Sunday, October 14, 2012

Movie review: George Romero's Land of the Dead

  Set three years after the zombie apocalypse in George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Land of the Dead explore the tenuous and fragile balance that society has managed to scratch out from a world where the dead come back to live and cannibalize the living.  The surviving humans have gathered in major cities converted into feudal strongholds.  One such stronghold is established in what was formerly Pittsburgh, PA.  There, Paul Kaufmann has established Fiddler's Green (named after a mythical encampment where dead soldiers can spend eternity instead of going to Hell as long as they never let their canteens become empty), a skyscraper where the wealthy live in luxury, enjoying all the amenities of the past.  Around Fiddler's Green exist the encampments of the poor used as guards and support staff for Fiddler's Green.   

 Kaufmann commissioned Riley Denbo to create Dead Reckoning, a heavily armored and armed vehicle which can easilly travel into areas controlled by the zombies, allowing teams to go out and collect supplies from abandoned cities with relative ease and safety.  Denbo commands the crew of Dead Reckoning, and is about to retire.  He and Kaufmann disagree on what should be collected from their raids outside the 'Green, Denbo focusing on foodstuffs and medicine while Kaufmann encourages the crew to collect alcohol and luxury items.  Things come to a head as Denbo and his lieutenant, DeMora, both try to retire from being raiders; Denbo has designed a car to carry supplies and allow him to leave Fiddler's Green and go north and DeMora has saved enough to allow him to purchase an apartment among the wealthy in Fiddler's Green proper.  Both are betrayed by Kaufmann, who needs Denbo for his genius and considers DeMora too unsavory for residence in the 'Green.

Survive the Zombie Apocalypse in style!
 Denbo and his team have begun to notice that the zombies are displaying odd traits and behavior, suggesting that they are developing cognitive skills.  Their last raid results in the zombies of that town marching on Fiddler's Green in retaliation, not just to kill and eat living flesh.  The long march requires them to make use of tools and to recognize that the rivers that are normally a barrier on two sides of Fiddler's Green are no obstacle to the dead.  When Mike, one of the crew members, comments that the dead are pretending to be alive, Denbo suggests that this is what they are doing as well.
 
Refugees from a Nickleback concert.
 Like all of the Living Dead movies by George Romero, Land of the Dead is about the exploration of human behaviors, with the zombies being merely an additional source of pressure.  Kaufmann, and to a lesser extent DeMora, prove to be the real monsters in the film.  The struggle is not so much the living versus the dead, but between those who struggle to retain some semblance of their humanity and those who, with no civilized authority to answer to, have abandoned it.  Land of the Dead is a slick film; well written, well performed, and well produced.  The special effects are not overstated, with the gore being expressed believably but not over-the-top.  The characters are a little stereotypical at times, but provide enough depth and personal development during this fast-paced film to be relate-able.  The film also manages to inject plenty of humor into the story without being ridiculous, making for a very well-rounded film. 
 
Fiddler's Green is nice, but no strip-clubs.
 All zombie films, including those by Romero, will be compared to and typically judged as falling short of Night of the Living Dead.  Despite Night of the Living Dead setting the standard for the genre and being a ground-breaking film, I feel it is over-rated.  Land of the Dead is a far more entertaining film, maybe lacking in some of the psychological or social commentary aspects of the first film, but making up for it in other ways.  




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