Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Dawn of the Dead

Here's a daring step: only one week into my blogging journey, tackling what I'm guessing is the second most hotly contested remake amongst my friends (after Transformers).

1978: George A. Romero creates Dawn of the Dead.
2004: Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead is released.

Romero's version starts out at a television studio where we meet Stephen (Flyboy) and Francine (TV executive girlfriend), watching live action on-screen, but distanced by media. The other two main characters, Roger and Peter, are SWAT team members, already deep in combat with the zombie invasion. The original gives us some of the best spoken lines in the zombie genre (as referenced on IMDb):

[Fran and Stephen are observing from the roof of the mall]
Francine Parker: What are they doing? Why do they come here?
Stephen: Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.

Francine Parker: What the hell are they?
Peter: They're us, that's all, when there's no more room in hell.
Stephen: What?
Peter: Something my granddad used to tell us. You know Macumba? Voodoo. My granddad was a priest in Trinidad. He used to tell us, "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth."

The original feels like several movies rolled up into one, as it switches from romance/buddy cop/survival flick, to a description of day-to-day life in a mall, to humorous motorcycle romp in an indoor location (possibly inspiring 1980's Blues Brothers' mall scene?). The newer version is more consistent in tone throughout, does well in building and keeping the tension as well as allowing occasional laughs to break and rebuild tension.

Kenneth: Is everyone there dead?
Steve: Well, dead-ish.
Kenneth: [more firm tone] Is everyone there dead?
Steve: Yeah, in the sense that they all sort of, uh... fell down... and then got up... and started eating each other.

CJ: [after everyone enters an elevator to escape the zombies] Hey... I like this song.

Televangelist [Ken Foree's cameo role]: Hell is overflowing, and Satan is sending his dead to us. Why? Because, you have sex out of wedlock, you kill unborn children, you have man on man relations, same sex marriage. How do you think your God will judge you? Well friends, now we know. When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.

Complaints that have been made about Zach Snyder's version include that it's just a feature length music video, that there's no character depth, that it's so fast-paced there is no chance to connect with the characters, and that zombies should never be fast, and that there's too much swearing (!). Complaints on the original include poor effects (early Tom Savini, pioneering his vision of how gore should appear on-screen), make-up, and its general dated feeling.

High points of the original include that Romero took his original concept of Night of the Living Dead, and built upon it, expanding upon the mythos. He truly made the most of his "Let's hide in a mall" idea (a new concept to the public at the time), and gave us very strong, interesting characters who made their situation memorable and intense. The realism of the environment, and the memories that it evokes of personal experience in 70s-era shopping malls, connect with older viewers, giving it a feeling of "this could happen." The newer version also has some strong characters who I can see fitting into archetypical positions, good dialogue (written by James Gunn), and excellent effects. The supersaturated color palette lends to the overly caffeinated, dream-like, sleep-deprived feel of the film.

My take is that each has to be viewed and judged on its own merits. If you can't suspend your disbelief of blue-skinned zombies, then the original is not for you. If you can't suspend your disbelief of fast-moving zombies, the the remake is not for you. But it is possible to enjoy both, as I do, when you take them for what they offer, and view each with an open mind.

1 comment:

  1. I really have a hard time with this remake. I have sat through it 3 times now and have lost interest about a 3rd of the way through in all three instances. I dont know what it is that makes me dislike it so much.

    Some of the CGI is a turn off right out of the gate. I absolutly DESPISE cgi in horror films. To me, it is the equivilant of showing CGI nudity in a porno.

    Second, the color filter is so obnoxious. I shut off the remake of "my Bloody Valentine" last night just for that same reason. It was actually giving me a headache. the colors were SO washed out in that film that it borderlined being black & white. I kept wanting to adjust me TV.

    Maybe it's just the zombie overkill too. I loved the fact that the original "Dawn" had the balls to put you in the mindset that you forget that it's a zombie movie at one point. All the characters are reacting realistically to the pointlessness of staying in this mall.

    The remake for me had characters you just wanted to punch.

    Kinda like Romero's "Survival of the Dead". Ugh.