Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Land of the Dead

Land of the Dead (Director: George A. Romero)

Romero is the father of the "Dead" movies, beginning with Night of the Living Dead. Then came Dawn of the Dead (excellently remade last year) and Day of the Dead. His other films include many Stephen King adaptations including Creepshow, The Dark Half, and the upcoming The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.

The zombie flick always has some sort of political mindedness to it. It's always about evil corporations or the class system, and the zombies function as a swarming team of mercenaries coming to make people pay for their sins. The ultimate message is that the zombies aren't the bad guys--the rich people are, and the poor people get caught in the crossfire and/or are the heroes.

Nowhere is this more apparent than Land of the Dead, a movie that would only be made in the Bush era. We have the evil Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), who basically decides who gets to be a part of the world-class enclosure that keeps rich people secluded from the poor and destitute. He has a black, Steppin Fetchit-type butler, he decides that his loyal employee Cholo (John Leguizamo) can't enter the world of the rich because he's Hispanic (it isn't said or really implied, but it certainly seems that's what the movie is saying). All of his actions and sending people out to their deaths, made for personal gain, have an Iraq War-feel to it--and this can't be denied towards the end when it is time for Kaufman to get his just desserts--the message is clear, and given to irony.

The movie centers around this, and of course, the zombies, who have begun to learn things and are trying to break in to the world that shuns them. They are led by "Big Daddy," (Eugene Clark--the stealer of this movie) a black zombie who teaches the others how to break barriers. A team of warriors, led by Riley (Simon Baker, who was in this year's The Ring Two), not only try to stop the zombies but also have been hired by the evil Kaufman to track down the disgruntled Cholo, who plans to use a battle truck called Dead Reckoning to destroy Kaufman's tower (palace). Joining the team is hottie Slack (Asia Argento) and comic relief Charlie (Robert Joy).

Now, this whole parallel with fatcats and whatnot would be outstanding if the movie came through with a thrilling horror movie to go with it. But what we have is a weak lead character (In both of Baker's movies this year, he's been a true yawner), terrible writing, and scares solely based on how much gross-out stuff can be filled into the frame. Where the movie shines is in some pretty cool camera shots, and the display of human cruelty against the zombies (humiliation over death, and it's profitable) is the most well-rounded theme of the movie, especially as seen through Big Daddy's eyes. But mostly, this movie just fails on many levels, and it's disappointing.

The true picture that is getting painted over the last few years is that directors who thrived under the seventies Auteur Theory (whereby studios allowed directors to be the sole author of the film without much meddling from producers and studio heads) seem to have an inability to thrive under the now clearly studio-run pictures of today. We've seen Lucas, Scorsese, Coppola, and others have a very difficult time making pictures nowadays that match their earlier work. The only exception has been Steven Spielberg. And in some cases, we'll hear that these directors have the final say--but they have either lost touch or they have had to bow to the studio in many instances (Scorsese had to cut Gangs of New York when the Weinsteins got a hold of it, and even though I liked quite a bit of Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line, many found it boring, and George Lucas obviously became so egotistical that his fans don't matter). Romero appears to be another one of those guys. The maverick of the seventies is not present in this film. It's that old director raised from the dead, finding himself in a modern world where his old ways aren't appreciated or needed.


At 6/21/2005 02:54:00 AM, Anonymous Buckley said...

I guess about 6 months ago when I saw the trailer for this movie I was actually looking forward to it. All these horror movies of the week/month just really haven't been worth a flip. I will probably sit through this movie, and I might even halfway enjoy it.

At 6/21/2005 07:05:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

I would still say Scorcese is up there; maybe not as far as making Speilberg's money, but he never did. "Goodfellas," "Casino," "The Aviator," and "Bringing Out the Dead" are all very well made and powerful movies in their own way. I know you weren't knocking him by any means, but I don't think he should be looped in with Lucas, Coppola, and Romero.

At 6/21/2005 10:11:00 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Yes, but GOODFELLAS came out in 1990, and ever since, Scorsese has had a hard time getting a movie down that has matched it. Of course, GOODFELLAS is like, a perfect movie. The others you mention may indeed be good in their way, just like Coppola's THE RAINMAKER has its charm, but when compared to earlier films, they are average.

So, while I give Scorsese more props for still making quality work, he's obviously had a hard time making movies that approach his earlier movies, and that's why I grouped him in with that crowd.

At 6/21/2005 01:08:00 PM, Blogger PaulNoonan said...

Have you guys seen this news:


At 6/21/2005 01:22:00 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Thanks for the link, Paul. I think this will certainly get Regal on the move to acquire something else. Being number one, and having that bargaining chip with the studios, is important to these chains.


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