- Land of the Dead
- George A. Romero
- Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, Eugene Clark, Boyd Banks, Tom Savini.
- 93 min.
Granted, it is tough to live up to twenty years of wishing (for the purposes of this review we will forget about Monkeyshines (1988) and Bruiser (2000)), and granted 1985's Day of the Dead was hardly a masterpiece, but its still hard to wash away the taste of disappointment.
I still contest that George Romero is one of America's most underappreciated directors, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that this title rests solely on the backs of three movies: 1968's Night of the Living Dead is quite simply one of the most important American films of the sound era; 1977's sequel Dawn of the Dead is its equal in practically every respect and its superior in many;and 1974's Martin is Romero's best film and his sole bona-fide classic outside the zombie genre. Land of the Dead had the potential to be listed among that group.
The premise, largely a resurrection of the original story for Day, is perfect. Like Night and Dawn, the setting is Pittsburg (here played by Toronto). The Rich (Dennis Hopper) live in a towering concrete and glass heaven. Everyone else lives in squalor in the remains of the surrounding city. The zombies live everywhere else. In a specially designed truck (notably, much like a bigger, meaner version of the retrofitted parking shuttles in the 2004 Dawn of the Dead) a band of mercenaries go outside the fences into the surrounding towns to retrieve food and supplies for the city. Concurrently, the zombies outside are amassing and becoming intelligent. One of them, called Big Daddy after the embroidered tag on his coveralls (Land's closest correlate to the black heroes of the previous films in the series), leads them on a march to the city.
Okay, so far, so good. The man who made Dawn of the Dead should be able to make this into something great: a biting social satire and a beautiful, terrifying zombie movie.
Romero fails in three major respects: convincing us of the zombie evolution; outlining the social structure of the world in which this takes place; and allowing us to make any emotional connection to the characters. How much of this was studio pressure, how much was Romero's conscious attempt to resurrect his career by making a profitable movie and how much was the shackles of age and the years of being out of practice, I cannot say. What I can say is that this was a squandered opportunity.
Much of this can be blamed on tempo. This is a two-plus hour movie sliced down to 90 minutes. While Dawn started and ended in a chaotic rush, it was only interesting within the context of the slower middle section. Land seems like a frenetic race to the finish-line. Or through a checklist. We need time to see the world, to understand how it works. And you, George, as the director, need time to build tension: the crumbling is more interesting than the ashes. With the number of characters, and of parallel story arcs, 93 minutes is enough time for us to be introduced to all of them and become involved with none of them.
And for the love of god, tell your zombies not to act. Especially if they're the guy who was the plumber in that Progressive commercial.
Land of the Dead isn't bad. Not in the way that House of the Dead was bad, that Dawn's legion of late-'70s low-budget Italian imitators were bad. But it is really, really not good, either. It is closer to Resident Evil than to 28 Days Later. It's not really a wholly embarassing movie, it's just an embarassing George Romero movie.
Should Romero ever make another film, which I very much hope should happen, he needs to take the time to slow down and do it right.
Or maybe he could just back up and take another shot at this one. Please?
- Pat Jackson