Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Synopsis: Packed with more blood, more gore, and more bone-chilling, jaw-dropping thrills, Dawn of the Dead Unrated Director’s Cut is the version too terrifying to be shown in theatres! Starring Mekhi Phifer, Ving Rhames and Sarah Polley in an edgy, electrifying thrill-ride.

When a mysterious virus turns people into mindless, flesh-eating zombies, a handful of survivors wage a desperate, last-stand battle to stay alive… and human.

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Dawn of the Dead (2004) 7.75

eyelights: its slick style. its breathless pace. its interesting take on the original.
eyesores: its sketchy character motivations. its lack of depth.

“We’re going to the mall.”

It’s easy to criticize remakes. When a picture is a classic, one doesn’t see the need to redo what’s already been done well. And, if it isn’t a classic, one can easily argue that there’s no value in it; why bother? Either way, its creative value is dubious.

Still, sometimes it can introduce an original story to new audiences.

As with Tom Savini’s remake of ‘Night of the Living Dead‘, it’s with mixed feelings that I approached Zach Snyder’s take on George Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead‘. Though I’d heard good things about it, I worried that it might butcher the original.

That’s not to say that Romero’s film is a perfect entity; as a low budget film made with limited means, it certainly has its share of inadequacies. But it’s a low-concept horror picture, a rarity to say the least, so it holds a dear place in my heart.

Surprisingly enough, especially in light of his other output, Snyder’s version is skillfully-rendered. Though the 2004 motion picture doesn’t retain any of the depth of the original, it’s nonetheless an entertaining and relatively well-crafted thriller.

But it’s a very different take on the material.

Our chief protagonist this time is Ana, a nurse who barely escapes her home the morning after the zombie epidemic begins to spread. Startled by an attack, she hurriedly leaves her neighbourhood behind and finds herself with other survivors.

The group decides to go to the local mall, where they hole up. But they’re in conflict with and at the mercy of three security guards, who’d barricaded themselves there. Soon, however, the chaos outside forces the groups to work together as one.

One of the key differences with this rendition is that character development is minimal; here Snyder and writer James Gunn decided to scatter our attention over multiple characters instead of focusing on strictly four of them, like Romero’s original did.

Aside for Ana, we don’t really know who they are, what lead them to the mall and what their plan is. Heck, we don’t even understand why they decided that a large shopping centre mall would be a good idea; it sounds like a hotspot for zombies, to me.

They just go.

That’s not to say that they’re all cardboard cut-outs. Hardly. Gunn manages to humanize them to some degree by making them relatable in different ways; there’s a broad range of characters to connect with. But they’re acquaintances more than friends.

The problem with this approach is that we’re not always convinced by the decisions that they make. By the end, it’s unclear why the survivors make the decision to venture outside, essentially putting their lives -and those of others- in jeopardy.

Worst. Decision. Ever.

So… why?

Why not, I guess…

Plot-wise, the picture isn’t about the characters rebuilding their lives but being faced with outside dangers that threaten to ruin their efforts. Instead, this one is more about immediate survival, with the biggest threat being internal, not external.

Another key change is the picture’s lack of substance; whereas the original was a commentary on the vacuousness of our growingly consumeristic society, the new one jettisons almost all social commentary aside for a handful of brief observations.

Finally, its humour is more sarcastic than ironic (as Romero’s was). Here, the characters wise-crack sardonically almost incessantly. Granted, our society has changed dramatically since 1978, and this may be a reflection of it, but everyone’s sharp-tongued.

Naturally, the picture is much slicker than Romero’s was even in its day; with modern technology and quick cutting techniques, it’s easily possible to effect a near-relentless pace – and Snyder does exactly that. One has little time to (re)consider anything.

To support this stylistic change, Snyder decided to make his zombies move quickly. This is a dramatic shift from the shuffling zombies in Romero’s oeuvre, and it’s likely influenced by Danny Boyle’s ’28 Days Later’ – though ‘Land’s are not nearly as frenetic.

Frankly, it’s the correct choice for Snyder’s version: had he decided to let his “walkers” shuffle about, they would have looked like a joke; in a fast-paced movie, such zombies would have been a step behind the times. They’re no better or worse; it’s all context.

Though I really enjoyed Snyder’s remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead’, it’s technically proficient and it is entertaining, it lacks purpose. It was clearly only made for thrills, to get a rise out of its audience, whereas the original had a some important things to say.

Still, we can thank the remake for at least one thing: its success forged George A. Romero’s return to the genre with ‘Land of the Dead‘, which would come out just a year later, and spawn shortly thereafter ‘Diary of the Dead‘ and ‘Survival of the Dead‘.

For that I am eternally grateful.

Story: 7.5
Acting: 8.0
Production: 8.0

Chills: 3.0
Violence: 6.0
Gore: 7.5

Date of viewing: August 19, 2017

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