Media Review - Land of the Dead
One of last weekend's diversions. I don't go to the movies as much as I once did, relying instead on my Greencine and Netflix subscriptions to keep up with whatever recent releases I feel compelled to keep up with. I'm more likely to see a new movie, oddly enough, as a social event. I don't even succumb to "must see" pressure like I once did.
Except when it comes to zombie movies, of course. Romero returns to his genre, the ghoul-horror movie, after about 20 years absence. I'd heard rumors about a "Twilight of the Dead" script beginning back in the '90s, and some of the ideas from that story appear to have survived to lumber into this retitled movie. Romero was also involved for awhile with the Resident Evil adaptation and when his script was rejected I almost wrote off the project, but it turned out OK. Land of the Dead is something of a disappointment, however.
It'd be a mistake to reduce the extraordinary qualities of Romero's previous entries in the Dead series to one or two elements, but the overall effect produced by Night, Dawn and Day's bizarre genre-defying audaciousness, their willingness to take their premises seriously without denying their absurdity, is missing from the new one. Within the Dead series, Land is comparatively prosaic. Rather than twist expectations, Romero seems content largely to satisfy them. The most glaring element missing from this entry is what some critics have called "survival politics," a term derived from the Vietnam war, in which the characters' conflicts and loyalties among themselves are as important as the conflict with the undead.
I haven't checked out the response of the horror faithful online to Land of the Dead, but I'm sure there are "sell out" accusations being lodged, unhelpful though such things usually are. A lot has changed since the mid-80s, among them the circumstances of independent production and distribution. Also, Romero's genre has been domesticated in the last 20 years by copycats and parodies, although Resident Evil and 28 Days Later demonstrate that there are still interesting avenues to take. Romero himself has probably changed in this time as well. Since Day of the Dead, Romero has made only three feature films: the very interesting Monkey Shines, The Dark Half (which I haven't been able to sit through), and the provocatively abstruse Bruiser. I'd recommend the latter to anyone (full stop) who would like to see American Psycho shorn of Bret Easton Ellis' preoccupations with yuppie culture and status issues (which he regularly mistakes for class issues.) It's a bit weak in the third act, but many Romero films are.
You can't say that Romero has totally changed his spots with Land. The gore effects are, as usual, top notch, and he doesn't slight the political angles his films always carry. In fact, this might be the most overtly political of his films, save perhaps The Crazies, and it doesn't improve the movie. Dennis Hopper appears as an arrogant plutocrat ruling over the squalid remains of Pittsburgh from an opulent tower community, closed off from the rabble outside. Hopper combines the maverick entrepreneur, cheering for creative destruction, and the entitled leisure class who governs with slogans and a total lack of principles. The class issues are front and center, but obvious and struggle for attention with the generic action sequences and plot.
The most interesting development from Dawn to Land is the evolution of the dead themselves. In Night, the dead appear to be deranged, even supernatural, but by Dawn they start to resemble a basic, feral version of humanity, driven by reflexive impulses like hunger and greed. In Day, we learn that the dead don't feel hunger at all in a conventional sense; their perpetual desire to feed is an instinct unrelated to need, almost as if they were designed and programmed as an act of revenge on humanity (like in Plan 9 from Outer Space.) In Land, we finally see the dead evince motives that we can identify with, like anger. Their attack on Fiddler's Green is an act of revenge by a newly politicized underclass striking back at Hopper's Nero.
Still, all this is a bit didactic. As a movie, Land is competently directed and decently acted, but nothing special. Romero seems to have taken care to rein in Hopper's excesses with varying results. Asia Argento is welcome, although though she appears mainly to fill a gender quota and nod to old guard Dawn fans. Maybe it will look different with a little distance.
I'd started to review Batman Begins in this post as well, but I think its long enough without. I'll put that up later.