From George A. Romero comes the much anticipated "Land of the Dead," the fourth entry in his highly-acclaimed living dead series. Romero, one of the few whose name alone draws audiences to his zombie films, has a lot to live up to, however - not only does he have to compete with the glory of his own films, but he also has to deal with the fact that in this day and age, many audiences are looking for the quick and exciting rather than anything too satirical.
Luckily, "Land of the Dead" balances itself pretty well with a great mix of political satire and gore, and is by far one of the more unique zombie films I've seen. Set presumably years if not decades after "Day of the Dead," humans now live in isolated cities and only go out into the zombie-infested wild when they need food and supplies. Though the threat of a zombie invasion is always looming, the real problems remain within the city walls, where the rich have taken to high towers while the poor are forced to live in slums. Even worse, the zombies are beginning to involve - one zombie in particular is beginning to show signs of intelligence...
The world Romero has created is a great one, not too surprising considering he's had three prior movies to develop it. The separation of the rich and poor adds an intelligent element to the film, though as one might suspect from an hour and a half zombie flick the ideas are never completely fleshed out - forgive the pun. Even when the zombies aren't in the picture the movie is dynamic and interesting, though things definitely pick up when the creatures are around.
As far as the zombies go, they are great - nothing less than you'd expect from the master of the genre. Many of the zombies here have been around for years, and the makeup team has done a terrific job showing that age - many zombies look like mere skeletons, whereas others look like they haven't eaten in ages. Furthermore, it was fun watching the zombies evolve over the course of the film, and by the end you'll be rooting for them - mainly because the lead characters aren't very interesting.
And this is where we run into some problems. Romero has spent so much time planning his zombie world and poking fun at the current administration that he has overlooked an important ingredient - the characters. Okay, so nothing great is required of characters in a zombie flick, but there is something missing from the leading cast that never really lets you get completely involved in the film. I liked John Leguizamo, but Simon Baker, Asia Argento and especially Robert Joy are pretty bland leads. To top things off, Dennis Hopper delivers a rare disappointing performance as the film's villain. None of the people are terrible, but had any of them been eaten by a zombie I really wouldn't have cared.
The other problem with "Land of the Dead" lies in the ending. Romero decided to give the Bush administration one more glaring finger-pointing, which is cool, but forgot that he still had to end the movie. The film really has no ending; it just ends without any real climax, or at least without any real excitement. Another fifteen minutes could have really done the trick and help fill out the holes.
I loved the original "Dawn of the Dead" and I'm also a big fan of the new version, which was dumber but much more exciting. "Land of the Dead" is a neat zombie flick that sets itself apart from the others in a way only Romero can do, apparently; the problem is, there is a price for that uniqueness. "Land of the Dead" is a good film, but if I had the choice of what to watch, I'd choose "Dawn of the Dead" any day of the week. When it comes to zombie flicks, fun factor does come into effect, and in that respect something is missing from Romero's latest.
Fortunately for those fans who did enjoy the film (or for this looking for some zombie entertainment this Halloween), the Unrated version is now out on DVD. However, like most unrated versions, this new edition includes a wimpy four minutes of added footage - a.k.a. nothing very remarkable at all. There is a good deleted scene where a guy steps on a zombie's fingers, but that's about it. Nonetheless, like most zombie DVDs, "Land of the Dead" has plenty of other good features to offer, including a behind-the-scenes look led by John Leguizamo (he definitely provides a unique flavor to an otherwise bland featurette), a fun examination of how the makeup artists do their work, and so on and so forth. All in all, "Land of the Dead" is a great little DVD package, but don't be fooled by the Unrated label - like most DVDs of a similar nature out there today, this means nothing!
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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