10/27/10

Halloween Top 13: The Remake- #5: Dawn of the Dead (2004)

And so it’s finally here, the final five entries leading up to Halloween, and today’s film, 2004’s Dawn of the Dead is one of my favorites. It was Zack Snyder’s introduction to the world, and it, along with 2002’s 28 Days Later, introduced the world to the notion of the fast, frenetic zombie. Like most remakes, I assumed up front that I wouldn’t like it. After all the original Dawn of the Dead had long been my favorite of the classic Romero films. (It even appeared last year on The Halloween Top 13: The Sequel. Snyder got right the same things that I’ve complimented remakes for doing, taking the basics of the original film, tweaking, and repurposing until the finished product becomes something completely original to the director. While Romero’s zombies lumbered around like low impact mall walkers, Snyder made them into the equivalent of rabid Black Friday shoppers.



Dawn of the Dead (2004) only really retains a bare minimum of ideas from Romero’s film, the mall and a group of survivors trapped in it are basically where it starts and ends. The film starts with a pre-credits sequence in which off duty nurse Ana (Sarah Polly) is confronted with her husband, now one of the living dead. Escaping in her car, she discovers the world has overnight become an apocalyptic nightmare. Hooking up with a police officer (Ving Rhames), a handyman (Jake Weber), a petty thief (Mekhi Phifer), and his pregnant wife Luda (Inna Korobkina), the group decides on making their way to the mall.  Once there, they become prisoners of the armed mall cops. After turning the tables on the guards, more survivors begin to arrive. A plan is soon hatched to convert two shuttle buses into zombie proof machines and make their way to rich douche bag Steve’s (Ty Burrell) boat on Lake Michigan.





In a nutshell, that pretty well sums it up. Gone is the commentary on consumerism that was such a big theme of Romero’s original film (though Ving Rhames’ character makes reference to why the zombies are drawn to the mall), in its place, Snyder and script writer James Gunn (Slither, Scooby Doo) created a film that was more about the situation and the character’s willingness to accept the reality of the zombie outbreak. From the way the security guards first think they will be the new rulers of the mall to the scenes where Mekhi Phifer’s character is determined to deliver his child even though it, like his wife, have become simplified. The characters that survive the film, the ones that constantly strive to deal with their day to day struggles, are the ones that keep their minds focused on not only helping themselves, but also doing what they can for the few human beings they still have around them. Naturally, this becomes a small group of people carved out from nearly triple the characters that Romero had in the original film. In that way it stays true to life with no character being defined as unflinchingly good or altruistic, and even the “bad” characters’ motivations can be easily understood. Except Steve, man is that guy ever a jerk.


Since there are so many characters in Dawn of the Dead, I’m only going to pick a couple to talk about. First off, I have to give Ving Rhames some time. Rhames is usually best used a supporting character, and I suppose some may say he is here though I would contend that Rhames, Polly, and Weber share top billing. The relationship that builds between Rhames and Andy (Brice Bohne, Killer Movie, Jingle All the Way), a shut-in trapped in a nearby store, is especially well played as the two can only communicate though signs. Sarah Polly, who as a young girl starred in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) a particular favorite of mine, gives Dawn of the Dead its emotional and moral center. As head security guard C.J., Michael Kelly (The Sopranos, Man on the Moon) really impressed me by mixing redneck idiocy, some funny jokes, and a nicely played character arc into what could have been a throwaway part. There are also a couple of nice cameos to mention. One of my favorite actors, Matt Frewer shows up in a thankless role as a short lived survivor, special effects wizard and Night of the Living Dead remake director Tom Savini shows up as a sheriff, and Ken Foree who starred in the original version of Dawn of the Dead makes an appearance as an end-of-times evangelist.

Snyder hired cinematographer Matthew Leonetti a man with a litany of credits to his name. Just glancing at his resume brings up titles like Poltergeist, Fast Times, Ice Pirates, Commando, Leap of Faith, Strange Days, and that is only the beginning with his last project being the posthumously released 2008 Bernie Mac film. Leonetti is the type of guy that goes unrecognized by the best majority of film goers, but at the same time he has shot so many great genre pictures that it blows my mind. With the throngs of zombies and the confusion of their crushing desire to swarm, there are hints of what was to come in Snyder’s next project, 300. As we all know, Zack then did the impossible and brought Watchmen to the screen, has a CGI owl movie on screens right now, is set to release his much awaited film Sucker Punch in 2011, and then he’ll follow that up with the reboot of Superman guided by Christopher Nolan. It kind of makes me wonder what I’ve been doing with the last six years of your own life, but then the answer comes to me, really enjoying Zack Snyder films. I also have to give it up for his use of sound tracking. From the opening strains of JOhnny Cash's "When the Man Comes Around" to Richard Cheese's version of "The Sickness" and even the elevator versions of pop songs, the music served to further his film at every step.

Well that wraps it up for Dawn of the Dead, and I can’t wait until tomorrow to get into Number 4. Just want to leave a couple of reminders here before I sign off. In case you missed it earlier today, you should really scroll down on click over to check out the excellent top 13 list sent in by Geof of Enter the Man Cave. He’s got quite a few great flicks on there including a number that didn’t make my list, but he definitely makes a case for them. Then if you haven’t had enough listing, head on over to Rupert Pupkin Speaks where I just did a guest post featuring my top 10 Underrated and Obscure Horror films, and there’s not a remake among them I assure you. That ought to give you plenty to catch up on until tomorrow morning when there will be another Overachiever’s Top 13 list followed by a big gooey chunk of number four.

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2 comments:

  1. You really articulated the reasons I love this film so much. Can't wait for the rest of the countdown!

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  2. When I first saw this film in the theater all those years ago I didn't like it just because it was a remake. Now, however, having read this post and thought about it again, I think I owe the movie a second chance and am actually looking forward to seeing it again.

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