Friday, October 22, 2010

Second Age Reviews Part 2: Day of the Dead

I have a movie geek confession to make: I don't care much for George Romero. Yes, yes he invented the zombie genre, but that shouldn't make him untouchable. His biggest problems, by and large, is that he takes himself far too seriously and gets too wrapped up in his own mythology. I think it's rather telling that his best film, in my estimation, is the original version of The Crazies, which is the one of his only ones which has nothing to do with his ______ of the Dead series. With all that in mind, we have Day of the Dead which is firmly stuck in his own mythology.

Anywho, some unspecified amount of time after the zombie apocalypse from Dawn, a group of scientists and military men are hanging around a government facility. The scientists are concerned with solving and fixing the zombie problem, which the military wants to deal with by force. Everyone's getting antsy, tensions are running high due to some deaths and screw ups and the scientists don't seem to be making any progress. Main character Sarah is concerned primarily with figuring out how to get rid of the zombies, while the much more interesting Logan is concerned primarily with taming them, believe it or not. Surprise interest comes from Logan's subject an increasingly sentient zombie named Bub. And yes, in case you're wondering I DID make the obvious joke about a scientist named Logan having a zombie named Bub (if you don't get it, you're not NEARLY geeky enough to be here).

There's probably an interesting story there, but too bad it doesn't amount to much. The first half of the film is almost entirely human based, the zombies never sharing the screen with them in groups of more than 2. Most of the plot is centered around one of the oldest cliches in the book, the cooped up, increasingly unstable military man, who orders everyone around like his personal slaves. Most of his soldiers are cliched cyphers as well, doing little to advance the plot or draw interest.

I guess all the problems with the plot is that much of the more interesting stuff remains unexplored. Logan's increasing insanity and use of dead military men in his experiments all gets rushed through in less than 2 minutes and Bub's increasing sentience is little more than an interesting B-Story that doesn't explore the concept very much (unlike the much, much, MUCH later entry Land of the Dead) and doesn't really intrude on the main story until the last few minutes, and then only superficially. This leaves the “WE'VE GOT CABIN FEVER” story to hold up the movie all on it's own, and it's really not strong enough to do that.

The lack of any real zombie menace hurts too. The zombie attacks hinges on a pair of random logic lapses by everyone involved and feels like more of an afterthought than part of the actual plot. Once we get there, the usual amount of gore breaks out, expertly done by Tom Savini (who won a Saturn Award for it) but the idiocy that cause it and the fact that you can tell, from the first 5 minutes, who'll live and who'll die (without exception) takes a lot of the teeth out of it, pardon the pun. It's pacing problems seem almost irrelevant by comparison, as the change from cabin fever conversation and the zombie attack hinges on one scene and you can tell just from that scene what's going to happen.

All of it's expertly shot and the set design and makeup are wall-to-wall excellent, but I can't help feeling that it doesn't add up to much of anything. As I said at the beginning, George Romero takes himself entirely too seriously for his own good, and the only really excellent “serious” zombie film I can think of off the top of my head was 28 Days Later, which isn't even technically a zombie film. The attempts to shove in more interesting ideas and characters into the margins make the film feel half-finished and awkward.

Overall, I feel the attempts to make it more unique weakened it. It wants so desperately to be both an intelligent and reasoned commentary on it's genre and the larger culture surrounding it AND a gory zombie movie that it never really gets to do either properly. Less unique zombie films have been rated higher simply because they get to be what they are. If you want to see a Romero film, see Dawn of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead or even just The Crazies long before you see this.

Next time on Second Age Reviews: Pink Floyd's The Wall

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wants to know what is UP with not-scary horror movies and really odd soundtrack choices?

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