(2005) dir. George A. Romero
viewed: 07/13/05 at Loews Metreon Theatres, SF, CA
As a big fan of zombie films and of George A. Romero’s preceding Dead trilogy, I was pretty excited to see him get a shot a doing a new zombie film. Romero really had not done much since his last film in the series, 1985’s Day of the Dead, a time period spanning 20 years, and I was a little dubious that he could still pull off a good flick.
The idea in this film, that 20 years have passed since the original series’s narratives, was pretty clever. Not just picking up where the last ones left off, but evolving the whole world beyond its original universe. Romero has always used these films for social critique and certainly takes aim at contemporary socio-political realities with the criticisms here.
In the previous films, life is largely one of survival, though by Day of the Dead, former social structures have begun to take root. By Land of the Dead, living society has rebuilt its structures in a crude version of its former self. The rich live in a luxury tower, protected by a militia that is run by the corrupt leader of the society. The militia protects the haves from the have-nots, just as much from the zombies. The poorer class live on the streets of the protected city, virtually like homeless people, though peppered with much of the crime and ruthlessness in its underground as well. The pooer people have learned how to deal with the dead, stunning them with fireworks when raiding shops for food and supplies and knowing to aim for zombie’s heads to kill them. Overall, they are less frightened of zombies and accept the dangers as part of the natural world.
But one key component of this film is that the zombies, too, have evolved, regaining the instincts of their past lives, learning to use tools (though like using a lawn mower on a parking lot surface, than anything useful). The zombies evolve a leader, one who figures out that the living aren’t just food, but a threat. He learns to use guns and other tools as weapons and is able to rally other zombies to follow him, communicating with grunts and moans.
It’s interesting to note that in the previous trilogy that an African American male was usually the main heroic lead for the films. This was particularly notable in the original Night of the Living Dead (1968), as a significant choice in a period marked by the civil rights movement. In Land of the Dead, the African American lead is the leader of the zombies, a far more sympathetic zombie, one with whom the audience is meant to identify with more than revile. It seems clear that the zombies represent another strata of a social class, a growing and evolving group, struggling to find their place in the world. This is even commented on by the hero of the living group toward the end of the film.
At the end of the day, Land of the Dead is no masterpiece. It lacks some of the low-budget charms of the originals in having name actors, Dennis Hopper and John Leguizamo, where the early films had almost entirely unknown actors in the roles. Overall, it does stay true to its gruesome humor and social commentary, while still being a fairly fun adventure film. It is a solid effort, nothing to be ashamed of, for Romero, and actually quite promising for future sequels (already in development).