Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 100 minutes
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It’s one thing to anally remake a film scene for scene like Gus Van Sant did with Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ and then there’s the other side of the spectrum, which is present in the remake of George Romero’s ‘Dawn Of The Dead’. This film is so different from the original, it doesn’t deserve to be allowed to use the title of a classic horror film just because it has zombies in it. If you’re going to remake a film, it at least has to closely resemble the film you’re trying to remake. Having the film take place in the same setting (a mall) with the same undead roaming around outside doesn’t give you the right to declare it a complete remake. This film might have actually benefited from changing its title and trying to make an impact on its own instead of trying to cash in on someone else’s past glory. While the movie had some good moments, overall it was too much of the same old same old and never really did much to stand up on its own and be the movie that it had the potential to be. Compared to last year’s Zombie like film ’28 Days Later’, this attempted remake is a complete dud, and is not worth wasting $8 on unless you are a die hard fan of the genre.
I think the movie tried to be too hip. It tried too hard to reach the younger audience and in the process it ended up deserting everything that made the original film the classic it was. Romero’s slow sense of creeping dread (which I thought was downright freaky) was replaced by a frantic, hurried, MTV ‘let’s skip to the action’ kind of pace. The only thing that seems familiar from the original is the mall, and even the way that aspect of the film was horribly done. Style wise, it’s a complete rip off of Danny Boyle’s ’28 Days Later’ which used the same pace and movement to look fresh and against the grain. The lacking of originality here is so blatant it’s bound to give someone a migraine. But not all of it was bad. The opening sequence is off the wall, downright fucking amazing. The slow discovery of how widespread and devastating this plague was gave the film a really promising, kickass start. It’s just a shame that everything after it went right in the trashcan.
If you actually take a very close look at this film, the average moviegoer might have missed a few other scenes that borrow a page from the books of many other great horror films. One good example would be when Ana fell out of her bath tub while covered in blood. She ripped down the shower curtain on her way out, reminding me of a certain Hitchcock film. Then we had the security guards in the mall, which in their controlling way that reminded me of the controlling military nuts in the fore mentioned 28 Days Later. Finally we have the scene where the undead baby in the pregnant woman was acting a little too ‘Alien’ for my liking. Kudos to the director for not giving into the temptation of having the baby burst out in what could have been a gory, but very cheesy and predictable scene. I could go on forever, but the point is made… this version of Dawn suffers from a horrible lack of originality, and in today’s movie market that will not bode well with the moviegoing audience.
Another part that really irked the hell of me was how the script and director failed to use the mall to the best of its ability. In Romero’s original Dawn, the mall was pivotal and very symbolic when trying to emphasize the film’s tragic nature. In the original Dawn, the survivors bunker down in the mall and live there for many months, living off the numerous goods and material objects that are littered throughout the large shopping complex. The amazing part of this was the fact that many of the characters learned that all these material things were not the source of true happiness. I loved that scene and truly believe material and themes like that is why many consider the original Dawn to be a true classic of the genre. It was more than gore and creepy zombies and no slam-bam action could make up for the lacking of those themes, which made the movie dramatically powerful and incredibly sad. How many horror films are able to convey this kind of raw emotion? There are many critics who also believed that Romero was using the mall to critique and make fun of a material obsessed society. Such underlying themes are what made his film the stand out that it is and more than just another zombie film.
One thing I did like about the remake was its cast. It was a fine ensemble of characters. Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames did quite well in their respective roles; giving the film it’s much needed element of humanity and courage. It’s just a complete shame they were wasted on a sub-par script and a director who had very little direction and vision of his own. Despite this cast’s attempt to do well in this movie… there was no way they would be able to save a film that was predictable, over the top and just too full of itself to the point where it became a complete bore fest. The zombies while very scary at some points lose their credibility and go to far into overkill mode as the film goes on. While not giving away any details about it, I also wasn’t impressed with the ending that seemed to steal a page from ‘The Blair Witch Project’. Was there any part of this film that the director managed to make without taking something from other horror films? I know it seems like an impossible task with the enormous volumes of horror films out there these days, but an effort would have been appreciated. It’s a shame that the studio made this film to simply make a few bucks on the labors of others and nothing more.
Overall, the new Dawn of The Dead is another film in a long line of recent (and very poor quality) horror remakes. Just like Gus Van Sant’s Psycho and the recently remade Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this new version of ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ pales in comparison to it’s original and fails to live up to its potential. Yet if one is to remake a movie, a good idea would be to keep at least some of the original film’s ideas. This movie tried to be its own film, which is all right but if you’re going to do that then take the time to come up with a new title rather than trying to use someone else’s as a cheap way to generate ticket sales. This remake shows us all how skilled and slick filmmaking has become since 1979, but it also showed us all how gutless and less daring directors and writers have become in that time as well. Romero’s original had that slow and painstaking sense of real dread, something that made his film seem like an endless nightmare. Its conflicts were not just physical, but psychological as well which made the original more than the average popcorn horror film. While there are some genuine scares here and there in the remake, it goes completely flat on human emotion and mental suspense. It’s a shame though, because it was that mental aspect of the move that made Romero’s work a classic in modern horror. This movie is far from being considered a classic. Hell, it’s not even good and I would recommend avoiding at all costs unless you’re a diehard fan of the genre.
Posted on April 23, 2004 in Reviews by Peter Lowry
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