Friday, January 20, 2006

Land of the Dead

I finally saw Land of the Dead a couple of nights ago (thanks Mahagonny). It came as welcome respite from that similarly strangely compelling horror show known as Celebrity Big Brother -though I found the representation of the dribbling living dead rather more believable in the former.

I must say that the film came as a bit of an anti-climax. It was certainly a very good zombie film and it kept my attention from start to finish. It wasn't a bad film by any stretch of the imagination - but it wasn't as good as I had anticipated. I can't help feeling that the supposed subversive political sub-text of the film - though certainly present - was not quite as impressive as I had been given to believe by various film reviews on the web. Much of the dialogue and some of the acting was crap - Dennis Hopper, as one of my housemates pointed out, is really over-rated as an actor. You always expect a lot from him, but never seem to get it. Maybe he's just been taking the piss for the last 20 years. You'd think he'd have got tired of it by now though. In addition, I found Big Daddy's (the zombie leader) pained grunts and (badly acted) rudimentary generalship of the zombie horde rather comical - although, to be fair, it must be quite a difficult role to carry off convincingly. How do you depict a mindless animated corpse of above average intelligence who can command an army of zombies by means of a series of mooing sounds? I dare say I couldn't act it. On the other hand, John Leguizamo (Cholo) is an excellent actor and I thought that the bloke who played the hero, Riley, did a good job (of a fairly one-dimensional character) too.

There seemed to be a couple of holes in the plot. In particular, I can't work out why Riley's team would be sent across the river without some means of land-transport - they hot-wired a buggy kind of thing, but was this planned (was the buggy left in place for them deliberately) or did they just stumble across it? Who was the unfortunate zombie meal in the river-side shed thing when Riley arrived? I thought this was Cholo's errand-man, until he showed up alive and well (shortly to be eaten himself) later on. The whole thing with the tracker too, was a bit non-plussing. It wasn't explained that Riley had a tracking device fixed on the 'Dead Reckoning' until quite late in the film which meant that during the earlier section of the movie where Riley and his team are following Cholo I was straining to work out how they knew where he was, and therefore not really concentrating on the film. I always do that - if there's something I haven't followed I can't simply let it go, and instead try to track back through my memory of the film so far to fill in the gaps, which means that I effectively miss whole sections of the film while racking my brains - I expect that's why they invented the pause button on the remote.

In a similar vein, I spent much of the film trying to work out where this part of the Romero series stood in relation to the earlier films, attempting to deduce this from the clues in the film. What I mean is that I was trying to satisfy myself as to how long it had been (in the chronology of the inner world of the film series) since the beginning of the zombie plague (Night of the Living Dead). One of the characters mentioned that she hadn't been out of the city for three years, suggesting that the plague had lasted that long - but I couldn't be sure. It seemed more likely that the plague had lasted for a lot longer than that given the fact that the inhabitants of Fiddlers' Green had constructed, and settled into, an established and fairly rigid hierarchical social structure and evolved a crude form of military-state system. This would take longer than three years I should think. Of course, this is probably just me being very very geeky - I dare say the film/series isn't intended to have definite chronology.

I think, also, that Romero seems to have changed the established zombie conventions too, in that in previous films you would only 'turn' if bitten, but in this film every corpse 'turns' whether bitten or not. A bit cheeky I thought. Still, it brought an added sense of horror and doom to the world of the film.

The zombies were certainly a cut above those in previous Romero films - although I have a strange preference for the amateurish (and more than faintly comical) blue coloured zombie make-up of Dawn of the Dead. I liked the range of zombie decomposition amongst the hordes - from the freshly dead (who looked a bit like you do first thing in the morning with a bad hangover), to the emaciated and wizzened long dead zombies (think a slightly healthier looking Norman Tebbit). In an interesting development, one of the zombies was actually quite sexy. She looked like a wholesome pretty girl next door, only dead and a bit stinky.

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