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Land of the Dead

Reviewed by Alex Strickland
Posted June 27, 2005

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Fear and Loathing in the Land of the Dead

Land of the Dead is pretty good.

I’m going to wait and let the gravity of that sentence sink in.

George A. Romero has just come out with the first new Dead flick in twenty years, and all I can say is that it’s “pretty good.” George A. Romero, the king of the zombies. “Pretty good.” Jesus! Has the world gone topsy-turvy?

The problem is not that the film isn't technically well made, because it is. Even taking inflation into account, Land has the largest budget of any of Romero's previous Dead films. While the movie’s $15 million budget is still chump change compared to your average summer blockbuster, Romero uses it well. The film looks good, from Miroslaw Baszak's cinematography to Greg Nicotero's zombie effects.

The problem isn’t with the premise, which, as Romero’s been saying for years whenever the subject of another Dead film was brought up, deals with the idea of “ignoring the problem.” Survivors of the global apocalypse have holed themselves up in an unnamed city (presumably based on Pittsburgh, Romero’s old stomping grounds), where the skewed class structure remains largely intact. The elite live in an exclusive skyscraper complex known as Fiddler’s Green, while the poor are left out in the slums, subsisting mostly on the scraps of the rich.

And the problem isn’t really with the cast, who do reasonably well with what they’re given. Simon Baker’s Riley is an effective enough lead, and the rest of the cast fares at least as well, if not better. Highlights include Robert Joy as Riley’s sidekick Charlie, John Leguizamo as the sarcastic Cholo, and Dennis Hopper as the smarmy dictator Kaufman. It’s also nice to see cutie Asia Argento as Slack, if only for the additional geek factor that comes from her being the daughter of Dario Argento.

No, the problem is that Romero's done all of it better before. Land of the Dead isn't as scary as Night of the Living Dead, the social commentary isn’t used as effectively as it was in Dawn of the Dead, and it doesn't have the same way with characters that Dawn and Day of the Dead had. Hell, it’s not even as good as recent Romero homages Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later.

The story in a nutshell, to avoid spoiling anything major, is that Riley and his gang are sort of like the biker gang at the end of Dawn; that is, they go out and raid the smaller, abandoned towns for supplies to take back to the city. Meanwhile, following a course set by Day, the living dead are beginning to learn, posing an even greater threat to the remaining survivors. They begin to rally behind an alpha zombie dubbed Big Daddy, an undead Moses of sorts who leads his people on a pilgrimage to take over the city.

Unfortunately, Big Daddy has none of the charm or tragic pathos of Bub, Romero’s previous “smart” zombie. His personality is limited to outraged grunts at affronts (usually of the headshot variety) against his fellow zombies. Presumably we’re supposed to feel pity for the “stenches,” but it just comes off as kind of ridiculous. Now, if Bub had been leading the zombie army. . .

Similarly, the living characters suffer under comparison to previous films. Riley is a decent hero, but he ultimately comes off nowhere near as memorable as Duane Jones’ Ben, Ken Foree’s Peter, or Lori Cardille’s Sarah. Furthermore, the supporting cast is ultimately forgettable as well, perhaps due to the fact that we’re not really given enough time or reason to care about them. The film’s brisk 93 minute runtime is taken up primarily with action, which is all well and good until it gets in the way of character development.

Because of this, and maybe its budget, Land feels more like a movie than its predecessors - and that, I think, is the handle. The original films, especially Night, always had a vaguely documentary aesthetic to them that added a sense of fatalistic dread to the proceedings, a feeling which has all but vanished in Romero’s latest outing. In its stead you get something more akin to Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead than Romero’s classics. Which is not to say that’s necessarily a bad thing. I enjoyed Snyder’s movie for what it was: a fun zombie movie.

I just expect a bit more from one of the godfathers of modern horror, you know?


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George Romero

June 24, 2005

Simon Baker
John Leguizamo
Dennis Hopper
Asia Argento
Robert Joy
Eugene Clark

Full Credits at IMDb

Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

A purchase through our links may earn us a commission.