You know, as Remaketober 2014 draws to a close, I can’t help but feel a little down. I was looking forward to doing Remaketober all year, and to see it end so soon is kind of depressing. Still, this was a fun year for me, and I’ll be returning in just over 11 months to do it again. So for now, enjoy this analysis of George Romero’s classic (believe me when I say, I could do an entire Remaketober on just Romero movies) and thanks for readi-
No one’s reading this, are they? Figures.
The original Dawn of the Dead is one of those rare classics whose importance to its genre and medium has basically superseded any question of quality. Oh, it’s still a great film, both within and outside of its genre and subgenre, but that doesn’t matter so much anymore. Dawn of the Dead is so important to the zombie genre that whether or not it’s actually good doesn’t matter. For context, the last time I saw this film was in film school, in a film history class. So yeah, it’s kind of important.
Since I just referenced film school as the last time I saw this, you might guess that it’s been a while since I last saw this (although I’ve seen both its sequel and its prequel more recently) and you’d be right. Going back in, for the first time in forever, I tried to see it with fresh eyes, to not let my knowledge of how important it is cloud my judgment. And in that regard, while I couldn’t exactly say its aged perfectly, it has aged a lot better than I expected (and certainly better than Night of the Living Dead).
First of course, are the zombies, those old shamblers. Dawn basically set down the standards for how a zombie apocalypse looks on film, and it also has the most influence on how the zombies act. Common elements like zombies retaining enough of their human memories to know where to go, or acting as a slow moving horde, are pretty standard now, but they were new then. The main plot (holing up somewhere to avoid the zombies) is a pretty standard zombie plot, but this is the series that invented the standard zombie plot, and it holds up pretty well. Even the social satire on consumerism, while as subtle as a sledgehammer, still works pretty well.
The main draw going into a zombie film is gonna be gore, and here it’s provided by industry legend Tom Savini so you know it’s good. It’s an interesting take on zombies, emphasizing the fact that they’re corpses over most other things, which fits in well with the shambling, stiff nature of the zombies (although Savini’s best take on zombies is still Day of the Dead if you ask me). The effects, with a couple of minor exceptions (notably one hilariously obvious mannequin, which you can probably chalk up to the actor failing to act like it’s a real person he’s grabbing) are still pretty impressive today.
It’s not a flawless movie, although most of its problems can be chalked up to a low budget and an on set learning curve. While the first two acts are pretty solid, the third act always seemed kind of weak to me, as it chucks logic out the window to get the action going (making a previously level headed character act like a complete moron). It also features some truly idiotic human antagonists, including my favorite: a biker who is so obsessed with getting his blood pressure read that he sits down and puts his arm in the cuff while the zombie’s are swarming. I realize you can’t have a third act consisting entirely of the characters hanging around the mall reflecting on how consumerism has destroyed their lives but you’d think they could come up with something a little more organic.
Still, with a pedigree as impressive as the father of its entire genre, you’d think that people would avoid trying to make a remake. If you think that, you don’t know Hollywood. These people tried to remake Halloween.
While nowhere NEAR as important as the original, much less important enough to supersede questions of its quality, I’d by lying if I said that the remake isn’t also influential. It’s one of three movies (the others being 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead) that most people, myself included, credit with reviving the zombie genre in early 2000s. That said, it’s definitely the weakest of the three. It lacks 28 Days Later‘s great character work, exceptional acting and brilliant direction, as well as Shaun‘s fun vibe, genre knowledge, and awesome script. In fact, the script and character work are probably the weakest things about this movie. It is, at heart, an incredibly dumb movie.
And I still kind of like it. Oh it’s not a great or even exceptionally good movie, but it’s a damned fun one. It’s well paced, well directed, incredibly gory, and a lot of fun. If you want to see a bloody, violent zombie fest, then this version of Dawn is probably where you want to go. That it doesn’t have a lot on its mind is not so much a flaw, as Zack Snyder has repeatedly proven that when he tries to make something smart (Watchmen, Sucker Punch, Man of Steel, seriously Watchmen) he f**ks it up.
If there’s one thing that elevates this movie above its peers, it would be how open and unapologetic it is about what kind of movie it’s trying to be. It wants to be a slick, high budget gorefest, with a little dark comedy thrown in on the side, and it works. There are a number of standout concepts and scenes (like the pregnant woman giving birth to the zombie baby, or the sequence where a guy with a broken leg is dragged backwards while shooting at zombies) and they’re all pretty awesome.
It also gets a big boost from a well used soundtrack. The opening credits are set to The Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash (sorry, that should be Johnny F**king Cash) and it’s a good choice, underlying the apocalyptic tone and giving us an awesome song at the same time. Later on a montage is set to Richard Cheese’s lounge cover of Down With the Sickness by Disturbed which is hilarious both in and out of the movie. I have to assume credit for that goes to screenwriter James Gunn, who would pull similar soundtrack jokes in his (much better) Slither as Snyder seems to be incapable of using anything but the most obvious choice for a soundtrack.
Of course I said it wasn’t particularly good, and I meant it. The script is weak, especially by James Gunn’s standards, the character work is universally shoddy (with multiple scenes consisting of characters standing around stating their motivation and backstory) and the acting is mediocre at best. Well, except for Ving Rhames; Ving Rhames is awesome. It also completely fails to even remember that the film is supposed to be a satire on consumer culture, and all of the scenes where you might get that satire are played depressingly straight, possibly as the result of some (supposedly extensive) pre-production rewrites. I’d love to see the original script though.
Still, as far as remakes go, it’s certainly a fun one. The gore is plentiful and inventive, the action well directed, its got a brisk pace and never bores me. As far as the 2000s revival of the zombie genre (which has by now long since worn out its welcome), it’s one of the better ones. Its probably one of Snyder’s better films, even while it can’t live up to James Gunn’s smarter and more inventive Slither, or the more flawed but fascinating Super. Also, didn’t he have a movie out this year? Something low budget that no one saw probably.
So that’s it for Remaketober 2014. Submissions and suggestions for Remaketober start November 1st. Just don’t expect me to pay any attention to them until next August.