George A. Romero finally came back to his ‘dead’ series in 2005 with the highly anticipated Land of the Dead. Film-making had come along way since the last in the series as had zombies. In fact zombies had become an integral part of modern culture & not exactly something to fear.
With Land of the Dead, Romero aimed to take back his zombie crown…
Unfortunately Land doesn’t quite cut it in the end. It’s a funny one ‘cause it’s a hugely enjoyable film but by the end you just end up feeling a little bit flat. Is it the acting? Is it the zombies? Is it the story?
Well it certainly isn’t the story…Land of the Dead introduces us to a dead world, a world were every street corner has a zombie on it & they are getting smarter. There are still humans alive but they live in heavily fortified enclosures. Land of the Dead focuses on one such colony in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Bordered on 2 sides by water & the 3rd by a huge electric fence it is a safe-haven for many including the rich & powerful. In the streets below the common man & woman fight to survive while the rich & powerful enjoy a luxury life in the high rise building called Fiddlers Green.
The whole city is ruled by Kaufman who controls everything including the raids into zombie territory led by Dead Reckoning, an extremely mobile tank armed with guns & fireworks which distracts zombies.
These raids are designed to procure supplies for the city inhabitants according to Riley (the guy in command of Dead Reckoning) while Cholo (the 2nd in command) sees it as his way into getting a place in Fiddler’s Green by doing Kaufman’s dirty work. During a raid there contrasting styles causes problems resulting in the zombies beginning to get the upper-hand. As the group flee it becomes clear to Riley that something has changed & that the zombies are acting smarter.
This is the case & led by one particular zombie (Big Daddy) the zombies re-group from the raid & set out after the group, each obstacle they encounter…over-come until Fiddlers Green is in sight.
Meanwhile Riley’s attempt to leave the city after his final raid is dashed after his car is sold off. While confronting the deal-breaker Riley (and his dis-figured buddy, Charlie) save a prostitute called Slack from being killed by zombies in a bear-baiting cage which results in a shoot-out & the 3 of them being thrown in jail.
In Fiddlers Green all of Cholo’s sucking up to Kaufman is for nothing & after a Kaufman lackey tries to kill him he gathers his friends, steals Dead Reckoning & threatens to attack the city with its weapons unless Kaufman pays him a ransom. Kaufman brokers a deal with Riley to go after Dead Reckoning & deal with the renegade Cholo.
All the while the growing hordes of zombies continue to press towards the city…
Good story huh? It really is & the build up to the final orgy of violence is really tense stuff. Those who thought smarter zombies were stupid really didn’t see just how Romero had laid the ground-work during his earlier films. It was always going to be the next step & while being able to communicate in some vague way & focus on a singular task was devolvement when it came to the eating of humans the zombies still acted like…well…zombies.
As I said above zombies have come along way & so has zombie make-up & Romero really went to town with his. The zombies look amazing & so unique…the scene were they come stepping out of the water is both eerie & exciting as your eyes dart back & forth trying to take in the sights. If I had one complaint it is that the movie focuses on several zombies more then others (including the leader, Big Daddy).
Land is light on gore until the ending & then it just goes crazy, it is the classic pay-off.
Land of the Dead’s first stumble comes with its choice of lead…Riley. Played by Simon Baker, Riley is a pretty boring guy. His breed of hero has been done to death (mean but with a heart of gold) & he ends up coming off unlikeable at times. His sidekick Charlie is such a wet blanket that I was looking forward to him getting chewed on at some point & don’t get me started on Asia Argento (Yes, the daughter of Dario) playing Slack. I get it, she is an ass-kicker & takes no shit from anyone. Yawn…
The good guys are rubbish were as the bad guys rock. Cholo is played by the excellent John Leguizamo & Kaufman is played by the late Dennis Hopper. They are equally the best thing in the movie & have some classic scenes. The same can’t be said for the rest of the bit-part players…those that do get more then a few lines are average & barely memorable, oh & stupid.
There are just far too many scenes were people say or do things that betray the world they live in. One such example sees Cholo sending a lackey to wait for Kaufman’s money in some deserted dock. Its dark all around so what does he do…put headphones on & listen to loud music. I was shocked when he ended up as lunch.
The other thing the film seems to love is the ‘close call’. Charlie is aiming his gun & Slack for no reason what so ever. She is confused, so are we but wait he is actually aiming at a zombie behind her & kills it before it gets to Slack…later the exact same thing happens but in reverse. Similar events happen throughout mixed in with attempted jump scares that rarely work.
There is something just wrong with a zombie being jump-scared by another swinging zombie…
It seems like as a viewer we were being asked to sympathise with the zombies at times & it really didn’t sit well. The final scene with Riley refusing to shoot missiles at the zombie horde that had just wrecked the city ‘cause they are just looking for a home as well’ had me grinding my teeth in frustration. I don’t want to relate to zombies…
Land of the Dead left me feeling confused…I knew I liked the movie but still felt disappointed. Pin-pointing that disappointment is hard…it’s got a good story; mostly the acting is good, the zombies look & act pretty well while its gore scenes come at just the right time. Things just don’t feel right & its faults come to focus more then the good things far too often.
The movie could never live up to the 3 that came prior but it feels worlds apart when it comes to satisfaction.
Land Of The Dead