- Rated R
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All photos © Universal
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t’s rarely good news when a legend comes out of hiding to reclaim their throne at the top of the kingdom. Michael Jordan had his second go at an NBA career with unsettling results, and now, the master of zombies himself, George A. Romero, is looking to cash in on the recent zombie renaissance occuring in Hollywood. Unfortunately, while his original three films (“Night of the Living Dead,” “Dawn of the Dead,” and “Day of the Dead”) may have helped set the mood for an entirely new genre, his latest venture into the world of the undead is a heap of summer movie crap.
Following the events of "Day of the Dead," the humans are finally learning to fight back, with the remaining survivors barricading themselves inside of the few uninfected cities in the country. Among those survivors is a group of mercenaries, led by Riley (Simon Baker), who go out at night to retrieve supplies and shoot up a few zombies along the way. Riley's second-in-command, Cholo (John Leguizamo), is a lower-class thug with the hope that his duty will earn him a pass into the upper class sanctuary, Fiddler’s Green. When he’s denied payment and kicked out by the city’s dictator-like leader Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), however, Cholo steals an armored assault vehicle called Dead Reckoning and threatens to blow up the city.
Meanwhile, the zombies are plotting a strategy of their own. Well, kind of. Led by a black gas station attendant zombie (Eugene Clark) who’s apparently discovered the concept of communication and logic, the army of undead unite and head for Fiddler’s Green, perhaps one of the only safe havens still available in the world. Hired by Kaufman to track down Cholo and reclaim the Dead Reckoning, Riley, his friend Charlie (Robert Joy), and ex-Marine-turned-prostitute Slack (Asia Argento), must save the day, or the human race is....doomed. Cue ominous music.
“Land of the Dead” simply doesn’t live up to the expectations of a Romero film. Along with the lack of any really frightening moments (despite an abundance of grotesque ones), the film also delivers the most survivors I’ve ever witnessed in watching a horror film. The miserably low body count and cookie-cutter happy ending are among many of the insulting faults that Romero hurls at the fans, but what’s worse is his lack of social commentary; albeit he did does briefly touch on social class, including the ridiculous concept that zombies are also victims.
The biggest setback of the film, though, is Romero’s mindless script, which has the sharp-witted heroes shooting at every zombie except the one running the show. And it’s not like he wasn’t visible either. He was in the front of the pack the entire time. Now, if you were a character in the film, and you saw an army of undead walking towards you, which zombie would you gun for? The slow, elderly zombie, or the big black zombie (clearly the most menacing of the bunch) carrying a semi-automatic weapon? Kill the big black zombie you idiots! He’s teaching them to use guns!
Sigh. It’s no use. And even though “Land of the Dead” stands as the worse Romero zombie film of his career, it still manages to satisfy at the guilty pleasure level. I guess we have Tom Savini and KNB to thank for that, whose special effects for the film are beyond amazing. The choice is up to you, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Unrated Director's Cut Blu-Ray Review:
Universal’s last few Blu-rays haven’t been quite up to snuff (with many DVD bonus features getting scrapped from the HD versions), but the single-disc release of “Land of the Dead” gets things back on track. Featuring an always interesting audio commentary with director George A. Romero (as well as producer Peter Grunwald and editor Michael Daughtery), the special features are perhaps the best thing about this release. Though the two making-of featurettes can no longer be viewed on their own, they have been integrated into a picture-in-picture video track that works quite well. The deleted scenes (“The Remaining Bits”) are far from spectacular, but the VFX featurette “Zombie Effects” and the short documentary “When Shaun Met George” (which follows "Shaun of the Dead" star Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright during the filming of their cameos as zombies” are both worth checking out. Rounding out the set is a storyboard-to-scene comparison (“Bringing the Storyboards to Life”), a zombie casting call featurette (“Scream Tests”), and a short montage of the film’s goriest moments ("Scenes of Carnage").