Land of the Dead: Unrated Director's Cut
DirectorGeorge A. Romero
Release Date(s)2005 (September 30, 2008)
Who better to wrap up the Week of the Dead than the Godfather of the Dead himself, George A. Romero? Sure, there were zombie movies before Romero’s 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead shambled along but they were nothing like this. Romero raised the bar even higher with his subsequent sequels, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead (an underrated masterpiece, if you ask me).
Expectations were understandably high when it was announced that he would be returning to the series after a twenty-year absence with the long-awaited Land of the Dead. Response to the film was mixed but viewed without the anticipation factor clouding our view, it holds up as a highly effective zombie movie.
Humankind has attempted to rebuild a kind of society as Land of the Dead opens. Pittsburgh is now the ultimate gated community, surrounded by electric fences to keep the “stenches” out and the people safe. But the division between the haves and the have-nots is greater than ever. The rich live in the opulent Fiddler’s Green tower, presided over by Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), a very American dictator. The poor huddle together in slums, where Kaufman provides them with booze, drugs, gambling and whores to keep them occupied.
The only people allowed to leave the city are supply runners (led by Simon Baker as Riley) who cruise the abandoned countryside at night in a massive armored vehicle called Dead Reckoning. Riley’s second-in-command, Cholo (John Leguizamo) has saved enough cash to buy a place in Fiddler’s Green. But when Kaufman makes it clear that he’ll never be good enough to rub shoulders with the rich folks, Cholo steals Dead Reckoning and threatens to destroy the city with it unless Kaufman ponies up some serious cash. Unfortunately for all involved, the zombies outside the city are finally beginning to develop primitive reasoning skills. The stenches invade just when the city is at its most vulnerable.
Romero is working on a grander scale here than in previous Dead entries. Indeed, this is almost as much of an action picture as it is a horror movie. At first, it’s jarring to see so many characters and the veneer of studio polish in one of these movies. It’s also the first time we’ve seen CGI employed in the series and frankly, some of it isn’t very good. But Romero manages to keep things moving at a steady clip and when it comes to scares and gross-out effects, he hasn’t lost his touch. This is kind of the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome of the Dead series. It’s slicker and geared toward a somewhat wider audience than the prior films. Is it the weakest of the four movies up to this point? Absolutely. But the core elements of Land of the Dead are consistent enough with what came before to make it a worthy entry and a highly enjoyable movie in its own right.
Land of the Dead is new to Blu courtesy of Universal and surprise surprise, they’ve done a slightly better job with it than with The Thing and the 2004 Dawn of the Dead. Image quality is significantly improved over the DVD version (I don’t have the HD-DVD to compare it to but I imagine it’s about the same) although high-def doesn’t do a lot of favors for the computer-generated blood splats. The soundtrack is dynamic and powerful, whether it’s dealing with the rumble of Dead Reckoning or the cries of the zombies.
As for the extras, the good news is that everything that was on the DVD is on the Blu-ray for a change. The bad news is that most of what was on the DVD to begin with wasn’t all that exciting. There’s a subpar audio commentary with Romero, producer Peter Grunwald and editor Michael Doherty, some deleted scenes, and a few OK but too-short featurettes about the effects, the storyboards, and that kind of thing. There’s also a nice piece called When Shaun Met George, a video diary of Shaun of the Dead’s Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s visit to the set and cameo in the film. Most of the featurettes are stand-alone items but a few have once again been repurposed to appear as picture-in-picture elements through the miracle of U-Control. I don’t want to keep beating this particular undead horse. Suffice it to say, me no like.
As it’s turned out, Land of the Dead was not Romero’s final visit to zombieland. He has since released Diary of the Dead (which I haven’t seen) and is currently in production on yet another. Every one of these since 1985’s Day of the Dead has had its champions and detractors, which for my money means Romero must be doing something right. I’m immediately suspicious of any movie that’s either universally adored or despised. Land of the Dead, while a far cry from being Romero’s best work, holds its own. If nothing else, it’s head and shoulders above most other non-Romero Movies of the Dead.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke