Dawn of the Dead
2004Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley
very time a classic movie is remade, or a book is adapted for the screen, critics line up around the block to bash the new version while trumpeting the virtues of its predecessor from on high. With 2004’s Dawn of the Dead and this reviewer, you’ll get nothing less than the stereotypical mediocrity you’ve come to expect. Despite the noble aim to judge a film on its own merits regardless of its relative strength vis-a-vis an earlier effort, reviewing the newer of two versions of George A. Romero’s film without comparison to its forbear is impossible.
Both versions center on the exploits of a small group of survivors huddled in a shopping mall, faced with the apocalyptic realization that the dead have risen, and the bedlam that ensues. That, unfortunately, is where most of the similarities end.
1978’s Dawn of the Dead is a horror classic founded on the dread of impending doom, ironic and darkly comedic contrasts (especially in regards to the upbeat and ridiculous soundtrack by Italian synth-oompah masters The Goblins and Italian horror director Dario Argento), and humorous, poignant (if heavy-handed) social commentary on the nature of commercial American society. What could possibly be greater than four people hiding in a 1970s shopping mall, dodging lumbering zombies while an Italian version of Yes without vocals blares its attempts at “urgent” music? One thing is definitely not greater, and that’s a bigger budgeted action movie with turbocharged zombies and inferior writing.
One of the hallmarks of the first Dawn of the Dead were its surprisingly well developed and complex characters, an advantage of having only four non-zombified characters together in a mall for the majority of a two hour flick. The new screenplay, penned by James Gunn of Scooby Doo infamy, is flooded with too many people (one hesitates to describe them as characters) to explore anything more than cursory personality traits. A good number of the survivors who reach the temporary safety of the shopping mall seem to be included only for their warm bodies and eventual participation in death scenes.
One thing I can say for Gunn and director Zack Snyder is that an award for “Most Gratuitous Sex Scene” should be given in their names for the inclusion of a ten-second snippet of hot no-name character lovin’. This should not be confused with the Halle Berry Memorial Swordfish award for “Most Gratuitous Nude Scene”, but should be held in the same esteem.
Dawn of the Dead 2004 is not all bad, however. The opening sequence surrounding Ana’s (Sarah Polley, all grown up from The Sweet Hereafter) discovery of and flight from the zombie-induced chaos surrounding her suburban abode is tight and truly unnerving. Also, most of the acting by the multiracial cast (an important holdover from the original) is serviceable given the material at hand, and there are a few nice cameos from members of the original cast. Finally, the idea of contrasting feelings from the characters’ situation and music from the 1978 version is attempted with marginal success (those who have not seen the original would probably say it was done quite well).
Alas, this generation’s take on the sequel to Night of the Living Dead is founded on the perverse tenets of Style over Substance and Action over Emotion. While a viewer could certainly have a few fun hours of mindless entertainment watching a scrappy band of suburbanites fend off zombie attackers, he’d be missing the soul of the original. Rent the 1978 version on DVD, gather up a few friends (especially those who are comedically inclined and possibly stoned), and enjoy the classic.
By: Kevin Worrall
Published on: 2004-03-24