Friday, September 9, 2011

Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder, 2004)

So, a few days ago I watched Dario Argento's Inferno (second in the "Witches Trilogy"). I did not really get into, and was not sure why. What is it about the Italians that does not appeal to me? Last night I watched Zack Snyder's reboot of Dawn of the Dead, and I think I know now.

This is an excellent example of how to "reboot" a property. It is close to the original in a few ways. One of the primary characters is a cop (two were in the original) and the group holes up in a shopping mall (a considerably larger group this time). It is also a character driven film. This might be where the Italians fail me. In both Suspiria and Inferno I could not tell you a single thing about characters other than what they look like and what they did for a living. In both versions of Dawn of the Dead films I can tell you something personal about each major character, and at least a bit about the minor ones.

Our primary leads are Michael (Jake Weber, Medium) and Ana (Sarah Polley, Avonlea) and secondary leads are Ken (Ving Rhames, Pulp Fiction) and C.J. (Michael Kelly, The Sopranos). Michael sells televisions at Best Buy, and is the de facto leader of the team. He has the personal skills to handle the various factions and personalities in an attempt to achieve their goal; survival. He has been married/divorced three times and has children, and is concerned about not only his team's survival, but anyone else who might come around. Ana is a nurse, and is torn between self-preservation and the idea of killing zombies. I don't know if "do no harm" is part of a nurse's oath, but as a healer she is loathe to kill; even zombies. Ken is bad-ass number one. He is a cop with implied military experience. He is slow to joining the team, having personal well being at the top of his priority list.

Sarah Polley as "Ana"

The character that receives the most development, however, is C.J. He is the head of mall security. He and three other security guards were in the mall prior to the other characters arriving. His objective is to keep himself and his men alive, and is not concerned with outsiders. He is pretty much a typical redneck personality-wise. They don't explain his past, but he is handy with a weapon, fearless in a fight, and not what you would call stupid (though perhaps misguided would be appropriate). Ultimately he is the most heroic of the bunch, taking serious chances to preserve the safety of others.

Michael Kelly as "C.J."

One complaint about this movie is the "fast zombie" factor. This is a big dividing line amongst zombie enthusiasts, especially since this is a Romero remake without the Romero zombies. Well, almost. There are a large number of fast zombies and most of the zombie fighting action employs them. Sure, there are masses of zombies just milling around in the standard Romero fashion, but once there is prey to be had, they tend to speed up. This seems only natural, if I may use such a term in a zombie discussion. Romero zombies are predators, not the mindless walking dead of the Voodoo tradition. If you can't catch food, you don't eat. Also, Romero has never shied away from the idea of an "alpha zombie" and as with any group of predators the alpha is the best hunter. Even though Romero does not employ the fast zombie (except perhaps in Land of the Dead) his vision sets precedence for them. The primary fear factors of a zombie movie are the hopelessness of the heroes' situation and the fear of assimilation. The speed of the zombies has little bearing on these in my opinion.

Now, back to the Italians. In Inferno I did not care about a single character, and did not understand what they hoped to accomplish. That is not to say it was not a scary film. There were some serious creep-out moments. Typically in horror films many of the characters die, and it is a major part of the fear. Whether they are killed by demonic forces, a crazed killer with a chain saw, or turned into one of the undead throng, the death of any character is important to making a film scary. This is heightened when you care about the character, at at times more so when you dislike a character and he buys it. While the Argento films certainly have powerful imagery, for my money give me a character I want to survive.


Ray Rousell said...

Great film, one of my fav zombie films!

Darius Whiteplume said...

I have watched it several times over the years. The wife used to hate zombie movies, and still hates many of them, but she is coming around. I went and saw this one by myself in the theater when it was released.

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