Land of the Dead

Dir: George A. Romero
We had to wait twenty years for the fourth installment of George Romero’s zombie opus,
but I would say it was worth the wait. Nothing too advanced has happened since Day of the Dead that would alter Romero’s viewpoint. We’ve had lesser attempts (the Return of the Dead series), and some comical takes on the mythology (Peter Jackson’s most excellent “Dead Alive” and Simon Pegg’s adulatory “Shaun of the Dead”), as well as some atrocious updating (“28 Days Later” and the “Dawn” remake). So the door was still open to Romero to advance the mythology in this film and he doesn’t disappoint. Older scripts are kicking around that show what would have happened if the money had arrived ten years ago. However, Romero wrote this just before 9/11 and his sense of doom and the encroaching police state are just right for the times we’re in.
The rich live in a walled off citadel called Fiddler’s Green (a vertical version of the mall in “Dawn”, but reimagined as if the humans in that film had never left), overseen by Dennis Hopper’s Kaufman. Outside lie the impoverished class, unable to enter the citadel, but separated from the zombie-fied world outside by electric barricades. Addicted to drugs, drink, and gambling, infected with prostitution and revolutionary fervor (there’s a thin subplot of a people leader who still has, of all things, an Irish brogue), the masses are glad to be hemmed inside their little camp. A band of rogues in Kaufman’s employ (as opposed to the lawless road pirates in “Dawn”) make the occasional sortie out into the wastelands to scavenge supplies from abandoned markets.
The zombies, we see, still shamble about like zombies do, but they’ve evolved a bit, now able to understand primitive communication and follow a leader called Big Daddy, a former gas station owner. Romero’s sympathies have evolved–whereas the survivors of the past three Dead films had African-Americans in their cast, this time the charismatic black actor is the zombie leader. Here’s the real underclass.
Well, the plot follows two paths: the zombie army advancing on Fiddlers Green, and the heroes’ journey outside the walled city to capture the armored tank called “Dead Reckoning,” which has been hijacked by John Leguizamo’s character. Much zombie action follows, including a “flip-top head zombie” and much flesh-chunk chewing. The long-awaited massacre of the yuppie scum inside Fiddlers Green isn’t what I’d hoped for though. Hopefully the unrated director’s cut on DVD will satisfy my bloodlust. Bwaa-hahahaha!
Romero’s social commentary is always there and makes the film a bit more than just a horror flick–from the beginning, when “Dead Reckoning” storms through a village and masacres zombies for fun, the images of the raid on Fallujah and other Iraq war battles can’t help but pop up. And while Kaufman doesn’t resemble Bush in any way, the whole idea of Fiddler’s Green is pretty much a Neo-con’s wet dream. The masses outside have their diversions, and can never hope to enter the shining citadel. Romero parallels this idea with the use of fireworks to distract the zombies. Big Daddy finally teaches the zombies to ignore the shiny diversion and attack, which suggests the revolution will only happen once people turn off their TVs, stop worrying about sports and celebrity trials, and, as my friend suggested, stop going to popcorn movies like this one.
All in all, some good eatin’. Ain’t It Cool News has a nice and long, geeky interview with Romero from a year ago. Now that Land of the Dead did good box office, perchance some of the projects mentioned will go forward?

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