Friday, September 30, 2005

A Metaphor Too Far

I'm coming back for just this one post. This will not be like Sugar Ray Leonard, who came out of retirement in 1987 to (sort of) beat Hagler, then went on to sully his record for another 10 years, getting beat by the likes of Hector Camacho. My ring career is over. This is just a one-off. Honest.

I've just seen George Romero's LAND OF THE DEAD. Er... I mean LAND OF THE DEAD. This baby has been hyped and hyped for years. Not in a concerted way by the studios, but by the fans - speculating on what will be the nature of this epilogue to the "Dead" trilogy. For a long time word was that it was going to be called TWILIGHT OF THE DEAD, which I think would have been better. Not because it sounds better, but because it signals an end. "LAND OF THE DEAD" just doesn't sound right to me. But so much for the title. On to the movie...

What the hell went on here? Is Romero too old? Was his vision diluted by meddling studio execs? Did he just take too long to make it? I don't know, but the film is just not good enough. As a decent B-movie about zombies running around, it's OK. But for something that is being heralded as the return of a great genre master, it lets you down like a flat-chested stripper. The narrative is weak, the boat isn't pushed out far enough (except for gory set-pieces), and the overall feel is hero vs villain. That, and the performances are crap. (Someone should come out and admit that Dennis Hopper's last dance with greatness was BLUE VELVET.)

A lot has been made of Romero's political and social issues in the other DEAD films, particularly racism in NIGHT, and consumerism (yawn) in DAWN. It's a long time since 1985's DAY OF THE DEAD (my personal favourite), and since then he has become a kind of exiled king of political horror. So it's no surpise that he comes out in this one with all metaphors blazing, hoping to show the world how it really is, illustrating his point with, well, zombies. He's talked in recent interviews about this being a post-9/11 movie, and the "I don't negotiate with terrorists" Dennis Hopper quote has been much bandied around, as if to prove that credential.

And, boy, is this ever a post-9/11 movie.

A bunch of rich bastards are holed up in Hopper's state-of-art secure skyscraper, literally buying into the illusion that everything is OK in the world. Meanwhile less fortunate survivors fend for themselves on the ground, and the zombies are kept out of the city by sentries, electric fences, and a river. So rather than them and us, it's them and them and us. Keep the trash and the zombies out, by whatever means necessary.

The rich bastards don't get to learn much about the zombies (ie: bother reading the Koran), but they don't have to worry about them either, them being over there. Then a renagade prole (white convert to Islam?) goes out there and points missiles at the sacred skyscraper, glorious symbol of prosperity (um, could that be a subtle reference to something or other?)... and the zombies flood across the barriers.

To make things worse for Hopper & co, the muslims (did I say muslims? I meant, of course, ZOMBIES) are not dumb any more. No more the shambling, innocent flesh-eaters (ie: servile Eastern countries) of yore. They are learning about our culture, working out ways to get around it (flying lessons, anyone?). And what's more they are led by a rage-fueled king zombie known (in the credits) as Big Daddy, who periodically looks up at the beautiful skyscraper in the distance and roars a battle-cry. (A coincidence that Big Daddy and Bin Laden contain the exact same number of letters? Of course!)

Sounds pretty overt so far, right? Romero's stance is clear - the rich humans (ie: polital classes) are the villains, the ground-level humans (ie: apolitical working Schmoes) are the innocent victims, and the zombies (ie: al Quaida) are kind of incidental catalysts, who are simply following their flesh-rending natures and giving us what we've got coming. This is all fine and dandy, if you like your politics dripping with blood and rammed down your lacerated throat. But then what does Romero go and do at the end?

*** SPOILER ***
The zombies walk off into the distance, and our hero (who is so bland I haven't even mentioned him yet) says to his female sidekick, raising her machine gun at them... "Leave them. They're just like us, just looking for a place to go."

Beautiful sentiment, but... Can we drop the politics for a moment? These are fucking ZOMBIES. They will eat your fucking children! George, zombies can be great symbols for some things, but ... towel-heads. You're on shaky ground, man!

Last year's DAWN OF THE DEAD remake by Zack Snyder, and the earlier 28 DAYS LATER by Danny Boyle show that you can still make a great zombie movie. But neither of these guys attempted to eviscerate the audience with sixth-form politics. They made turbo charged horror suspense movies, having their fun with the format but still paying their dues to the genre. This is what Romero fails to do in LAND OF THE DEAD. At some point during his long exile, he has fallen for the myth that he is a political filmmaker, and the result is like an Australian soap star trying to make it in the RSC.

And George, I don't care what your age is, but your material is old. Horror has moved on, and dragging your tired shit around don't cut it no more. Like the 41-year-old Sugar Ray, you're going to get your old ass whupped by an unworthy opponent.

That aside, great film!


Duane Swierczynski said...

Can't wait to see this. I've got a weakness for flesh-eating zombie flicks.

And I can't tell you how happy I am that you're back. Go ahead, claim it's a one-off. Sure, Charlie. Whatever you say...

Steve Kane said...

Yeah, Charlie will think he's done with the blogging thing and pack it all in... and then one day something will occur to him and he'll think, "Oh, I'll blog about that," but he'll remember that he quit blogging and can't share this interesting little thought with everyone... not unless... well, he could do one more blog post, just the one.

And then some day after that something will occur to him and he'll think, "Oh..."

I'm going to see David Cronenberg's latest, A History Of Violence, this weekend. I may blog a review.

Anonymous said...

Cheers guys. I am definitely in retirement, though. Ah... golf, a spot of gardening, daytime TV... er... golf. It's great!

OK, semi-retirement.

The new Cronenberg one sounds interested. Looking forward to your rev, Steve.

- Charlie.

Anonymous said...


Steve Kane said...

Hey Charlie, my humble evaluation of Cronenberg's latest flick is now up on my blog. If you are interested then you can read it here.

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