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  Dawn of the Dead
Zack Snyder, USA, 2004
Rating: 4.2 (3.8 as a remake of the Romero classic)
 

Posted: March 25, 2004

Remakes are tricky things. Remakes of movies that defined a genre are especially treacherous. With this caveat in mind, we need to approach Zack Snyder's "re-imagining" of Dawn Of The Dead (DOTD) in two ways: the first, of course, is as a zombie flick unto itself. The second, however, would be to evaluate it against the original. Either way, one thing is as plain as the rotting nose falling off a zombie's face: DOTD is a stark reminder of what a piece of crap 28 Days Later really was. (But then, that could pretty much be said for any film with the possible exception of The Keep.)

In the plus column, DOTD wastes no time in getting to the story. If I gotta read one more review from some beret-wearing, coffeehouse eunuch decrying the fact that the "human" side of the story is never developed, I'm gonna puke. You definitely have to strap yourself in for the ride here, and make no mistake -- that's a good thing. C'mon, everyone attending this film knows there will be zombies. Why waste time with the characters discovering this? Just get to it already. DOTD does a magnificent job of this, and in the process also shows how quickly things can fall apart, and what a tenuous knot it is that holds civilization together. (Man, don't I know it. Last month my cable went out for 5 hours. During this ordeal I reverted to a primitive, feral state, taking a hambone to my next-door neighbor in order to help myself to his satellite dish. Lemme tell ya, civilization is a fragile bitch!)

Anyway, DOTD also succeeds in conveying the notion that the zombie epidemic is global in scope, as we see reports flow in from cable news channels from the Middle East to the White House, until there's no more news at all. Faced with this threat, a small band of survivors takes refuge at the (appropriately named) Crossroads Mall. The film boasts great camerawork, constantly pulling back to show the enormity of the chaos. We see explosions in the background, people being eaten alive, thousands of zombies running about. Yes, I said running about. This will be an area of contention for die-hard Romero fans: Zombies just don't run. If you made a film about cars that fly, well, they wouldn't be cars anymore, now would they? They'd be airplanes. The "runnin' zombie" may be off-putting for many viewers, and I must admit that I, too, was skeptical. But if you approach DOTD as its own zombie film, removed from the original, I have no problem with them. One thing for sure; they certainly push the tempo of the film and present a whole new set of problems for the survivors.

Now, all good zombie films have three phases. Phase one is defining the threat. Phase two is seeking refuge from the threat. Phase three is the departure from that refuge in hopes of escape. And DOTD follows these rules perfectly. They work, so why muck with them? Ving Rhames always brings intensity to a role (with the exception of the pawnshop basement in Pulp Fiction), and he delivers ample doses of it here. His edgy presence is a great complement to the hyper-aggressive zombies, and no viewer will complain about a lack of action: Rest assured, there's plenty o' zombie shooting. It just has to be that way. In fact, one of the best scenes in the film revolves around the survivors on a rooftop identifying the zombies who look like celebrities before shooting them in the head. This, my friends, is one of the finest scenes in zombie movie history! As for the zombies, they do a pretty good job here, but again, it's the cinematography -- the shots of zombies running in the background and coming up stairwells -- that really delivers.

Fair enough. It's when watching this movie as a remake of the original that we develop some problems. George Romero's original is simply brilliant. I would never go into my garage with some sheet metal and hand tools with the idea that "The Ferrari F40 is a good car, but I'm pretty sure I can do better." Make no mistake about it, when you enter the realm of Romero, you are in the Ferrari of Zombie films. As such, almost any attempt to tinker with it is bound to fall a bit short, and this is no exception. The original film is such a defining one that it is very difficult to view the current offering as a "remake." DOTD would have worked far better as a work "inspired" by the original. Be that as it may, that's the flick's only major problem. This is a fine zombie film, packed with all of the action (including a great exploding propane container scene) needed to satisfy any diehard zombie fan. It delivers what it's supposed to, and for that reason alone it succeeds. It's like I always tell you people, you have to understand what the movie is, and what it's supposed to be, and evaluate it based on those parameters. Don't slap down your eight bucks for a ticket to a zombie flick if you want sensitivity, or zombie dandies playing lawn tennis. If that's what you want, plop your butt down for an art-house flick (or stop by Vincenzo's house on Friday nights, and don't tell 'em I sent you).

The original Day Of the Dead still exists to inspire generations of zombie-cinema auteurs, and hopefully rumors of the fourth Romero zombie movie will one day come to fruition. When compared against the slim pickings of the current horror movie landscape, however, this new DOTD fares extremely well. Hopefully, it can keep alive a genre that is perpetually abused and maligned by clueless filmmakers.

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 Clemenza's Ratings Key:

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 3.0-3.9: Close, but...
 2.0-2.9: Box of Rocks
 1.1-1.9: Time bandit
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