OCTOBER 21, 2007
Ah, yes. The Dawn of the Dead remake. A.K.A. the movie that made me remove my foot from my mouth and apologize (not to anyone in particular), not to mention automatically give every remake since an “I’ll wait till I see it until I pass judgment” stance. See, the original Dawn is my 2nd favorite horror movie, after Halloween, and the very thought of a remake appalled me. “Fuck you, guy who wrote Scooby Doo and guy who may one day direct the most blatantly homoerotic movie of all time” I was quoted as saying.
But then I went to see the film. And within 15 minutes, I was not only willing to accept it as a remake of a classic, but I was genuinely enjoying it, a lot. I can’t recall for sure, but I’d go so far as to say that it eventually became my favorite horror movie of the year (I can barely even recall another 2004 horror movie though. The Grudge?).
A big part of the film’s success goes to James Gunn’s brilliant decision to just retain the concept (“Zombies in a mall”) and NOTHING ELSE from the original. He understood what Rob Zombie and so many others have not – the only way your remake of a classic, beloved film will work is if you allow the audience to get lost in YOUR film. How can I get into the Halloween remake if every 5 minutes or so I am seeing a copy of a scene from the original? That’s not a concern here. Literally nothing is repeated in terms of scenes or events, only the occasional line or two (“When there’s no more room in hell...”).
Besides that, it’s also a genuinely good zombie movie. Ignoring the fast vs. slow zombie debate (For the record though, I find slow zombies scarier, sort of the same way that a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one), one cannot deny that the film has plenty of new ideas, and some great comedic moments. The scene in the elevator where Mekhi Pfifer has to keep hitting the door to keep it from closing is a perfect mix of tension and relief, and Andy (a character whose fate is truly sad) and Kenneth’s shooting game is a hoot. There’s also some great black comic stuff, in particular the chainsaw death near the end of the film that ranks as one of the best kills in all zombie movie history (and it doesn’t even involve zombies!).Also this:
What's to dislike?
Also, the character development is pretty good, especially considering a. how many characters are in the film and b. how fast it moves. Jake Weber’s Michael is a more well-rounded character than anyone in the original, and the early scenes with Sarah Polley and her boyfriend feel very natural. And CJ, who begins the film as a total jerk and ends up being our core group’s most useful ally, is another great character. Unlike the original, there are no “hero zombies” to speak of – they are pretty generic (made up for by the sheer amount of them).
The DVD (unrated) version is superior to the theatrical as well. Not because of the added gore, but because it adds a scene that explains what seems like a truly idiotic moment in the theatrical. When they first arrive at the mall, they go in out back, after a brief zombie attack scene. This scene was omitted from the theatrical, so it looked like they enter the mall by throwing a toilet through a store window from the outside. Why this scene would be cut is beyond me, but then again, this is the same studio (Universal) that tried to make The Return look like a generic ghost movie.
Many have decried the film for excluding any of the social commentary/satire of the original, but like The Hitcher, I don’t see why this is a problem. If you want commentary, watch the original. I don’t believe there’s any law that says a zombie film has to be a metaphor for some larger issue. Some have also put it down by claiming it’s just an action movie with zombies, but that’s, if anything, total hypocrisy – the original has a large shootout between gang members and cops, a car racing around the mall, a big stunt-filled finale with another gang, helicopter and truck sequences... it’s just as much an “action movie” as the 1978 one. Plus, look at all the good that came from this film’s success: Romero finally got the dough to make his own 4th Dead film, the game Dead Rising (the parking garage/tunnel areas of the game were obviously inspired by the scene shown above) is one of the best horror games ever, and Gunn and Snyder went on to make further contributions (Slither was one of 2006’s best films, and Dawn + 300 = Watchmen, finally) to the genre. Hell we even got a 4 disc release of the original.
This year I have met both Gunn and Snyder, and told them how they got right what so many others have gotten wrong (I actually called Snyder an asshole for making the film so good that it gave me hope for Halloween 2007 – a ‘compliment’ I’m not sure he understood, and I don’t blame him): they took someone else’s concept and title, sure, but they made their OWN film. It’s not necessarily better or worse than the original – it’s too different to make an accurate comparison. I think both are great for what they set out to be, and it’s a damn shame that Rob Zombie, John Moore, Neil LaBute, and Alexandra Aja (among others) failed to follow their lead.
What say you?