George A. Romero returns to the genre he created, but this time story and adventure takes a decidedly larger chunk of the running time than gore; are these signs of maturity or clarity?
The world as we know it has been overrun with the walking dead. A man named Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) has organized a place called Fiddler’s Green which has become the centerpiece for a microcosm of decadant society. The rich enjoy a pampered life of liesure in a secure highrise with all the amenities of the good life, while the poor in the streets below work to keep the rich pampered by scouting out supplies from nearby towns. Riley (Simon Baker) runs one of these crews, aided by a custom-built zombie-proof armored vehicle dubbed Dead Reckoning. Unfortunately, a zombie with a name tag that reads “Big Daddy” (Eugene Clark) has taken exception to the nightly raids and destruction, and he (along with a few thousand of his fellow undead) decides he’s not going to take it anymore.
In a typical zombie flick (almost all of which are copied from George A. Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead), the living believe themselves to be safe until the zombies come knocking and everyone dies for their lack of vigilance, honor, or whatever. In direct contrast to this, Land of the Dead moves inexhorably forward whether the living characters make mistakes or not; the zombies have become restless and purposeful (as hinted at the end of Romero’s last zombie film, Day of the Dead). Unlike its predecessors, however, Land feels more like an adventure film than a horror film, and Romero reveals he already has ideas for additional films.
Overall, Land of the Dead works. The thrills and blood is there, but the underlying feel that this film is mostly setup for future films (as well as reinvigorating Romero’s original vision) does distract from the carnage. Zombie film fans find themselves rooting for the zombies, but Land so neatly segregates the two groups as to suggest that they have become two separate societies now competing for the same territory (coincidence or yet another layer of thought?) Look for a little CGI enhanced zombie goodness and plenty innocent (and deserving) deaths.
The script for Land had been written for quite a while but couldn’t find studio backing because studios “just weren’t making” those kinds of films a short while back. Following a revival in successful, hard R-rated fare (28 Days Later) and films promoting a renewed interest in the genre (Shaun of the Dead), Mr. Romero did as he had always done and shot it on a shoestring. Its nice to see someone with vision can still go out and make their own uncompromising film without studio backing or the millions of George Lucas or James Cameron, but I think I’m not alone when I was expecting more horror and less adventure.
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)