FEBRUARY 21, 2011
Last summer, I realized that there were enough versions of Night Of The Living Dead for me to make an entire week’s worth of content for HMAD, considering the 1990 remake was the only one (besides the 1968 original, obviously) that I had ever seen, and it was so long ago I couldn’t remember much beyond “I liked the new ending”. So I planned a NOTLD-only week, but didn’t get around to it until now. So hopefully you like the story, because that’s pretty much all I’ll be talking about this week, starting with Night Of The Living Dead: Re-Animated, an art gallery in cinematic form.
The concept, and even a good chunk of the execution, is pretty awesome – using the original movie’s soundtrack, the entire film is recreated via a series of edited together animations and drawings from over a hundred different artists. Stop motion, flash, cell based, video game style CGI, puppets, Barbie dolls, even some Furbys are used to tell the story, shot for shot. Due to the film’s unfortunate status as a public domain staple, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with a passing interest in horror that hasn’t seen the film already, so it lends itself nicely to such abstract interpretation, and free of any potential lawsuits to boot.
Unfortunately, far too much of the film is devoted to still images. Not to critique the art itself – I’m certainly no art critic, and like everyone else in the world, there are certain styles I just don’t care for in general – but a still image is not animation to me. Even when I didn’t care much for a certain artist’s animation (just throwing a bunch of filters over the actual movie – so what?), at least it fit the “Re-Animated” part of the title. It’s really jarring to go from a really interesting animation style (one guy essentially depicted everything with squiggles, sort of like the Tony/Ridley “Scott Free” production company logo) to a series of still frames, sometimes 2-3 for the same shot. While it’s cool to see different interpretations of say, the Bill Hinzman cemetery zombie in rapid succession, I’d much rather something more fluid. Here’s the drive to the cemetery done with miniatures and stop motion; here’s the death of Johnny in flash, here’s Barbara’s run to the house in stick figures, etc. I loved the idea of doing different styles, but they switch far too often and far too randomly. Some animations are only on-screen for a second or two, cutting to still frames or something before you get a chance to fully appreciate it.
The potential of DVD hasn’t been utilized, either. Why not have two cuts of the film – one with genuine animation and another with still frames? That would be far less jarring for the animation, and would allow for more submissions for the still frame artwork. Also, why not provide a subtitle track that informs us which artists’ work we are looking at, at any given moment? There’s an “artists call-in” commentary with about 20 of the artists talking briefly about what they contributed, over still frame examples (even if they provided full blown animation) , and a rapid fire roll call of each artist with a frame of their work (5 seconds each), but it would have made more sense AND been more helpful to have it over the film itself. Say I liked the animation over the scene where Ben and Cooper have their brawl – I’d have to click through every artist to figure out who it was in order to check out his or her other work. But if it was over the movie, I could just cue up that scene and find out instantly. I also would have loved more from the NOTLD “Maniac Mansion” style adventure video game that we see once or twice, as it’s obviously part of a larger whole (instead, we get a random, largely incoherent clip of a Pac-Man style game based on the movie).
This is even more of a bummer when you consider how jam-packed the disc is with stuff that few will care about, such as a promo for one of the websites that was pimping the film, random short films by a couple of the artists that have nothing to do with NOTLD nor do they provide any context (i.e. “This is the short that got (NOTLD:R-A ‘curator’ Mike Schneider’s attention” or something), and a full hour (!) of a generic zombie panel from some con, where you can barely understand anything being said because the audio is so muffled. There’s also a half hour devoted to a guy showing off his collection of NOTLD box art. I mean, yeah, it’s cool to see how many different ways the movie has been packaged over the years, but wouldn’t a still gallery make a lot more sense? Glad the guy’s such a die hard, but I don’t have the patience to listen to him wax nostalgic about each cover, especially when there are so many more interesting things that could have been on the disc. For example, there are some “making of” pieces with a couple select artists, and they explain how they pulled off their animation. At the end of one, they show their animated scene alongside the original footage – this would have been great for the entire movie (via a picture in picture option – use that damn “angle” button for once!). Again, NOTLD is in the public domain – you can do pretty much whatever you want with it, but footage from the film is surprisingly scarce on the disc.
Of most importance are the two commentary tracks: one with Schneider, the guy who runs the distribution company for the DVD, a horror journalist, and author Jon Maberry, who wrote the awesome “Patient Zero”; the other with Schneider again along with a filmmaker and some website guy. Both tracks are kind of arrogant in tone, and poorly recorded to boot (it’s kind of fitting for this particular movie though, I guess), but they do make a good case for the project, and explain part of the process of how it was all put together (apparently there were a lot of flakes). Some of their comments are a bit insulting, however – they take a few shots at the movie and at one point Schneider defends a complex 360 degree shot of the group that does not appear in the original movie, claiming Romero probably would have done the same if he could. Do not assume what a legendary and gifted filmmaker would or wouldn’t do, please (especially one that works as an editor, considering how grating this film’s editing can be). They also allude to art that has been removed or reduced in the film, but Schneider absolves himself of any blame, claiming that anything he removed from the film was based on comments from a few “test screenings” conducted at conventions.
So if you really dig art/animation, you’ll probably enjoy this to some degree. It’s not exactly something you’d want to watch as an actual movie (I expect to see it on a loop at the next hipster bar I go to around Halloween-time), but there’s a lot of great stuff on display. Just a shame the “curator” didn’t think to make it easier to know who was responsible for it. He claims it’s an art gallery – an actual art gallery doesn’t just give you a list of all the artists and ask you to figure out who did what.
Tomorrow: Savini’s 1990 remake!
What say you?