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July 1, 2005


A Kinder, Gentler, Zombie Film

save us from zombies

Dear readers, I know what you've been thinking: "Hey! Land of the Dead came out a week ago - why has Amy's Robot been silent on this, the most important film release of the year?"

It's because we've been thinking a lot about it. The post-9/11 zombie film has brought many changes to the conventional model - faster zombies, scarier zombies, gorier zombies. And now, at last, George Romero has brought us a kinder, gentler zombie.

By which I mean, it blows.

Yes, that's right Roger Ebert, and David Edelstein, and Manohla freaking Dargis: it blows. There was no story arc, the characters were uninteresting, the zombies weren't scary, and even the flesh-eating money shots weren't very inventive. But all of these problems stem from the core issue: the greatest, and most unforgivable, crime of this movie is that it goes against the entire zombie ethos.

Land of the Dead is set years into the zombie plague. Dennis Hopper has annexed a luxury tower in lower Manhattan for the rich and privileged while the rabble entertain themselves in Bartertown, using zombies for target practice and cage matches. But wait! You can't just push zombies around! They have feelings too, and a sense of justice - and when one of them realizes how to use power tools, he leads a zombie insurgence through the city. Why? Because it turns out that zombies just want to be left alone, to live (unlive?) out their days in peace. They just want to find a place to go, just like the living!

Except, of course, that ZOMBIES EXIST TO EAT LIVING FLESH! Has everyone forgotten this?! For christ's sake, you can't live in peace with the zombies! If you want to make a movie about ideological warfare, then just use bugs! Or monkeys! Or - or rabbits!

This hurts me very deeply, because the zombie genre is my very favorite of film types. It combines every great social paranoia - fear of the supernatural, alien invasion, disaster, disease, slashers, the total loss of social order - in one deliciously gory package.

A zombie with a purpose completely deflates the whole premise of the genre. Zombies feed on our fear of the irrational. Who are they? Where did they come from? Why is this happening? Why are they eating the living? How do I defend myself? Who can I trust? Will I become one? Zombies don't have motivations, or desires (beyond the need to eat the living). They are a threat because they can't be rationalized or explained. And that is why they make such effective social commentary - because they reflect human nature in the face of complete chaos.

I know that the reviewers I mentioned above in this post would be all "But you don't get it!" Yeah, I get it - it just doesn't work. Yes, I know Romero is commenting on our militaristic culture and man's inhumanity to man and the class divide and blah blah blah. You know what? Every twelve-year-old knows the proper vehicle for that shit is aliens!

You want to show how people deal with the complete breakdown of society? You want to show what people will do to survive? You want to show some intestines getting ripped out? Well, then you make a zombie movie.

categories: Movies
posted by Emily at 1:57 PM | #

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But weren't the rest of Romero's zombie movies - especially Day of the Dead - trying to get across the exact same message about militarism and human nature? I can buy the argument about the gore scenes not being particularly inventive, and there wasn't much in the way of "how will person x escape the zombie horde", which is always the most enthralling part of a zombie movie. But I have a hard time thinking of a zombie movie that isn't, at least in part, a movie about the injustices committed upon people by other people? And anyway, the zombies' purpose in Land of the Dead doesn't seem to extend all that far beyond a means to eat some more people.

As for crappy narrative arcs, I think War of The Worlds is the big offender so far this summer.

Posted by: Phil at July 1, 2005 2:40 PM

100% agree. My wife and I feel the same on this. I came home and started looking at reviews, including some of the ones you mentioned, and was shocked at the positive reviews it was getting. I'm happy to see there 's someone who agrees with us...

Posted by: monkeypup at July 1, 2005 2:53 PM

Amen....Romero seems to have some hold over the critics...but his work is really slack and every Living Dead movie has been worse than the previous one.

Posted by: chump at July 1, 2005 10:14 PM

let's not forget that there is some precedent for the sympathetic zombie: In '28 Days Later,' there is that guy chained to the pole in the backyard, and he gives Jim a kind of knowing look during a split-second of hilarity, and there is some implication of the zombie consciously aiding Jim's liberation efforts.

Posted by: adm at July 2, 2005 12:35 AM

Of course - and the zombies in the original Dawn of the Dead were somewhat sympathetic too. That's the tragedy. But that doesn't mean we can all live together in harmony.

Posted by: Emily at July 5, 2005 12:56 PM

I have to say I agree. I was disappointed that Land of the Dead was a product of George Romero. Having been a long time Zombie genre fan, I think there was little thought for an ending...happily ever after??? Is Canada zombie free? Do zombies want to reurbanize the cities but prefer warmer climates? Give me a talking Return of the Living Dead with a Zombie craving "Brains"...except in Land of the Dead the would have used a fork, witha napkin in their lap...except for those preferring chopsticks.
The mindless masses use whatever means to overwhelm those that "have" or at least use a brain.
I preffered the remake of the Dawn of the Dead Romero did. He "liberated" the woman from just being a victim. It is just a reflection, though I do not know that Day of the dead was any "kinder or gentler" of an undead.
My "Changent" for now...

Posted by: Channing at July 7, 2005 8:20 AM

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