This week I’m taking a little time to do reviews of the remakes of the classic George Romero movies. I worked on the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead in yesterdays post and have moved ahead 14 years to 2004’s Dawn of the Dead.
There’s something really simple and classic about the poster art for Dawn of the Dead which I love. The drooping shambling horde lurching toward us out of the sunrise seems to melt like wax and ooze down the face of the poster. Is it a reflection as they step into water? The poster leaves enough to our imagination with enough information given that we have a very clear image of what we’re seeing. And what I see dead center is a very short person. Is this the little girl we meet at the opening of the film?
Before I get into the good and the bad, let me just reiterate something from yesterday.
When we look at a remake it’s tempting to say it’s less valuable or not as original or interesting because it’s “just a copy.” I don’t take this view towards movies any more than I do towards plays and neither do the actors who play in them. There’s no way an actor would look down on a retelling of Hamlet at Shakespeare in the park simply because that story had been told before. It’s the same with movies. New actors and directors add their own take to the films. Sometimes the time a movie comes out effects the meaning behind the film and gives us better insight into the story but it’s up to the people making the new movie to update that meaning for a modern audience.
The main questions I like to ask is:
Is it a good interpretation of the story?
Is it a well-made movie?
Although I think it’s a little unfair to simply compare the new film and the old one, in one case I want to do just that:
1978’s Dawn of the Dead had a lot of great elements that reflected the wild consumerism that many people saw overtaking American values of family and community. That same sense is even more deeply at work in today’s society with a near-total break down in the neighborhood structure and increasing focus on consumerism in our society. It also played to certain aspects of a growing racial equality in our society.
2004’s Dawn of the Dead threw all that aside. There is little to no social commentary or metaphor and we are left with only the most superficial aspects of the horror film.
That being said it is a pretty entertaining piece of action / horror with some scenes I found delightfully hard to watch. When I saw this film my wife was pregnant with our first child and I had a really hard time watching the pregnant character deal with being sick and infected and everything that was going to happen to the baby when it came time to deliver. This part of the movie was, from a story-telling point of view a great opportunity to focus on values of what we hold most dear to us. When the world is gone, our jobs, cars, homes everything, all we have left is family. That doesn’t seem to be the point made by the filmmakers however. It was more of a gross-out which was hinted at in the first film and never really fully developed. Still, it did what it was intended to do; it freaked me the hell out.
The look and feel of this movie are fairly well thought out. The zombies are fast, infection takes seconds from the time of death and the action is ramped up. The characters feel real though underdeveloped and when they die or turn we don’t really feel much for them. We have so many “red-shirt” characters who we’re sure are going to die that it’s hard to get attached to any of them enough to emote a response when they drop.
Perhaps one of the best things about the film is the simple fact that it takes place in modern day. Although many things have stayed the same since 1978, the styles and fashions and the look of the film making is so different now, it could be hard for a new audience to access the original story.
And I have to admit, the soundtrack is pretty damned killer.
Oh and one last thing. Check out the nice tip of the hat to the Shining in the opening bathroom scene.