Overlooked Film of the Week #93- "Dawn of the Dead"
I've talked about this before, but I never will understand the need of remakes. Especially since it seems Hollywood only wants to remake stuff that was good. Why would I want to see an idea that somebody already executed flawlessly? Has Hollywood really run out of ideas or will they just do anything for money? George A. Romero has always been an immensely provocative voice in film for me. The main reason being he took rather boring monsters and shoved them into popularity. It may seem weird imagining a world without zombies, now after all the "Zombieland" and "The Walking Dead" and "Warm Bodies," and "World War Z" and "Night of the Living Dead" and "Day of the Dead" and "Zombie" and "Evil Dead" that we have sat through over the years. But the man that really pushed zombies into the mainstream was George A. Romero. The genius behind "Dawn of the Dead" when it came out in 1978, and honestly Romero's films in general, was he always had something to say. Romero's films were not just zombies eating humans, and I remain impressed by the social stories he told through his zombie featuers. "Dawn of the Dead" in particular made striking metaphors about our relationship with consumerism and it remains one of the horror genre's greats.
I really wasn't expecting much from the 2004 version of "Dawn of the Dead," even as a eighth grader. I thought it was going to be a quick cash grab. I was annoyed that Hollywood might attempt to destroy one of the best movies of horror. I was annoyed by the over-stylized sensation of it. I was annoyed that the zombies could run simply because "28 Days Later" a couple years before was so popular. When I finally got around to seeing it, I had the lowest of low expectations and I came out the other side tremendously surprised.
Sometimes, since I have the film on DVD, I will pop it in just to watch that opening twenty minutes. We are thrown right into the action right away, meeting a nurse named Ana (Sarah Polley). While she's on the job, we are only getting small hints and whispers of what is going on. As she is leaving work for the day, the hospital suddenly gets busy, we hear faint stories on the radio home. And of course, what is an opening without creepy, foreshadowing music. By the next morning, Ana's world has been turned upside down, and the sequence that comes next is quite possibly the best "ALL HELL HAS BROKEN LOOSE" scene in any movie, ever. I love it because there have been little to no movies which actually records the beginning of the zombie takeover, we always jump in months, weeks, days later. But in this remake, we got to see the zombie apocalypse from the beginning, and it was insane.
Then came one of the best opening credits sequences in the history of movies. Do you like the opening credits to every James Bond movie ever made? Or how about that slick sequence before "Catch Me If You Can" in 2002? Well, the opening credit sequence for 2004's "Dawn of the Dead" is just as great in its own way. We literally get to see the world crumble due to the zombie plague while Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around" plays in the background. It is the perfect match of scenery and music. The attention to detail in just one opening credit sequence...is quite honestly, breath-taking. After those precious twenty minutes, if you are not pumped for a zombie movie, you better check your pulse to see if your breathing.
Ana meets up with a group of survivors (which includes Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, and Mekhi Pifer) who plan to go to the mall for shelter. They eventually begin to build a new normal inside the mall, despite an endless onslaught of undead heading their way. What is making the undead come back to the mall? The movie doesn't get too hung up on the metaphors and philosophy, but the film is still wildly entertaining. The film is packed with style, but not in a distracting way, but in a detailed way. The film has a striking sense of humor laced throughout its runtime and I was amazed that I was scared at some moments then overwhelmingly overcome by laughter in others. But for hardcore zombie fans, this IS a zombie movie, through and through. There are more blood and guts and crazy kills then you'll know what to do with.
The work by the actors is strong across the board, and Polley in particular makes a big impression as the lead. There are not too many movies where the woman gets front and center without being tongue-in-cheek about it, and that is what I liked about it. The work by Rhames, Weber, and Pifer is equally strong, making good use of their roles. Ty Burrell, so funny on ABC's "Modern Family" proves that he can have a asshole side, and performs range we have never seen from him before. I also love that Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger, who both starred in the original film, both have cameos in this movie.
Sometimes remakes can surprise, and "Dawn of the Dead" is proof that you can't single any idea out until you have given it a chance. So please, never be afraid to take chances people!