Wednesday, February 2, 2011

ZomBlog Review: "Dawn of the Dead" (2004)

“Dawn of the Dead”
Stars: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber and Mehki Phifer
Writer: James Gunn
Dir: Zack Snyder
110 minutes (Director’s Cut)

Filmmaking 101 is now in session. It is late in the semester and we are going to discuss the rules of remaking a classic.
First, select a classic, critically-hailed film.
Second, strip it of almost nearly every element that made it a classic.
Third, update characters and situations for the modern audience.
Fourth, focus on what some people found as the sensational factor of the former and ramp it up by 10.
Fifth, pour in more characters and completely compromise the original story.

If you attended a class in college, and these were the notes you scribbled down, not only should you fail outright, but your professor should be beaten to death with his own bag of weed.
Look, I understand this was Zack Snyder’s first film for a big studio. But, for fuck’s sake, if I ever was given a chance to make a film, it certainly would not be in my best interest to remake a highly-revered classic. So, from pre-production to finished product, Snyder had the odds against him.
I will say this about the 2004 “Dawn:” It is entertaining. If I was an ignorant member of the audience, I could see the appeal. It is fast, it gets to the point, there is very little character development, there is a lot of gore, the plot moves along as fast as the fucking undead, and, if my brain is shut down, it could be fun.

But, my fellow droogies, this is “Dawn of the FUCKING Dead.” I grew up lauding Romero’s original as the definitive zombie film, a film that kept in touch with it’s 1970s “talk back at the audience films.” The 1970s were a spectacular era in film. It brought us “Taxi Driver,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Godfather,” “Apocalypse Now!,” “Alien,” “The French Connection,” “The Exorcist,” “Rocky,” “Deep Throat,” etc. I could go on for hours.
With the exception of “Deep Throat,” (and an argument can be made there, easily), the 1970s produced films that punched the audience in the face with a message about the sign of the times. The original “Dawn” was far less subtle than its decade’s brethren, but the message was there: Consumerism will be the death of us all.
And, thank you, George, the 1980s proved you a prophet.
However, when you get around to making a modern version of a classic, which indeed had a message, the most irresponsible thing a filmmaker can do is to ignore that completely. There is absolutely no message in the 2004 “Dawn,” other than rednecks are dicks, black people are badass policemen or gang members, guys with long hair own gun shops and have great aim, blondes are either tough or screw a lot, and dogs are never zombie food.

So, here we go. Polley (I loved her in “I, Monster”) plays Ana, a nurse finishing up her shift. She comes home, says hello to a neighbor girl, and then has shower sex with her husband. She wakes up to a very zombiefied little girl rampaging her bedroom, killing and reanimating her husband, and barely escaping as long camera shots, POV camera shots, cameras mounted on vehicle shots, aerial shots, etc. etc., etc., show the audience that all hell is breaking loose. She meets up with Deputy Rhames, whom, really, plays the role with the same one-note he did as Marcellus Wallace in “Pulp Fiction.” He’s big. He’s black. He’s not going skiing.
They wind up finding Mehki Phifer and his pregnant girlfriend, and a Best Buy salesman (Weber) near a shopping mall, where they all decide to secure and wait for help.
The shopping mall and boredom with zombies are about the only parallels this remake has with the former.
However, the remake is not without merits. Polley and Rhames do pretty decent with what they are given, with Rhames taking over Ken Foree’s calm but confident role in the original (Foree shows up and delivers his classic line) and Polley taking over the role of Gaylen Ross. The long-distance rooftop friendship between Rhames and his gun store pal, Andy, had a good premise until a stupid plot point ruined it.
The other characters? Well, there is the kinda smart guy who reveals he was a salesman at Best Buy (again, Weber) and seems to be the smartest guy in the room most of the time. To me, he is a plot device; he moves the key points along, keeps the plot in order, and has very little to offer until the very end.
Once arriving at the mall, the crew of five meet up with three redneck security guards with attitudes and guns (?) and a struggle for power ensues.
And, yeah, later some other people who decided the mall is a good place to go show up. Whatever.

Damn it, this film is a tonal/total mess. It switches back and forth between serious zombie fare and tiny comedic pauses. Yes, pauses, like when you are at Thanksgiving dinner and a great-grandparent makes a racist joke. You feel uneasy, you chuckle just to get past the moment, and then can’t wait to get away from the table. I have argued with my blog counterpart about a key moment in the film (SPOILER ALERT, DO NOT READ FURTHER!) involving the issues of a zombie offspring. I thought it was a cheap attempt at shock; he thinks it should have been explored further. Regardless, the storyline picks elements from Romero’s original — zombies and a mall — and lavishes gore, pointless characters (although an appearance by Matt “Max Headroom” Frewer and now “Modern Family” dad doofus Phil Dunphy [Ty Burrell] were welcome for the few seconds of screen time they had).
I don’t hate this remake. I just don’t like it that much and will not be returning calls.

Romero Rules Followed: Should I even address this? The fuckers run like crackheads aiming for a fix and hardly have a moment to actually feast. *Sigh* They are undead and follow most Romero rules.
Gore factor: A lot, but mostly zombie extermination.
Zombies or Wannabees? The running undead. Again, *sigh* zombies.
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Fine. That’s all I can say.
Additional comments:
Had this film been anything other than a remake of the original, I might have been kinder to it. The writer, Gunn, made his name with the Troma Team release of "Redneck Zombies," filmed a stone's throw from where I live in Charles County, Md., but I cannot excuse his lack of reverence. I can’t be kind when you take a classic film, throw it in a van, rape it, make it eat worms, beat it, and then smack it around for good measure. Note to filmmakers: We have seen so much fricken gore, it is not shocking anymore. Making a film more graphic and giving us cardboard actors will not make a better film. Give us people we can relate to/care about. We can watch a clip show of gory scenes and forget it. Give us a three-minute scene of solid dialogue and bad ass characters, and we will adore it. Do you doubt that formula works? See my last post…


1 comment:

  1. This was the first zombie movie I ever actually saw, and yes, I am a victim of being born long after the original film debuted. So I naturally thought it was great. Zombies who really terrify the shit out of you! I confess, it's hard for me to even imagine them any other way now. But as much as I may disagree, I love your attitude in this blog post, I gotta say haha. Keep 'em comin'!