Review: Land of the Dead

Posted by: Dean Kish  //  June 24, 2005 @ 11:59am

Filed under: Reviews

It has been twelve long years since George A. Romero has directed a high-profile Hollywood feature and twenty years since he has touched the "zombie" horror sub-genre.

The last high-profile film Romero touched was the Stephen King adaptation The Dark Half in 1993.

Romero's return to the sub-genre he is credited for creating has made "zombie" fans foam at their mouths. But has twenty long years been worth the wait for Romero's return?

In his latest "zombie film", a rag-tag group of mercenaries led by the heroic Riley (Simon Baker) and the very wild Cholo (John Leguizamo) storm into a ghost town looking for supplies. It seems that the world they live in has been overcome by an explosion of the zombie population and regular humans have to scrounge to survive.

This is Riley's last run before he takes off into his retirement sunset, but standing in his way is not only Cholo but Riley's corrupt boss Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), who wants nothing more than to protect his rather luxurious and lavish lifestyle locked away from the horrors of the outside world.

How can Riley leave all this corruption behind? Are the zombies getting smarter?

I have to admit I was a devoted fan of zombie movies. I absolutely loved the original 1968 Night of the Living Dead, which was Romero's debut feature film. When I saw the film back in the 1980s it sent shivers down my spine. But as more zombie movies came and went, I felt that horrific elements really started to diminish, especially after 1985's Day of the Dead. Don't get me wrong, there have been a lot of interesting takes on the sub-genre since, but nothing that really was Romero's vision.

The return of zombies in pure horror form probably ignited with the critically-acclaimed and first rate horror film, 28 Days Later. It was the first time in a very long time that I felt new life in the zombie sub-genre. Well then there was Shaun of the Dead, and it was solidified.

Because I liked 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead so much, Land of the Dead sort of leaves a foul taste in my mouth. The film seems to be trying so much to regain some of the former glory of its creator more than it is there to entertain.

Then there is the whole concept of zombies learning and being able to fight back. I won't even get into that concept and how preposterous it actually is. I understand re-animating dead flesh, but letting it evolve?

The reason zombie films work is because the horror is being consumed by an ever-growing horde with no end in sight. So when Land of the Dead creates a world of living dead and that learning concept, the whole horror value is shot out the window.

I also am starting to notice that zombie films are better when they are independent and not studio-funded. They seem to lose some of the grit and tension when they have studio backing. I am also starting to feel the same way about John Carpenter's films and remakes in recent years.

My other letdown of Land of the Dead is the fact that it's so short and has no huge finale. It just limps to an eventual conclusion.

I have liked seeing Simon Baker, of TV's The Guardian, making the transition to the silver screen. He does seem to be becoming a competent leading man. He seemed to be starting his crossover with The Ring Two earlier this year. I also liked the performance of Robert Joy as Baker's sidekick. They worked really well together. Asia Argento as Baker's love interest is sassy, sexy, and competent, but not really that interesting.

The character performances of both Dennis Hopper and John Leguizamo are nothing that the actors haven't done before in countless other films. Both need better films.

Overall, Land of the Dead is a disappointment. (2 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

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