Thursday, March 25, 2004

When there are no more innovative ideas in Hollywood, the dead will mock great art.

Hollywood has always had a nasty case of recycleitis--digging up the dead bones of cult classics and retrofitting them for current post MTV/internet youth markets. They did it with Texas Chainsaw Massacre and failed miserably (according to reports--never saw it. Does this make me an asshole?), and now they dare the undareable and release a new version of the grandpappy of all apocalyptic zombie epics, Dawn of the Dead, to a viewing public largely consisting of pill-popping gamers and under age Rolling Stone subscribers who probably think George A. Romero is a guy who makes frozen pizza. Everyone else on the other hand is too busy balking at such heresy to ever consider viewing the damn thing in the first place, but they will...just wait.

The original Dawn, released in 78, remains one of the most unique apocalyptic thrillers ever filmed. Scream all you want about it being dated and cheapo fake blood; this one's plenty graphic enough (and quite honestly a lot more horrific than its slickafied big budget follow-up, Steven King was right about that much), and the character development is basically unparalleled for a horror movie. The ingenious set-up of having Fran working as an assistant producer for a local Philly newscast gives the audience an instant glimpse into the chaos befalling the world, or at the very least, Philladelphia, in less than five minutes. If pros working on a newscast are losing it and heading for the hills, you know the rest of the world gots ta be fucked.

So basically my point here is just something along the lines of what we always knew: Less is more. Less budget, less cuts, less CGI...There are dozens of chilling, often hilarious human moments in the original Dawn along with a sense of real pacing. Set your eyes on the redneck zombie hunt montage to see what I mean. It's simply one of the funniest and most honest scenes in film history, and it's informative at the same time. Always push that story forward! Is this an action/horror flick or some kind of neorealism in disguise? Li'l bit of both? It's moments like this that put this movie in the pantheon of great 70s American cinema, and considering that's probably the last great era (not to mention thee greatest) of American filmmaking, that's some serious praise. "Attica! Attica!"

The true measure of a good flick of any kind ultimately answers the question, "do we give a fuck?" with a loud, resounding yes. From alpha to omega we care in Romero's flick, because more than being a subversive rumination on surviving in a dying (and often reviving world), it's about maintaining some humanity in an inhumane world. What is humanity? To me it's compassion, empathy, love, memory and more. For being such an obvious gore and monster freak, Romero has a profound grasp on the human side of things, and that's why we keep coming back and watching it over and over. That freaked out soundtrack by Goblin doesn't hurt either. It's not the effects, it's not the abdominal destruction, the head explosions (that stuff rules though)--It's Rog, Peter, Flyboy and Fran, a gaggle of zombies who have more character than the entire cast of the new version, and of course the Hell's Angels (at least that's who I'd like to think the biker raiders are) with the great Tom Savini in top form. His "cameo" in the new film as a cop is pointless. Same for Ken Foree as a talking head on a news show.

The first Dawn is probably the most richly metaphorical horror film ever made. It could be the basis for a thesis on consumerism, social paralysis, mass hysteria, cultural segregation and forced integration/fear of the other, etcetcetc...But then you already knew that. Apparently this new Dawn of the Dead is about some sort of rabies like disease that takes over the world in less than a day (original!). A lot of people are crushed by rogue ambulances, and at one point two mall buses are converted into zombie-chompers for the sake of escaping the dreaded mall (read as consumerist prison). I suppose the zombie-chomping buses are a hold over from Romero's never-filmed Dusk of the Dead, which actually features just such a vehicle in its script. This new Dawn is more like condensed cross between a remake of all three original films, plus one that was never made, and Jackass with a vague nod to Fulci's Zombie thrown in for the die-hards...and it's about as entertaining and senseless as all that would suggest, but you will not care in the end. Who gives a fuck about stock, 2-dimensional assholes and heroes? Well Lucio Fulci did of course, but I expect more from Ving Rhames and Sarah Polley. These people have done some great stuff!

I'm not saying it's not worth seeing, but I am fairly disappointed that Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later has more of an impact while being a straighter, less ironic piece of work. Movies about the walking dead can't be so deathly serious, we know that. It's just too absurd a premise, but they can't just be a 1st person shoot-em-up video game either. Seriously, fuck MTV. Fuck the death of storytelling. Long live George Romero, and if the success of this flick does finally get him the green-light on Dusk of the Dead, then maybe all this sacrilege will not be in vain. Rant over.

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