Last week I wrote some thoughts about Night of the Living Dead. Shot by Romero during the height of the sixties revolution, the film was rife with social commentary. Ever since Night of the Living Dead, Romero continued to write and direct zombie films. I chose to see and write about Land of the Dead, because I knew that it was the newest zombie film directed by him to not receive terrible reviews. While I was watching the film, I kept wondering why the master of zombie culture so unable to completely capture the energy everyone felt in Night.
Let me back up here and give you a few plot points. The world of this zombie apocalypse had been around for a while. Long enough for class structure to reemerge in the human world. The rich people live in a high-rise tower in the middle of town. Commercials advertising this structure show well off individuals living the leisurely high life. But we soon learn that not everyone is able to get into this structure. There is also a massive population that is left to fend for themselves on the streets. These people are usually recruited for the military who serve as the hunter gatherers in the sea of the zombie wilderness. All of this is funded by Dennis Hopper’s character, Kaufman. He lives on top of the high-rise in the lap of luxury. One of his flunkies, Cholo (played by John Leguizamo), gets upset when he is rejected for an apartment in the high-rise because he comes from the streets. He steals a massive military vehicle and threatens to blow up this high-rise. In the act of stealing this vehicle, which is called Dead Reckoning, he lets a couple thousand zombies in through their stronghold. Now these zombies are no longer the brainless type. These zombies have regained some of their brain power and are able to reason, learn and formulate rudimentary plans. The zombies ravage the city while our hero rescues Dead Reckoning from Cholo and tries to save the population. Will they be able to stop these reasoning zombies or will they too become chow food?…. Eh… You know what will happen if you have ever seen one of these movies before.
I watched this film immediately after seeing Night of the Living Dead. I think that act sort of ruined this film for me. Night of the Living Dead has so much energy, so many interesting shots and plot devices that Land of the Dead doesn’t even try to attempt. Instead Land of the Dead is bogged down in boring social commentary, the very thing that I praised Night for having in my post last week. By this point in the story of Romero’s life and work, most people are aware of his liberal ideas and his inability to be subtle when inserting them into his films. Dawn of the Dead is the most famous example of his obvious social commentary strategies. But, again, Dawn is leaps and bounds better than this film despite having the same thing. But Dawn was made relatively early in his career. I think that by the time he made this film, he seemed tired. The zombie culture had gotten away from him and had evolved into something that I don’t think he can quite handle yet. Zombies can no longer be these slow mindless vessels. Instead they must have some sort of quirk to them. Thus Romero makes them able to learn and reason. While a very interesting idea, did he also have to throw in this every obvious rich vs. poor motif? The film is ultimately bogged down with too many ideas and not very interesting performances to back them up.
This entry so far shows that I thought this film was bad. It isn’t, really. The zombies are scary and gory which is always a plus. Some of the shots are interesting, including when the band of zombies come out of the ocean. Of course Dennis Hopper is always interesting to watch, if a little flat. It is a good movie to waste an afternoon on. But it is not a movie that will keep you thinking. And I guess that is my ultimate goal.