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Dawn of the Dead (2004)


Hi, everyone. “Moriarty” here with some Rumblings From The Lab…

Next up, we’ve got our friend from Seattle, the one and only Vern…


A few months ago I would not think I would be saying this. But I just saw the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, and I did not want to perpetrate violent acts against anybody afterwards. Not the Scooby Doo guy, not the commercial director guy, not anybody. If the Scooby Doo dude would’ve been standing right there when I came out, and there was a clear opening to punch the guy hard in the balls, or toss him through a windshield like Steven Seagal did to that pimp in the opening scene of OUT FOR JUSTICE, I still wouldn’t have done it. I would’ve been like, “It’s cool man, it’s cool.”

That’s high praise. I would not punch the writer of this movie in the balls. Put that on the poster, fuckers.

Dawn of the DeadTo give the folks at home an idea where I’m coming from, I could not have given the same offer of peace and understanding to Michael Bay or whatsisdick, the kraut guy from the C+C Music Factory videos, if they had been standing outside of the theater after I saw their remake of TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. You can read my review on this very web sight, I mean I was fucking pissed. I am not one of these forgiving “just go in with an open mind, don’t hold it to high expectations, just assume it will suck, it’s okay that it is worthless garbage, just have fun!” guys. I fucking despised that moronic pile of filth. That was a movie clearly made by people who had no idea what is good about the original. NO idea. There would’ve been some SERIOUS ball punching after that screening if the opportunity had presented itself. I’m not a guy to roll over.

You see, I come from what the kids call “the old school.” I definitely got a purist side to me. And I still don’t think it’s fucking funny that these jokers somehow got a hold of my list of favorite movies and started remaking them all. Just to fuck with me. “You see this Vern, this is the respect we have for your favorite movie. We’re giving it to the guy who did fucking Scooby Doo. We got the guy who wrote Garfield on deck to remake Once Upon a Time in the West. Ha ha ha, sucker. Have a good life.”

But you know what, their little game backfired because the movie actually turned out pretty good. It’s not the masterpiece that the original is. It’s not as smart or as scary. But it’s not some Brendan Fraser Mummy type shit. It’s not some we-still-haven’t-gotten-over-SCREAM shit either. It’s more like some let’s tell a different story about some guys in a mall during a zombie holocaust type shit. I thought it was better than 28 DAYS LATER, which was decent but definitely overrated. And don’t worry it’s not even worth putting in the same sentence with. RESIDENT EVIL or HOUSE OF THE DEAD. (See, I made that two separate sentences.) This is a real zombie movie.

But you gotta do a zombie movie right. And there are two big time changes in the premise for this one that had me worried. The movie starts out before the zombies show up, for one example. In other words, the beginning of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. One thing I love about the real DAWN OF THE DEAD is there is no point where things are going well in the world. When it starts, the world is already overrun by zombies, people are panicking, even the sets of TV shows are out of control. When it ends, things aren’t any better. In this one, they give you a couple minutes to breathe first. And when the shit hits, everybody is just beginning to understand what’s going on. Instead of being at the point where they’ve tried to hold on to society for a few weeks, but have given up hope and decided to run away crying like babies. The way these guys do it works surprisingly well though, and when the title went on the screen I felt like these guys had earned the cheering that it received. Good job so far boys.

The other change that is more important, is what the fuck is up with these running zombies? RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD had fast moving zombies, and that was cool because you’d never seen it before. It was a way to distinguish it from Mr. Romero’s untoppable masterpieces. But that should’ve been that. People gotta stop doing this shit, because everybody knows that real zombies are slow and lumbering. They don’t run up fences and jump off them! They don’t hang from pipes! That’s fucking bullshit, man! No zombie hangs from pipes! If 28 DAYS LATER jumped off a bridge, does that mean you’d jump off a bridge? Come on Scooby Doo guy, you know better than that.

Seriously, the fast moving zombies changes the whole premise because in the real DAWN OF THE DEAD, the zombies aren’t much of a physical threat. That’s not the point. In fact, our boys are able to run around the mall and shoot these things for fun. They aren’t afraid to go out into the zombies. They do it all the time. But the zombies are scary because no matter how many you kill, there will always be more. And that is a problem, in my opinion. And in the opinion of that guy on the TV in the beginning who says they should nuke the city.

So anyway once again a group of survivors holes up in a mall, barricading themselves away from the zombies. The two main characters are Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames, and these are two reasons why the movie works. Mr. Rhames especially adds alot of credibility to this movie. He looks like a complete badass, and he’s good at giving tough guy speeches. He’s a real actor but he’s paid his dues too, I mean he was in PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS. You believe that he would be able to take on even these silly jumping and running super zombies, and that he would be an honorable guy who you’d want to have on your team (the non-zombie team) anyway. And Ms. Polley is a good actress who can pull off the moral center role, the one that tries to take care of everybody because she’s a nurse. Also Mekhi Phifer is good in it but that’s almost not even worth mentioning because it goes without saying, if it’s a movie, there’s a good chance Mekhi Phifer will be in it and do a good job. This guy will do absolutely anything. I mean, HONEY? BRIAN’S SONG? CARMEN: A HIPHOPERA? I really think him and Samuel L. Jackson just have web sights where you pay them a certain amount by credit card or PayPal and then they automatically have to be in your movie. How else would Jackson end up in that Ashley Judd movie? Or BASIC? Or any of those I-can’t-believe-Moriarty-actually-owns-that-on-DVD type movies? Anyway, it’s a good cast.

And it’s a pretty good script too, believe it or not. There are some smart new additions to the story. I especially liked the communication between the mall people and this guy Andy who’s holed up in a nearby gun store. I think Harry even gave this away on here a long time ago, but it still worked for me. They start to bond with this guy by holding up signs for him, and even start to play games with him. This may be the best part of the movie because it has that spirit of the real DAWN OF THE DEAD, that idea that even in the most horrible circumstances us humans can figure out some way to get by and to have a sense of humor about it. There are some smartass lines in this movie, mostly coming from a token asshole character, but fortunately there’s other laughs that are more like the real movie, where it’s funny because you know in the same situation you might do the same thing. It’s funny the same way real life is, not the way a sitcom supposedly is.

The remake goes in alot of directions that the real movie didn’t. They got a pregnant woman in both, and they go for more of a cheap thrill with this one. But not as bad as you might think. There are other things that come up that make you worry. Like at one point there is a dog and you have no choice but to think oh shit, they’re gonna go with a zombie dog. But don’t worry, they take the high road – No Zombie Dog Avenue. Then the last section of the movie they attempt an escape from the mall and hopefully this doesn’t fuck up Mr. Romero’s plans for his next movie. Otherwise I will change my mind about these filmatists.

There are kind of too many characters in here. Some of them you don’t really know who they are and some of them seem to disappear for too long. And one of them goes through a transformation from selfish asshole to self-sacrificing hero, apparently for no reason. But oh well. I liked this idea of alot of people being in the mall. The government’s plans have failed but here these people are setting up their own safe zone.

There’s really not as much subtext as in the real movie. Definitely none of the satire against consumerism. There are a couple of shots of the flag that made me wonder if they were trying to draw some parallels to 9-11. Like we’re gonna pull up our bootstraps and take care of this zombie problem, and put a boot up your ass in the name of the U S of A or something like that. But I don’t know. Obviously not every zombie movie has to be political, but I always liked how each of Mr. Romero’s dead pictures was a story about its time. The racial politics in NIGHT, the consumerism in DAWN, the military themes in DAY. We sure live in some interesting times now so it would be nice to see a dead movie about today. Maybe this is the DAWN OF THE DEAD for our time then – the one that is either too afraid or too stupid to say anything, even though there’s so much to say. Oh well, maybe Romero will get to make his zombie movie for the 2000s.

The style of the movie obviously is more modern, and that can be good and bad. They use the computers for some good little bits where they illustrate the mayhem going on in the distance – overhead shots of car crashes, huge crowds of zombies, burning buildings, explosions, etc. I love the feeling these things give that a constant stream of shit is flying directly into the fan here, and on the next block, and on the block after that, and all the way into downtown. But I do have to say that alot of this stuff looks really phoney, like glorified Grand Theft Auto. You feel a little distanced because it really doesn’t seem real. Cool, but not real.

Most of it is not too MTVed or Michael Bayed up, but I wish they hadn’t gone with the Private Ryan shaky cam for the climax. And the TV stuff didn’t have to have the shit digitized out of it. I woulda liked more TV coverage. And by the way SOMEBODY coulda cheered for Ken Foree’s cameo. I mean come on kids.

I guess some people will be wondering how violent the movie is. After all the real movie was released unrated and here we have an R-rated studio movie in post-Janet’s Boob America. Well, it was possible for this hyped up screening audience to cheer every time there was a graphic zombie head shot. Which was alot of times, but if you think about it you just couldn’t do that in the real movie, because you’d be clapping way too much. Your hands would get sore. Still, this one is alot more violent than most horror movies these days. Plenty of impaling, too. However it could definitely use some intestines and brain eating. Those are two items sorely missing.

I think my biggest criticism would have to be in the zombie department. Which is a pretty big department. I definitely think they coulda done better on these zombies. In the Romero movies, I don’t ever think that these are guys having fun acting like zombies – they’re just zombies. You don’t see guys who don’t have the walk down, or who look like they’re thinking about something. They teach their zombie actors well. They know their zombie shit. I mean think about Bub in DAY OF THE DEAD! These zombies can ACT. In this one though, alot of times I would see these guys and just think yeah, that guy has makeup on, like a zombie. I swear to god there was one crowd shot where a guy right in the middle near the top was doing a zombie saunter, like he was supposed to be a gay stereotype zombie, or a zombie on ecstasy or something. They need better zombie classes for these actors.

It is also worth pointing out that alot of the things that make the real DAWN OF THE DEAD so great are not repeated in this movie. I mentioned before there’s not any scenes where the guys run around and shoot the zombies (or run over them) just for fun. More surprisingly, they don’t take much advantage of the mall. There is one little montage but these people aren’t too imaginative about what to do. One of the great things about the real movie is that it acts out every good materialist’s dream of spending the night in a mall and having all those consumer items at your disposal. You see them running all over the place stocking up on TVs, wearing fur coats, pretending to rob the bank, playing on the escalator, knocking a zombie into the fountain, shooting mannequins on the ice skating rink… it’s alot of fun. And they don’t really do that in this one.

But you know what, this time, I actually think that’s a good thing. Because I know there are still gonna be some stupid kids who will see the real thing and say “Oh, the new one is better.” And they’ll be wrong. But it’s cool that they left alot of the best ideas untouched, so the kids can enjoy them for the first time when their parents sit their punk asses down and make them watch Romero’s movie. With the CHAIN SAW remake, I couldn’t fucking believe they left out the dinner scene, and then didn’t give you anything worthwhile in its place. For this one, they don’t come up with something BETTER than shooting mannequins in the ice skating rink, but they come up with plenty of good things for us to enjoy watching. It’s a good time at the movies, it really is.

No DAWN fanatic is gonna like this one better than the original. Unless they’re a moron. But you can enjoy it in the way some of us enjoy the remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. It’s not as good but it’s an entertaining alternate take on the same idea. This one is a much less faithful remake with very few scenes that come directly from the real movie(although it has a couple little parts that actually come from NIGHT). I guess that’s part of why it works. For CHAIN SAW they have these characters that they have to recreate. And obviously these jokers who direct JC Penney commercials don’t know enough about characters to make somebody as good as Leatherface, the Cook or the Hitchhiker, or for that matter Chop Top. R. Lee Ermey is good, but he’s no replacement for any of those guys. With DAWN you don’t have the same problem, because as much as I love Peter and the rest of them, it’s really the idea of the movie that makes it so great. The situation of the zombies and the mall and what not. So remaking it isn’t quite as suicidal.

So there you go. When there’s no more room in hell, the assholes will remake perfect movies. And very occasionally, I will let them get away with it. These assholes have a free pass. I’m letting them off. It’s cool man, it’s cool. Go with God.

And if this screening is any indication, this remake’s gonna be a monster fuckin hit. I got there an hour early and the line was clear around the block. And then everybody cheered all through the movie, at the end, and after the credits. I actually didn’t hear anybody saying it was bad (and alot of people were a little TOO excited about it). Of course, it was a pretty rabid crowd. You should’ve seen these kids from the local top 40 station trying to ask trivia questions… about their station! There were 500 people yelling “What does this have to do with zombies?” and even “BRAINS!” (wrong movie, right food). I thought these intern kids were gonna run out the emergency exit and take off in the party van.

Anyway, we can hope this will pave the way for Mr. Romero’s return. If not, maybe they’ll remake DAY OF THE DEAD with less overacting and more everything else. I wanna play the clown zombie. But I don’t do running or jumping zombies so you might have to use a stunt double for that shit.

thanks zombies,


Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/17213


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This entry was posted on Thursday, March 18th, 2004 at 11:44 am and is filed under AICN, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

5 Responses to “Dawn of the Dead (2004)”

  1. Chopper Sullivan

    April 14th, 2013 at 4:08 am

    I decided to give this one another shot in light of the EVIL DEAD 13 hullabaloo. I had thought it was sort of pretty good the first time I saw it on DVD. I was wrong.

    The security guys and the smarmy guy are unbearable. There are a bunch of stylistic touches that make no sense. The only characters that are likable are Andy and the dog and that’s because they don’t have awful dialogue. The plot is directionless until the end, and then it’s a bummer and Disturbed kicks in because HOLY SHIT AWESOME BRO HIGH FIVE.

    The smarmy guy is wearing a suit and tie during their escape attempt. The girls all apply heavy red lipstick throughout their horrible experience.

    I started watching it with commentary but I only made it to the point in the opening credits where Romero’s name comes up and Zack Snyder’s comment on the genius who created this genre is: “George Romero. Rockstar.”

    Yuck. EVIL DEAD 13 is a goddamn masterpiece compared to this horseshit.

  2. Chopper – yeah i never got the love for this movie either; it’s easily the least exciting and ambitious of Zack Snyder’s directorial efforts and I think it pretty much got a pass because it wasn’t as bad as people were expecting it to be. But yeah, I never thought it was particularly good, for all the reasons you mentioned.

    I also still never understood their plan to escape to an island – there isn’t much of an explanation as to why they would have thought it was any safer than anywhere else; it’s like the screenwriters watched Maximum Overdrive on TV and figured “hey let’s just do that”

  3. Weird. I think this DofD remake gets better every time I see it.

    Every time I introduce it to someone new, they’re riveted by the opening (which I think even Snyder-haters and the internet has universally decided is pretty fucking awesome), then let down a little by the fact that it’s so brightly lit for a horror/zombie film, then they get into the suspense elements & characters, then they laugh at the wacky musical segment, then they’re laughing & thrilled (not an easy combo of emotions to filmatistically achieve simultaneously) by the zombie baby and all the chainsaw-ing & bus carnage at the end.

    DotD 2004 is among the very few horror-action movies that doesn’t have a single stretch that gives me a headache or puts me to sleep, and, along with maybe Romero’s LAND OF THE DEAD (2005) and John Hyams’s portion of the UNISOL saga, it’s the only recent-ish zombie movie (or tv show) that isn’t terrible and isn’t merely a British comedy. (Sorry, Walking Deadites.)

  4. So I saw WORLD WAR Z and I actually kinda enjoyed it? Mind you this isn’t a horror film or even a zombie film I suppose, just more a decent traditional blockbuster disaster thriller but the doomsday plot device is zombies instead of a new ice age or an Earthquake or whatever. Kinda reminded me of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES from a few years back, a good disposable Sci-Fi entertainment backed with some memorable visuals and inspired FX/action set-pieces minus the great joy of that prison escape moment. (Did any movie before this do zombies on an airplane? That’s creative.) Hell as absurd as it was, that image of the zombies coming around a corner like a tidal wave…yeah I’ll remember that spot. I even loved that scene of Pitt on the edge of the apartment roof, and even his relationship with that soldier which is a good trope of the zombie/post-apocalyptic genre: Buddies on the Run.

    For that matter, now this comparison will come off as bizarre but it makes sense to me: The 1953 version of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. That one had a lead character trying to find a cure/way to stop this apocalyptic threat, but really he’s just a prop, connective tissue between sequences to show the global impact of this catastrophe, i.e. humanity getting its ass kicked. The comparison also makes sense (only to me) with the lack of any blood at all in WWZ.

    In retrospect I did admire how a movie that starts out with a big BANG, followed by another probably bigger sequence in Israel, then ends with an intimate, low scale climax. I like how the whole 3rd act (rewritten and reshot last year after apparently the original 3rd act involving Russia apparently was a stinker) was basically this bigass budget film revisiting the Romero zombie films with human survivors running down corridors and trying not to alert the walking stiffs, walking through a deserted cafeteria, all that. I wished some more thought was put into that one key moment instead of simply celebrating the miracle of randomality, but eh if that is my biggest complaint I think I’ll live with it.

    Plus the facial tics of some zombies amused my crowd. I won’t spoil it, but I applaud the movie for one well-earned laugh in the climax that had my crowd cracking up. I’m impressed.

    So yeah not a really remarkable entry within the zombie genre. Hell it’s not even the best zombie film of 2013 (that goes to the inspired WARM HEARTS) but this is a solid fun #2.

    P.S. – I fell into the same trap many did whenever the reports of the reshoots and massive rewriting came out last year, we wrote it off. Well honestly now having seen WWZ and read about the original 3rd act….honestly I think they made the right call in retrospect. Someday I’ll learn that reshoots doesn’t equate disaster. At All.

  5. Usually I’d avoid a PG-13 zombie movie on general principle, but the idea of Roland Emmerich style disaster porn with zombies instead of global warming or whatever sounds mildly intriguing. But only mildly.

    Did any movie before this do zombies on an airplane?

    FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (2006), although I saw it under it’s alternate and much shittier title, PLANE DEAD. Eh, it’s okay. Clearly made in that precious time when the world was gripped in SNAKES ON A PLANE mania.

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