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Land Of The Not Quite Dead Enough

Ok, it’s taken some doing.. but, I’ve actually found a film that I was interested in reviewing that isn’t an adaptation from a comic or classic novel, that isn’t a remake (or re-imagining or whatever the hell they call them now days).. although.. it IS a sequel.. what’s worse – it’s a sequel to a remake!

So, what’s the film? it’s George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead.. that’s what you have to call it too, you’ve got to include the “George A. Romero” bit at the start,,, AND, you have to do it in that creepy announcers voice…. all together now: George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead!

Right, now read the review.

George A. Romero carved a name for himself in the late sixties, early seventies, by creating some extremely confronting and disturbing, low budget horror movies. More specifically his name has been associated with [probably] the most successful series of zombie movies ever made: Night of the Living Dead (1968, remade in 1990), Dawn of the Dead (1978, remade in 2004), Day of the Dead (1985) and now, Land of the Dead. While horror aficionados hold these movies in high regard and can often be heard speaking of ‘underlying social commentary’, these movies really are just c-grade gore flicks, which up until recently, had matching c-grade budgets.

Land of the Dead is the first new chapter in the ‘Dead’ series in twenty years, and with it comes the first opportunity for Romero to breathe new life into the genre that he created back in the sixties. Unfortunately, despite strong performances by most of the cast, wonderful production values and an extremely obvious attempt to force something that resembles social commentary into the mix, Land of the Dead fails to be anything more than just another zombie movie… But is that necessarily a bad thing?

Former ‘E-Street’ and ‘Home and Away’ star, Simon Baker does his best ‘guy with the weight of the world on his shoulders’ acting as Riley. The leader of a salvage team, Riley heads up missions into abandoned towns, looking for food stores, medical supplies and anything that can be collected and taken back into the walled city from which they operate. Riley represents the moral high ground, while he works for the elitist businessman, ‘Kaufman’ (Dennis Hopper), he does so for the good of all those who cannot afford to live in the lap of luxury that Kaufman has created in a plush skyscraper.

Kaufman is the juxtapose of Riley. When the world descended into a state of chaos (as seen in Romero’s previous ‘Dead’ movies) Kaufman saw an opportunity to profit and place himself at the top of the food chain. He invested in walling off the city, hired mercenaries to man the perimeter and established an upper class community who’s residents lived as though the world had not been irreversibly changed, while those considered ‘undesirable’ lived out in the streets. Kaufman also funded the construction of ‘Dead Reckoning’, an armoured vehicle which Riley designed and his team uses on their salvage missions.

Simon Baker and Dennis Hopper’s talents are criminally underused in Land of the Dead. Hopper’s greed motivated Kaufman is more caricature than real villain. Hopper does his best to make the character work but unfortunately the script has him coming across at times as more bumbling than ruthless and Kaufman ultimately fails to be anything more than an underdeveloped plot driver with far too little time on screen. Like Hopper, Baker is given very little to do with his character, although, unlike Hopper, he spends ninety percent of the movie on screen. His character, while seemingly weighted, is extremely light. We’re given very little background for Riley and as such he is extremely hard to identify with. At one point Riley explains that ‘Nothing bad has ever happened to him’. Yet later, when questioned about this (after telling of how he had to shoot his own brother after he ‘turned’) Riley replies “That happened to him, not me.” – An oddly cold reply for a character who we’re suppose to believe is compassionate. However Baker’s farouche delivery of the line demonstrates just how deep he’s willing to dig for this character.

Unlike the actors, the special effects teams were given plenty of meat to work with. Land of the Dead is undoubtedly the most graphically violent movie that I’ve ever seen. It appears that Romero has spent most of his new found budget on exploding latex heads, imitation innards, faux fingers and phoney gushing neck wounds. While this is probably to be expected given that extreme, confronting violence is a hallmark of this genre, Land of the Dead comes dangerously close to crossing the line into self parody.

Another hallmark of George A. Romero’s ‘Dead’ series is the supposed underlying social commentary. Personally this notion has always felt forced onto the films as an after thought, rather than something intended from the beginning. However Land of the Dead has at its centre a distinct comment on the division of wealth and the increasing gulf between the upper, middle and lower classes… Your guess is as good as mine as to what we’re suppose to get out of that comment, but its there and it certainly feels a lot more intentional than the “it’s a comment on modern consumerism” that gets associated with Dawn of the Dead… Wait, now I’m thinking too much!

Regardless of anything else, Land of the Dead is another chapter in the story that George A. Romero created. You can (should) forgive the fact that the character development is non-existent, you can (should) forgive the fact that the dialogue reeks and you can (should) accept all the gore and violence… Why? Well, If I have to explain ‘Why’ then clearly you shouldn’t be going to see a zombie movie in the first place.

Overall Score: 6/10

[Originally written for EON and published at Gamespace on Fri, 05 Aug 2005]

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