Another Positive Look at ‘Land of the Dead’

Universal has been filling up screenings around the country left and right as we’ve had dozens of reviews come pouring in for George Romero’s fourth zombie pic Land of the Dead (review), which finally hits theaters Friday after 20 years. Today we are sticking up a review by Oversights with another one in the coming days. Inside you’ll find another positive look at the film, which stars Simon Baker, Robert Joy, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Pedro Miguel Arce, Krista Bridges, Eugene Clark, Boyd Banks, Jason Gautreau, Christopher Russell, Alan Van Sprang, Asia Argento, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright…
Land of the Dead (aka George Romero’s Phantom Menace)
A review by Brian Myers.

I know now that this film will not meet people’s expectations. Not because it is a bad film, but because the expectations for it are set all too high. It reminds me of the hype and expectations in the genre community when Phantom Menace came out, everyone had been waiting years for the film, and when it hit, it wasn’t what people expected. People had already formed ideas on what the film would be about, what kind of creatures, how the effects would be, etc. Thusly, Land of the Dead suffers from the same thing.

The story is centered around a team of people, lead by Riley (Simon Baker), who go out and find supplies to bring back to Fiddlers Green (which is this film’s Zion to bring in a Matrix reference), after a raid on a deserted town, a large group of Zombies starts heading for this fortified city, but these aren’t ordinary Zombies, they are learning. But all is not right with the team, Cholo (John Leguizamo) has been doing things, bad things, in order to earn his way into Fiddlers Green, when his hopes are dashed he steals the massive, Zombie killing tank,” Dead Reckoning” and proclaims Jihad on the Green. It’s up to Riley, his mildly retarded guardian Charlie (Robert Joy) and hooker Slack (Asia Argento) to get “Dead Reckoning” back. This isn’t the strongest of plots out of the series but it’s coherent and entertaining enough that it’s still better than 90% of the garbage Hollywood usually poots forth in the genre. There is some social commentary there, but it seems much more subdued than the previous films, and I have my reasons for believing that Romero was overrun with studio execs looking over his shoulder trying to make sure there was no strong political subtext. One thing that might bug people is how fast the Zombies learn, it’s quick, almost too quick. They go from being completely mindless, hypnotized immediately by fireworks, to being un- phased and using firearms. The ending is anti-climactic, which when I started writing this review I was going to blast, but after the big reveal by the producers that this is a spring board for more films the ending is appropriate.

The stand out performances come from John Leguizamo (Cholo), Denis Hopper (Kaufman), and Robert Joy (Charlie), these characters are defiantly the more interesting of the group. These are the character I’d like to know more about, I want to know how Kaufman came into power, what happened with Charlie, and hell I could go for a spin off film on the back story of Cholo and his crew rolling around on motorcycles killing Zombies, like Easy Rider with Zombies. The other performances aren’t bad, but they are cookie cutter characters, Simon Baker (Riley) is good and gives a solid performance, but there’s nothing new there. Not that there needs to be something new but how many times can we do the whole regretful hero routine. Something bad happened to him and now he just doesn’t feel it anymore. Sure it’s functional, but for someone who’s been living in a Zombie infested world, I’d expect one to be a bit harder edged. Asia Argento (Slack) is under-used and in a series with some of the strongest female leads in the horror genre it’s kind of sad to see her being nothing more than a mere sidekick, hopefully if the other films get maid we’ll get more of her character taking charge.

The Zombies for the most part are classic Romero Zombies. The make-up effects are spectacular as always and there are some amazing kills, disembowelments and other bits of gore that are great fun. I was shocked by how much they got away with for an obviously R rated cut, and I can’t wait to see a directors cut of this film. One thing of note with the gore is how it’s cut out, I’ve not seen a trimmed up gore movie in decades, so it’s very interesting to see the harsh cuts when a gore scene has been edited. The only thing that didn’t fit is how the lead Zombie, Eugene Cook (Big Daddy), looked. While all the other zombies in the film have the classic Romero look, Big Daddy did not, which is unfortunate as he has the most screen time of the zombies. He doesn’t even really move like a Romero Zombie, he moves like a regular person, which I guess I can see the point as he’s the “teacher” so to speak, but it still doesn’t really fit.

Overall, I recommend this film; I also recommend that you dash your expectations. Look we all do it as horror/sci-fi geeks, when our big franchises come back around, our expectations tend to go through the roof, especially if it’s been a long time between films. So if you check your lofty expectations for the film at the door, you will dig this film. This is a fun, gorey, Zombie flick and if we all get out to see this in the theater it looks like we’ll have more Romero Zombies flicks, really quick, more on that when I post my interview with Romero!

8 out of 10