Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

When Dawn of the Dead came out I avoided it like the plague. I really didn’t think it could be any good; remakes in general are usually never worth your time and even though I hadn’t seen George Romero’s original at the time I knew there would be no way that a remake by a then no-name director would be able to hold a candle to the original. Turns out Zack Snyder and James Gunn had the same thoughts as I did.

The remake of Dawn of the Dead is as different from the original as it could possibly be. Snyder and Gunn took the idea of the zombie plague and survivors trapped in the mall and changed everything they could to pay a gentle homage to Romero without being caught in the trap of having to do a literal remake.

In this remake the rules are slightly different than Romero’s; in Romero’s zombie infested world there are several things that remain constant – people are fighting against the undead and the zombie’s populace. For Snyder’s remake no help might be somewhere but it is not an available presence. However, the most memorable change is the zombies.

The Dead trilogy has a very specific style of zombie; when you are bitten it takes days to change, and when you do you are a slow, lumbering, brainless beast. From the first sighting of a zombie in this film the difference is evident – victims are changed as soon as they release their last breath and they are vicious. These are not zombies that will slowly make their way to you and try to tear you apart, these zombies are lighting fast, brutally strong and completely savage. Changing the zombies changes the tone and feel of the piece, taking it from a remake into a film that could have been given a different name and the avid Romero fan would have simply recognized the film as an homage.

What I did love is that Gunn and Snyder take the time to pay homage to Romero. The mall is obviously an homage to the original Dawn of the Dead, to pay tribute to Night of the Living Dead the first zombie that is seen is a little girl and to in reference to Day of the Dead the survivors want to escape to an island where they hope the undead won’t have reached. There are a great deal more subtle nudges to the original films, but these were by far my favorites.

Having seen what is considered Snyder’s first major film it is easy to see that he is capable of much more than comic book adaptations. The man does have a style of his own and it is a very fun one. I just want him to start working with completely original material because he is quickly going to becoming the man who does movies based on graphic novels.

Director: Zack Snyder
Writer: James Gunn
Ana: Sarah Polley
Kenneth: Ving Rhames
Michael: Jake Webber
Andre: Mekhi Phifer
Steve: Ty Burrell
CJ: Michael Kelly
Terry: Kevin Zegers
Bart: Michael Barry
Nicole: Lindy Booth
Norma: Jayne Eastwood
Tucker: Boyd Banks
Luda: Inna Korobkina

Kenneth: Is everyone there dead?
Steve: Well, dead-ish.
Kenneth: Is everyone there dead?
Steve: Yeah, in the sense that they all sort of, uh... fell down... and then got up... and started eating each other.

Dawn of the Dead image from Art of the Title.

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