Friday, 22 February 2013

Review - Dawn of the Dead (2004 - Dir. Zack Snyder)

I saw this when it first came out at the cinema and I quite enjoyed it. As time has passed I've wondered whether some parts of it are actually better than the original. For the first time, I've watched them both back-to-back to see which has the edge. 

I was expecting it to be closer than it turned out. Fickle memory played its sneaky tricks on me again. The original is a far better film, with loads more atmosphere. That's not to say that the remake doesn't have its good points. But it also has some infuriating points too.

To illustrate: one of the initial shots is a beautiful overhead shot of our protagonist Ana (the excellent Sarah Polley) driving home but it's spoilt by the Stereophonics crooning over the top of it. It may have been relevant lyrically but surely something a little less sappy could have been found. The overhead shots are one of the defining features of the film for me, they were the shots I remembered the most when I left the cinema, a great way to show the chaos spreading through the suburbs.

Ana soon meets up with a group of zombie-avoiding buddies. Jake Weber, as Michael, is obviously the love interest and is pretty convincing despite some logic stretching dialogue later on (if Ving Rhames was shouting at you to tell someone to get out of a dangerous situation, I can't say that I'd be faffing about actively avoiding telling them to escape). As you might have gathered Ving Rhames is in it too as a naughty bottom cop. He's maybe a bit too well known, the original seemed so realistic because it was filled with unknowns, which is a similar problem with Mekhi Phifer. Mr Phifer is also saddled with some dubious motivations that don't ring true when he is trying to protect his wife and child.

Which brings us neatly to the unpleasant greenish hue that seems to permeate most of the film. It is nauseating, not horrific. The worst scenes are in an American version of Mothercare that has been painted with the most disturbing green paint they could find. (When I moved into my current house, the bedroom was decorated with a similar colour. It gave me nightmares. And made me throw up my supper of Space Raiders on numerous occasions.) To make matters worse the light they use is green too. This doesn't help to make the whole baby sub-plot engaging. In fact, if Mr Phifer and his irritating partner Luda were cut out of the film completely, it would be a better experience.

After the baby episode my least favourite part is the post-credits found footage section. To me it is completely unnecessary. Zombies have overrun the world, anywhere they go will be full of zombies, they are dead wherever they go. So the director can end the film with a supposedly up ending, as in the original, but there is always the suspicion that they will die very soon. Now when I watch the remake, I turn it off before the credits start; it's a much better ending.

I'm not normally that keen on cameos but one of the most powerful moments is an appearance by Ken Foree, preaching on the television. Scott H. Reiniger and Tom Savini also cameo but there are no appearances from David Emge or Gaylen Ross, although the latter gets her name on screen as the name of a clothes shop in a department store. I didn't see (or hear) a David Emge reference anywhere but if you know of one let me know.

From this review, it sounds like I hate the remake. And yes, it has many faults. But, I actually like it. There is an A-Team vehicle modification sequence - always guaranteed to improve any film. Plus there's an engaging subplot with a bloke called Andy in a gun shop across from the mall. The main issue is  what it's being compared to. (A similar problem exists with The Wicker Tree.) I've seen it a fair few times now and still enjoy it. This must be down to the strong relationship between the two leads and the aforementioned overhead shots that never fail to impress. Not as good as I remember, but this is definitely one of the better remakes.

(Average rating for the season so far = 5.6)

If you like this you could also try:
Dawn of the Dead (1978), Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead (1985), The Horde.

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