The 2004 remake of George A. Romero's classic zombie drama written by James Gunn and directed by Zack Snyder. Is the new movie any good? I'll dissect the film for you.
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Directors: Zack Snyder
Producers: Eric Newman
Writers: James Gunn
Features: * Three 'unrated' featurettes * Two deleted scenes featurettes * Zombie News Coverage Featurette * Audio Commentary *Trailers * Unrated Version
I’m offended. “Dawn of the Dead” was a very well received critical success. Filmmakers including Mr. Tarantino himself hailed it as the greatest zombie film ever made. I wonder though, what film did these important figures see and how much were they paid to say what they said? “Dawn of the Dead” is not the genius film that everyone claims it to be. It’s a heartless, nihilistic train wreck of a feature that’s offensive to God, to filmmakers and to the films that inspired it.
“Dawn of the Dead” starts off well. The opening 10 minutes are exciting, clever and hip. One would immediately think that they are in for one hell of a ride. Once our heroes make their way into the mall though, the film falls apart.
Let’s start with how “Dawn” offends filmmakers. Director Zack Snyder does not understand how to make a major motion picture. He has a strong background in commercials, and he understands quick pacing and setting the mood. What he doesn’t understand, however, is exactly what this kind of film needs the most — fear and loneliness. Often, Snyder will cut to overly dramatic slow motion shots of various characters dropping things and stepping on them (i.e. cigarettes, bullets, you name it). This is a nice effect if used once or twice, but 11 or 12 times is pushing the boundaries of lunacy. It’s used 16 times here.
Snyder uses stylistics that work, but he doesn’t know why they work. He is too quick to reveal a scare and often he misses the mark. He also shies away from characterization, a true stamp of a zombie film. Instead he cuts the main chunk of character moments into a quick two minute montage that, while funny, doesn’t teach us anything. There is also no social commentary to speak of.
Not all of the blame should be rested on Snyder’s shoulders though. Most of the problems are with the film’s half-assed script. These are quite possibly the dumbest cinema heroes in the annals of cinema lore. I have no idea what’s going on here. My favorite blunder is Nicole, played by Lindy Booth. Her character makes no sense. She loses everything, from her father to her mother, which causes her to become attached to a dog she finds. That’s fine, but she also becomes attached to one of the security guards in the mall. Later, when the dog is in peril, she goes after it, which ultimately cost the lives of several good characters. It just doesn’t make sense. She’s got the security guard, why is she so concerned for the dog? Is this a magical dog?
Whenever writer James Gunn has a chance to develop interesting characters, he shies away, taking them to stupid, illogical places. It’s positively appalling. Gunn also makes Steve, the film’s only interesting and logical character, the pseudo-villain. I hate it when they do this. Everything this guy says is logical, even though he’s a sleaze bag. He would have been a great anti-hero.
Next we have the offense to previous films. Any fan of George A. Romero’s classic film will more than likely hate this feature. Now, I’m not saying everyone will hate this film, but there’s a solid chance. This “Dawn” is nothing like Romero’s film. The mall is there, but it’s not a character like the original—it’s not something to hold on to.
First, the zombies run, which throws everything off. Second, the zombies have no character. In the original we have three distinct feelings about these slow moving zombies. 1) The zombies as villains. 2) The zombies as comic relief. 3) The zombies as heroes. Not once do we feel anything for these new zombies. They are mindless plot-catalysts that elicit action sequences rather than genuine scares.
To make matters worse, Snyder and Gunn have stolen something. Not even a year old and “28 Days Later” is already being ripped off. Never before have I seen such unabashed cinematic thievery. Fast shutter shot techniques, running monsters—hell, these zombies even have the token red eyes of Boyle’s non-zombie masterpiece. Yes, non-zombie. Those creatures were infected with “rage.” They were NOT zombies. To rip this technique off doesn’t even make sense.
Zombie films are a genre. There are more than 20 zombie films released internationally every year, each with the same sort of characteristics. There are a few rules zombie films tend to follow. One of the most prevalent rules is that hope, or God, must be present by the end. The only film where that isn’t the case is “Night of the Living Dead”, the first film in the genre. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” will later ratify that.
Hope is the strongest word for God. Hope will have fans returning to the theaters for weeks. People love to see hope conveyed on screen. Hope is the very essence of what we all desire. To kill hope in a movie is to kill God.
“The Shawshank Redemption” would not be the masterpiece it is today if Andy Dufresne would have been hit by a car immediately after he escaped Shawshank prison. People would have revolted. “Dawn of the Dead” promises hope. Various characters discuss God and God’s plan, yet the film continually rushes to blame God for the zombie invasion. The added scenes elude to this even more. As one character remarks in the Unrated version, "I don't believe in God. I don't know how anyone could."
Now if Zack Snyder’s vision was to show people that without hope in God, one cannot survive, he’s succeeded and my entire argument is mute. However, it seems as though Snyder is trying to convey that hope is dead. With hope dead, is there anything to interest the viewer?
Ultimately if God dies in a zombie film or any film for that matter, then the point of the film ceases to exist. Why should we care? What was the point of watching if the only goal was entertainment? Do these characters mean anything? These are questions that need to be answered.
The original “Dawn” leaves us with a sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, the two remaining characters will survive. That’s not the case here.
“Dawn of the Dead” is an exercise in poor filmmaking. There isn’t a single moment past the initial 10 minutes that is worth viewing. It’s a real shame too because the original “Dawn” could have used a more faithful updating. While the new cut of the film does add a few minutes of new character bits, it’s still too little, too late. “Dawn of the Dead” is D.O.A.
Boasting yet another fine transfer from Universal, “Dawn of the Dead” looks absolutely stunning. The film’s unique style is vibrant and visually striking. The DVD, despite being loaded with special features, does not shy away from a fine transfer. Presented in Anamorphic Widescreen 2:35:1, this edition is free of artifacts. Very little edge enhancement is present. The film’s style lends itself to film grain, but none of it is unintentional.
“Dawn of the Dead” is also available in Rated and Unrated full screen.
Universal dropped the ball again here by not including a DTS track. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is excellent though. Surround effects come at you loudly and often. Bass is dead on, and the center channel is clear. A very fine track. Why not make this a two disc set and include the DTS track? It doesn’t cost that much. Please Universal, get back on the DTS bandwagon.
Spanish and French 5.1 tracks are available for our foreign neighbors. English and French subtitles as well as English closed captions are also included.
There are several unrated special features exclusive to the Unrated director’s edition. We’ll begin with those:
We start off with a quick ‘Director’s Intro.’ Here director Zack Snyder talks about his original vision and prepares us for what we’re about to see. This quick segment can be accessed at the beginning of the feature. Interestingly enough, Snyder warns us that the film is longer as though we won’t be able to sit through the additional nine minutes he added?!? We’re not five-year-olds. I think fans of the original, you know the 2 1/2 hour one, can handle it.
‘Raising the Dead’ (8 Minutes). In this featurette we see the various stages of zombie makeup effects. This is a very interesting featurette for any fan of gore effects. It is unfortunate that we don’t get to see these zombies up close and personal as they are running for most of the feature. Argh!
‘Attack on the Living Dead’ (7 Minutes). Now, we get the chance to learn how some of the film’s more complex makeup effects were done. Again, this is a great featurette for anyone looking to know more about the makeup business. Excellent.
‘Splitting Headaches’ (6 Minutes). More gore effects. This featurette deals with how the gun shots to the head work. A very interesting featurette.
Now on to the special features available on the Unrated and R-rated discs:
First up, the ‘Scene-Specific Audio Commentary’ with director Zack Snyder and producer Eric Newman. These guys are light and funny, but they don’t seem to know how to make an effective film. Often they mock people for assuming things about the film. For example, the implication that the girl in the beginning is the first couple's daughter. Well guys, you didn’t make it clear, so some people assumed she was their daughter. I haven’t been to a screening where someone didn’t think that. That’s just not good filmmaking.
‘The Lost Tape’ (15 Minutes). Andy the gun store owner apparently had a home video camera, and he recorded his final days. In the theatrical and director’s version, Andy was one of the best characters. He had very few lines as he was stationed across the street far from our heroes. Every moment he was on-screen, he infused some semblance of character into the feature. Now we get to meet Andy up close and personal. Unfortunately we discover that Andy is just as dumb as the rest of the film’s characters. Also, like the film, God is killed here. Disappointing.
‘Special Report: Zombie Invasion’ (20 Minutes). This is the best of the added footage. Cleverly mocking the news coverage of the zombie invasion is something I’ve always wanted to see. The special reports are hysterical. If you want to see more of this type of news coverage, check out “Shaun of the Dead”, now in theaters.
‘Deleted Scenes’ (12 minutes). Available with commentary or without, most of these sequences are rather good. I don’t feel bad if the deleted scenes aren’t very good, but if they are good, it irritates me. Deleted scenes should be deleted because they don’t work. Here we are treated to several character moments, a few new scares and a few more funny bits. While Zack Snyder thinks these sequences slowed the pace down, they were important bits. With an end-of-the-world film like this, we don’t need a fast pace. Slowing the film down will help isolate our characters and the audience, making us feel alone and, as a result, more scared. It’s basic film school stuff here that got screwed up.
Exclusive to the R-rated DVD is a quick 'Behind the Scenes' EPK filled with interviews and home movies.
Though there are no trailers or teasers for the film, we are treated to several trailers for upcoming Universal titles.
What can I say? The new “Dawn” might appeal to someone who has never seen the original. It might appeal to gore enthusiasts or folks not looking for a talky, brainy feature. For others, stay away. You’ll be better off for it.
The film as entertainment: * *
The film itself: zero
Overall: * ˝
Unrated for gore
* List Price: 29.98
* Coming to DVD October 26th 2004
----R. L. Shaffer