George Romero holds the crown as King of the Zombies. Arguably George Romero directed 2 of the greatest zombie films of all time: Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Land of the Dead is the fourth film in this series. He has an entire phylogeny of zombies, called Romero Zombies, that share specific characteristics. George Romero zombies shamble and lumber about. Destruction of the brain results in permanent death of the zombie. Anyone that dies becomes one so long as the brain is still intact. A bite from a zombie dooms the recipient to death and zombification.
In the genre, Romero is above reproach. That all being said, The King of the Zombies is not perfect. While Night and Dawn form the pinnacle of zombie horror, others fail to satisfy. Land of the Dead, released in 2005, marks the first release in the series since 1985’s Day of the Dead, while also demarcating the steady decline of the franchise.
Welcome to the Golden Triangle
Land of the Dead tells the story of Fiddler’s Green. Mankind gathers in a makeshift community called the Golden Triangle. With no delay, quickly organized into a caste system. The haves live in a high-rise called Fiddler’s Green. The rest live in ghettos.
The zombies have taken over large portions of the country. As they wonder around looking for food, they continue to exhibit behaviors that the did while they lived. Developing on ideas from Day of the Dead, the zombies have memories. They can be trained. They even can communicate and organize in a rudimentary fashion. concurrently, a rich and powerful named Paul Kauffman (Dennis Hopper) leads The Golden Triangle through corruption and greed.
Land of the Dead Reckoning
Designed and commanded by Riley Denbo (Simon Baker), a battle cruiser named Dead Reckoning provides the backbone of defense. Additionally, a man named Cholo DeMora (John Leguizamo) acts as second in command. Cholo plays by his own rules. Cholo has plans for when he takes over command of Dead Reckoning.
Working side jobs for Kauffman, Cholo has earned enough money for his spot in Fiddler’s Green. When Kauffman tells him he’s not wanted, he steals Dead Reckoning with the intent of firing on the city unless his demands are met.
Riley is sent to retrieve Dead Reckoning, but the Green Triangle has a bigger problem. Meanwhile, a hoard of sentient zombies lead by “Big Daddy”, the first zombie to take a job in middle management, attack the city.
Sentient Zombies – Subtraction Through Addition
Oh boy. Just to get this off of my chest, the idea of sentient zombies is a drag. The whole idea is that these things are mindless eating machines. When they get numbers, they become a force of nature. The second they start taking up arms they could be anything: orcs, trolls, disgruntled union workers. Romero first introduced this idea in Day of the Dead (1985) when introducing “Bub”.
When the zombies actively develop strategies, it takes away the mystery. They are not orcs, they are zombies. This plot device takes far more away from the mythology than it adds. Boooo!
Land of the Dead – Upholding a Legacy
Judged on its own merits, Land of the Dead qualify for a fun little walking dead movie. Unfortunately, this movie must uphold its legacy. As a huge fan of Dawn and Night, news of a new George Romero “Dead” movie intrigued me. After watching, I felt deflated. Apart from the “Eat the Rich” motif, this film lacks all of the social commentary of Dawn of the Dead. I suspect that the well is drying up at the Pittsburg zombie mill.
Despite its weaknesses, it wasn’t all bad. Greg Nicotero does a fantastic job supplying the film with practical effects. Many of the zombie kills show creativity and imagination and there are tons of them. Zombie bites and flesh rending disturb as much ever. Dead Reckoning tried to be cool, but fell short on execution. The battle vehicle coupled with the zombie Thunderdome pays a nice tribute to Mad Max.
Dennis Hopper excels as slimy plutocrat Paul Kauffman. He never misses an opportunity to prove his antisocial personality. Slack, played Asia Argento, provides a strong female role. Typically I am not taken with her performances, but she commands the opportunity. I chuckled a bit while watching the zombies drool on themselves while watching fireworks. This movie enjoyed a more robust budget than previous three. Those few extra bucks provide a certain polish that evaded the previous three films.
Land of the Dead must be measured against the series that it represents. That comes with high expectations that this film fails to fulfill. Land of the Dead continues the decline that began with Day of the Dead. It presents a more colorful canvas than Day of the Dead. Along those lines, it scores slightly higher. Still, I rarely reach for this one when I need a zombie fix.
Land of the Dead (2005) - 4th Time is not a Charm - Malevolent Dark
Director: George A. Romero
Date Created: 2005-01-01 00:00