Film Reviews

DAWN OF THE DEAD (Roy)

By • Mar 19th, 2004 •

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Universal Pictures presents a Strike Entertainment/New Amsterdam Entertainment production
Running time: 100 minutes / MPAA rating: R

Am I that old, that a film I appeared in is already being remade?! At least the character I played, the zombie who gets hit with a pie in the face in full screen close-up, is not reprised in this remake. Obviously I was irreplaceable.

And I think most of us are aware that it took this flick to unseat THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST from first place on the weekly box office. A friend of a friend said “Americans’ll take their resurrections any way they can get them.”

So how does this new DAWN stack up? I was a peripheral yet integral part of the first one, in that I made a feature-length documentary about George Romero and independent filmmaking called DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD, partly on the set of the 1978 version and partly on a later, marginally-zombiesque Romero effort called TWO EVIL EYES. In it, Romero predicted difficult days ahead for diehard independents like himself, and so it isn’t surprising that he gets only one credit on the remake, and a rather fleeting one compared with those that come before and after it. Given all this, how objective could I be?

Well, enough to enjoy the remake quite a bit. I’ll admit that after forty minutes I was feeling that were I in the mall with those survivors, I just might have to choose the zombies. The unbitten contingent are a motley lot, unpleasant of personality, and DAWN feels like another in a series of movies this year whose predominant message is “Hell is other people.” I must also admit that during act one I found myself thinking that if the terrorist threat heats up much more, this might be a premonitory piece of celluloid. Third World City, overnight.

I didn’t like the dank, saturated, unaesthetic look of the cinematography for the first two thirds, though until I catch the DVD, I’ll assume that it could have been the print being shown at the Loew’s 84th Street multiplex (the image was jiggling in the projector gate for the entire 100 minutes as well). The last third resorts to the kind of hyper look used by Ridley Scott in BLACKHAWK DOWN, and by Danny Boyle in the zombie attack sequences in 28 DAYS LATER. It works well, seems adroitly choreographed for just such an in-camera effect, and leaves one on an adrenalin high.

Of the cast, six actors are well-to-relatively-well known. Ving Rhames, of course, we know, and he acquits himself stoically in his angry cop role. Sarah Polley, looking by turns like Susan Sarandon, Sheree North, and Uma Thurman, and occasionally like combinations of any two of the above, is a nurse who tries to make life function within the walls of chaos. Matt Frewer, of the cultish TV series MAX HEADROOM, takes his mutation like a man. And then there are the cameos by the cast of the original – Tom Savini, Ken Foree, and Scott Reineger, all seen on degraded TV screens, shadows of another era when special effects makeup was all there was, whereas now the makeup effects share screen time with CGI effects (and great ones in the last act). As I say, nobody’s particularly sympathetic, particularly the animal lover who practically gets them all killed. That was about the only ‘comment’ I could discern in this version, which otherwise eschews Romero’s fondness for social subtext in his body of work.

The end title sequence is particularly well handled. This horrifically bleak epilogue, glimpsed between the onslaught of dark lettering on a dark screen, is woven together in a way that magically allows the audience to escape the theater still feeling the optimism of the final moments of the story up to that point. It’s really quite brilliant.

The thrills are admirably supervised by director Zack Snyder, and the script’s new ideas are neat. And, it’s pulling in lots of dough. Perhaps DAY OF THE DEAD will follow, and we’ll see if someone can finally get right the only part of the trilogy George got wrong.


Credits:
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenwriter: James Gunn
Based on a screenplay by: George Romero
Producers: Richard Rubinstein, Marc Abraham, Eric Newman
Executive producers: Thomas Bliss, Dennis Jones, Armyan Bernstein
Director of photography: Matthew Leonetti
Production designer: Andrew Neskoromny
Editor: Niven Howie
Costume designer: Denise Cronenberg
Special makeup effects: David Leroy Anderson
Music: Tyler Bates

Cast:
Ana: Sarah Polley
Kenneth: Ving Rhames
Michael: Jake Weber
Andre: Mekhi Phifer
Steve: Ty Burrell
CJ: Michael Kelly
Terry: Kevin Zegers
Nicole: Lindy Booth
Luda: Inna Korobkina

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