall spirit of "Land of the Dead" is borderline upbeat, a little closer to that of "Dawn of the Dead" but not quite. The vibe here should be something along the lines of 'attempting to come out of the dark times'.
Being that there was a twenty year wait for this film, I strongly felt that they could have done better with this.
Zombies with a P.H.D.
While this was touched upon in the previous entry, "Day of the Dead", with Bub the zombie, I felt that it didn't overshadow that particular film. In "Land of the Dead", the intelligent zombie theme is so overblown, it's not funny.
Don't get me wrong, I understand Romero's logic to this in his universe, it makes sense from that aspect. But it felt extremely overdone here. The main culprit of it all is pretty much Big Daddy himself, the lead dead guy of the film, the 'Albert Einstein' of zombies.
Big Daddy is certainly no Bub, that's for sure. Actually, he's pretty freaking annoying. All he does is whine and complain. Bub felt more natural and he was easier to sympathize with. All Big Daddy made me wanna do is put a bullet in his head.
The Black Hero -- Missing in Action
A common theme that ran rampant throughout all of George Romero's 'Dead' films was the African American hero. Peter was the lead character in "Dawn of the Dead" while Ben and John were strong secondary characters in "Night of the Living Dead" and "Day of the Dead".
In "Land of the Dead", there is no African American hero at all. Instead, we have an intelligent walking corpse, named Big Daddy, who happens to be black. And this guy, as I've said before and will continue to say, is just downright irritating. He doesn't work at all in this film.
Now, nothing is wrong with Riley Denbo, who is white, Simon Baker did a great job with the material given. But if I'm not mistaken, one of the earlier drafts of this film depicted Riley as black, Asia Argentino's character as Kaufman's daughter, and Kaufman himself had an issue with the interracial relationship. It's too bad we didn't get that subplot instead of this Big Daddy nonsense.
Got a Composer?
What is it with these zombie movies today, or most of today's movies in general for that matter, not being able to deliver a memorable score for its soundtrack? I've already discussed this particular matter in my review for the "Dawn of the Dead" remake. But it looks like George A. Romero's very own film has a similar problem.
The music of "Land of the Dead" won't be remembered twenty years from its release because there's nothing memorable about it. Even the remake for "Night of the Living Dead" had an awesome and memorable soundtrack (especially during the closing credits, who can forget that one?).
Random Things That Make No Sense
- Cholo sends Mouse to wait in a dark area near the docks for Kaufman's money to be delivered. He does this while wearing headphones and listening to music. Being that this is not the beginning of the zombie epidemic and assuming most people should be pretty knowledgeable at this point, why would this idiot even risk doing this outside of the fenced-in city?
- So the final shot of the film is the Dead Reckoning riding off into the distance and emptying out all their fireworks into the sky. The reason is that they no longer need them because they don't work anymore on the zombies by the end of the film. It makes for a very nice closing shot, I'll admit, but wouldn't the noise just attract more attention from other zombies on the road? Sounds like a stupid move to me.
Remedies for "Land of the Dead"
I think the one thing that could have benefited this film was the set-up with the story. Ok, so we have survivors trying to restart their lives in a fortified city. Great. They're ignoring the problem that exists outside. Great. Oh and they have the Dead Reckoning vehicle? Excellent. The problem is with the inciting incident which is: Big Daddy the zombie seeks revenge on the humans who raided his town at the beginning of the film.
The character of Big Daddy himself was a bad idea to begin with, Bub was more tolerable, Big Daddy is just plain over-the-top when it comes to dead people with intellect. Not to mention, there's no reason why nobody could put a bullet in his head even though he's always at the front of the zombie crowd and many people are shooting at them.
The inciting incident should occur within Fiddler's Green. More specifically, the scene where Cholo is on his way to ask Kaufman about having his own place, he passes by an apartment where someone just killed himself and has turned into a zombie. Someone else in the apartment gets bitten in the process. This felt like a great set-up for the rest of the film.
What do I mean by that? Think about it. Here we have people living in a city protected by electric fencing from what's outside. What's the worst thing that could happen? The problem starts anew, all over again, WITHIN the city. It gets out of control, anarchy erupts. Just like in the beginning of the problem.
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