Why are zombies so awesome? That I've never been quite able to figure out. But they are. Something about a legion of moaning, stumbling undead just seems to appeal to the natural sensibilities of what it means to be human. Also, they're so much fun to kill.
The man who pretty much invented zombies, George A. Romero, has a new film out. Since the 1960s (unfortunately skipping the 90s) Mr. Romero has made four classic zombie films that have perfectly captured the filmmaking sensibilities of the decade in which each one was made. The original, "Night of the Living Dead," is a spooky, surreal, low-budget film that feels like a nightmare captured on celluloid. Its sequel, "Dawn of the Dead," is, like many films of the '70s, a fine example of rebel American filmmaking, and is considered to be one of the finest cult classics ever made. "Day of the Dead," the zombie movie of the Me Generation, while not exactly the masterpiece Romero originally intended it to be, does boast an epic zombie-gore climax and a digital drum soundtrack that more-than-perfectly captures the sensibilities of that particular era in movies.
In subtle ways, "George A. Romero's Land of the Dead" captures the emotion of post-9/11 life while staying true to Romero's classic zombie movies of the past. And of course, these are Romero zombies: the only kind of zombies, really. These are not the "rage"-filled zombies of "28 Days Later." Nor are they the speedy zombies of the "Dawn of the Dead" remake. This is a triumphant return to the classic, shuffling, inarticulate zombie. The best zombie of them all.
However, though these zombies are the ones we know and love, they have progressed. What was hinted at with the zombie "Bubs" in "Day of the Dead" is now very much a reality. The zombies are smarter. They are communicating. They are using tools. They are more like us than ever before. And the übermensch in this new breed of zombies is a big black auto-mechanic listed in the credits as Big Daddy (Eugene Clark).
The opening credits montage explains the story from before the evolution: One day, the dead begin to walk the earth. Slowly, zombies begin to take over the world, eating their way through countless victims. Soon, people are forced to live in the outskirts of cities in heavily fortified compounds. However, life goes on. Even the humdrum, disappointing aspects of life; like finding medicine for your kid or going to work everyday. In one particular fortified compound, the city is run by Kaufman, (Dennis Hopper) a rich businessman who lives in the highest floor of the tallest tower of the city. While Kaufman smokes expensive cigars and drinks only the finest wine, the little people can't get a bite to eat. So, while the rich enjoy themselves in a paradise known as "Fiddler's Green," the poor and impoverished have to kill themselves just to survive. Yes, it's hack. But it's hack 'cause it works.
The city is supplied by scavengers who raid old towns (now populated by zombies, who try to go about their daily "lives") to find food, medicine, and supplies. The leader of one of these bands of scavengers, Riley (Simon Baker), rides a huge tank called Dead Reckoning (trivia: "Dead Reckoning" was also the original title of the movie,) which pretty much has the artillery of a small nation. Shortly after his last mission, Riley's right hand man, Cholo (John Leguizamo,) decides he's had enough of picking up Kaufman's table scraps, takes Dead Reckoning, and holds the city hostage.
Meanwhile, Riley is hired by Kaufman to get Dead Reckoning and return it to the city. Riley, of course, has plans of his own, and with the help of friends Charlie (Robert Joy) and Slack (Asia Argento,) he goes against both Cholo and Kaufman. Unbeknownst to any of the above parties, the zombies aren't just walking slowly but steadily towards them anymore.
Chaos ensues, and like Romero's previous zombie flicks, this one is 90 minutes of squirm-in-your-seat gore, characters you can root for, and, of course, Romero-patented "We're not that different from the zombies" heavy-handed rhetoric.
Words cannot express how awesome Land of the Dead is. Even the shit most people would consider a negative, like the crazy randomness of a shot of two lesbians making out, then one of them getting inexplicably mauled to death, was endearing and loveable. If you grew up with Romero, like I did, you might consider him to be the charming old grandfather with all these crazy zombie stories to tell. And the parts that go into spats of ridiculousness only illicit more cheers and hurrahs from the attentive audience of children. So you don't mind when towards the end of the movie, in reference to Big Daddy and his ilk, one of our heroes actually says "They're just looking for a place to go. Just like us." And all the strained comparisons of Kaufman = Bush, the zombies = Iraqis one can find on the internet can only make one smile and laugh and buy another round of popcorn for your buddies.