Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Land of the Dead

Monotony of the Dead

Land of the Dead
Released: 2005
Directed by: George Romero
Starring: Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper

I have been a George Romero fan since the early Eighties, when I first saw Dawn of the Dead on the big screen. Zombies are the ONE THING that still manage to creep me out, when it comes to horror movies. But, in Land of the Dead, Romero seems to have played into the sell-out role that he’s always strived to avoid.

Given that Romero has had a very successful run with his Dead series (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead) using relative unknowns, why he decided that he needed bigger names to capture a viewing audience now is completely beyond me.

Land of the Dead utilizes none of the creepy ambience for which Romero has come to be known. Instead of leaving certain aspects to the viewer’s imagination (as he did in Night of the Living Dead with faceless and chilling radio broadcasts), he spells everything out to his modern audience in grueling and mind-numbing detail. Could this possibly be because he knows modern audiences don’t like to think for themselves? Alright, I’ll buy that. But, then why did he also feel compelled to use fairly decent stars, such as John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper, yet refuse to let them perform to their well-known potentials?

Dennis Hopper plays the role of Kaufman – a villainous comic book like rich eccentric in the throes of a God complex. After the whole world has apparently gone to zombie hell, Kaufman holes himself up in a prominent downtown building that caters to the wealthy, where they can live out their lives in relative ignorance and peace. The building is in a city that is surrounded on three sides by water (reminiscent of Manhattan), and the remaining side is well-fortified against the invading zombie masses. Kaufman sends out workers, led by Cholo (John Leguizamo), to retrieve food and other items of luxury, under the false premise that they too will live amongst the wealthy if they work hard enough and survive long enough.

The problems begin when Cholo is snubbed by Kaufman, after what Cholo believed would be his final run through the zombie-packed streets. Cholo then steals an armored vehicle called the Dead Reckoning (the working title for the movie, by the way), which is equipped with what we can only assume to be tactical nuclear warheads. Dead Reckoning was to be used as a last resort, if the undead hoards ever managed to infiltrate Kaufman’s zombie-free utopia.

Cholo has revenge in mind, hoping to blow up Kaufman’s Zion but is thwarted by Riley (Simon Baker), as he has been sent out by Kaufman in order to kill Cholo and retrieve Dead Reckoning. Riley, realizing that Kaufman’s promises are illegitimate, has plans to steal Dead Reckoning for himself and make his way north, where he assumes life will be a bit easier … as if Canada is somehow immune from the zombie contagion.

The zombies, in the meantime, have progressed from being the ambling louts they’ve always been into a fairly well-organized army. They are led by an intelligent zombie, who shows them how to employ the use of tools as weapons and as a way to get into the well-barricaded city.

OK, so that’s the premise to the storyline. A decent idea, but unfortunately it doesn’t pan out. The writing is awful, and I really expected more from George Romero. Every one of his Dead movies reflect something that is currently going on in society. Night of the Living Dead was about our fear of communism taking over what we had always thought to be our safe little world; Dawn of the Dead was about our post Vietnam over-consumerism of the Seventies; and, Day of the Dead was a philosophical look at what the previous generations had done to the world, and how it was now left to the slackers of Gen X to haphazardly clean up.

It seems obvious that Romero’s latest Dead flick is attempting to reflect the ways in which many Americans view everything that is going on outside the security of their own homes. They live in fear of the outside world, but choose to remain ignorant of the poverty that is happening right under their noses. They wish reports of war and famine away into the cornfield, while living their lives in chosen ignorance and arrogance. Then, as though that’s not enough, the references toward the futility of running away to Canada are just nauseating. Again, however, Romero’s line of reasoning is lost amongst a deluge of poor acting and heavy special effects.

Hopper’s character could have been replaced by Superman’s Lex Luther, and some of his lines were almost as hideously boring. Leguizamo plays the stereotypical Latino; downtrodden and led around by The Man toward false promises of the American Dream, whose imaginings are then usurped by The Man’s henchman (Riley), who has aspirations of his own.

In all, I suppose it wasn’t a horrible movie. God knows that I’ve seen worse amongst the zombie-genre. But it just wasn’t what I’ve come to expect from Big Daddy Necromancer, George Romero. Rather than leaving me shaking in my boots and hoping that I wouldn’t have nightmares about flesh-eating hoards of the undead, the real nightmare was in waiting the movie to end.



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