I don't know why I'm bothering, as the new DOTD and the former appear to share one thing in common only: name. But due to all the message boards filling over with "DOTD 04 is AWSOME, dude" reviews, I feel I have to counter with comments emailed to me by some people I respect . I'm starting out with these two and may add a couple more.
However, while I don't have permission to mention who, my favorite summed up review of the film comes from a well-regarded author who labeled this new film as "effective crap". With that said, here's some additions into the cesspool of internet opinionated dribble:
My friend Neil Riebe sent in his take on the new film. He brings up a few interesting points, I feel. Neil, by the way, is a budding writer who has just had his first story published. If you're a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, you may want to check out his contribution to the vibrant Lovecraft tribute genre.
Remaking Dawn of the Dead makes as much sense as remaking The Empire Strikes Back. But like Empire it was the best in the trilogy, so naturally this is the one the producers are going to pick.
This is where the problems with the new DOTD stem. It had no predecessor. The beginning slams together in ten minutes so it can catch up where the original started its story. We didn't get a chance to bond with the characters. We were never told clearly the parameters of the crisis. All we saw was a movie trying to mimic its source material, like kids putting on their parent’s clothes and pretending to be adults.
Remember how the original started? In it, Romero showed his storytelling craft. The main characters meet each other the same way we, the viewers, meet them. Both the audience and characters are strangers who come together for the first time. Our common bond is the zombie menace. We know what has been happening before Dawn. They know, too. We all realize we need to stick together. Within minutes we feel attached to the characters without really knowing them, and we're willing to follow their story wherever it may go. That's what's missing from the new version. We have no common ground with the nurse, or the cop, or anybody who gets introduced to us.
DOTD further plays dress-up with news broadcasts. In Romero’s original Night and Dawn of the Dead, these scenes seem real enough to pass as actual news footage. The news scenes in the new film are campy. As a result the news clips diminish the remake's threat while in Romero's films the threat has been enhanced.
As for the mall, we get an ominous rising pan accompanied by a music cue that might as well have been Darth Vader's theme from Empire. Why would you present the mall that way? Or rather "a mall." Because within the context of the story, the mall is not a reoccurring setting. People have not been holed up in there previously under a zombie siege. Not unless the movie was implying it was the sequel of the original DOTD. Whatever, the filmmakers showed they missed the point of the mall. The mall itself was not villainous. It was what the mall represents about people.
The zombie concept was the same as in 28 Days Later. I wouldn't be surprised if this is the reason why the zombies are ill-defined. The filmmakers probably saw that 28 Days created a niche and adjusted their movie accordingly in an eleventh hour script rewrite. I can't prove it, but it looks that way on screen. Consequently, the new concept reduces the logic of the old tag line, "When there is no more room in Hell the dead will walk the earth." The people who died in the new DOTD didn't even get a chance to go to hell. The disease took them out and brought them back right away. Assuming there was a disease.
Some people have cited old horror flick clichés in the new DOTD, and I agree. There are a lot of recycled tricks. On the other hand, when I went to see it, the audience ranged from teens to early 20s. They jumped at all the scares. They loved it. Till recently there hasn't been much for horror films. To them, it's new. To us older horror fans, stale bread.
Otherwise, comparing this movie to current movies, it really isn’t that bad. A big weakness of films today is that character development jumps from point A to point B with no catalyst. Or relationships are started between characters and then just get dropped before being brought to any conclusion. Second Hand Lions and Hell Boy are examples. Second Hand Lions has lots of feel good moments with nothing to connect them. Hell Boy has a menagerie of good characters thrown together. First we have Hell Boy's relationship with his adoptive father that gets crowded out by Hell Boy's relationship with his new partner, which doesn't get resolved because we are soon introduced to his girlfriend. By then we don't care about the romance because we've been invested in the father\son relationship and the buddy cop relationship.
The new DOTD does have progression with the attachment that develops between Ana, the nurse, and the straight-laced Michael, Kenneth the cop and the gun shop owner, as well as the security guard who goes from antagonist to ally. Just as in the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre film, I eventually liked some of the people and got into the film. And some of the action is well choreographed. With stinkers like Midnight Mass and House of the Dead for contemporaries, the new Dawn of the Dead is a good watch by default.
This review comes from close buddy and all-around smart guy Nick Rucka. Nick's not only a big movie buff, but he's in his final year at NYU's director's program (not that this should make his opinion any more valid than anyone else's, just that he's not an armchair filmmaker). Read on:
In sense DOTD '04 is worth seeing because it perfectly illustrates everything that's wrong with Hollywood right now. Basically, it's filmmaking by committee. Instead of 4 characters there's something like ten, one for each demographic that might watch the film. So there's ZERO character development and no real delineation of character interaction and dynamics. We don't know why we're supposed to care about any of the characters and we don't.
Further frustrating is that the movie is bad script writing. The film doesn't allow elements be discovered in an organic manner. Either a character will tell you something and then we'll see it — known as exposition, which is exceedingly lazy filmmaking and writing — or everything is jammed in there so you know it'll be used later. They see a gun shop, they'll use it. They find a dog randomly that can fetch, it's used to fetch. It comes more from video games and less from filmmaking, like (this is made-up), you find a key and when you find a locked door, you know it'll work. It's fucking frustrating to watch.
The gore is okay and Savini has a cameo, but whatever. What would've been the best on-screen violence is never shown. We get some head-shots but no feasting shots. What gives? Furthermore, they try to make the film scary by jarring you with loud sound FX. Everything smacks, clanks and bonks. It's the equivalent of having some asshole pop a paper bag behind your head to scare you! How is that fucking scary? It makes you jittery at first, but it's not fear; it's shitty filmmaking!!
Next up, the film according to scribe Brian Ridgway:
I admit that back in the summer of 2003, when it was first reported that Richard Rubinstein had inked a deal to remake George Romero classic DAWN OF THE DEAD, the news struck me as completely bizarre. Other than seeming like the dumbest creative idea I had heard in a long time, it also seemed like the highest example of pointless filmmaking I could imagine.
Richard Rubinstein recently said that he often received requests by filmmakers to remake, re-imagine, or recreate DAWN OF THE DEAD. Apparently he held out for 20-some odd years, and one can only imagine the kinds of offers he's rejected. So in that respect, kudos to Richard for holding out as long as he has.
So why now? What makes this recent offer by Universal Studios different? Does his sense that the marquee value of DOTD is lessening as time passes? Maybe he simply grew tired of saying 'no'. I guess, in the end, it really doesn't matter. Everything old is new again. All good ideas never die, they are simply rehashed and given a fresh new bow. So, I guess this means that we should brace ourselves and get used to seeing DAWN OF THE DEAD remade every 15-20 years, re-presented to a new generation of filmgoers, whether we like the idea or not.
But this weekend I decided it was time to stop asking questions and drawing comparisons. We place all that aside and went to the theater today to see the new version. After eight months of rumors and commentary, I admit to actually being a little excited about the possibility that the filmmakers got it right again. Maybe someone cared enough to create a worthy new millennium upgrade of one of the greatest films ever made!
Time to get excited!
The first ten minutes are interesting, having actually been shown uncut on the USA Television Network last week. My initial reaction was one of slight disappointment, to be honest, and has nothing to do with Romero comparisons. You know the horror is coming in this film because director Zack Snyder telegraphs his punches, ushering in the creepy music to ear pounding levels just before the violence happens. Didn't this guy go to horror 101 school?
But something happens 11 minutes into the film when we're shown the credits: the film gets a real jolt of excitement! A sequence of shocking, confusing and creepy images from television news monitors, played to the haunting voice of Johnny Cash, offers the promise of something biting and original. In fact, I thought the use of When the Man Comes Around was a brilliant idea. Who better to usher in the apocalypse than the man in black himself?
Quickly into the second reel, the story then heads to the mall. And there is stays. Contrary to repeated claims by the filmmakers that the mall is only a small part of this film,the truth is the whole film, with the exception of the first 10 and last 10 minutes, takes place at the mall. Liars!
There's nothing really wrong with that, except that this location is not used to any affect. No long, ghostly hallways lit by eerie florescent lights are visible, and no familiar stores or product placement are used. Truth be told, nothing about this mall complex is interesting or familiar or even creepy. Since the characters don't arrive via helicopter but rather on foot, you have no sense of the scale of the location either. They just stroll in.
And how is the threat of the undead handled? Except for a couple rooftop glances by the main characters, little of the outside lots or of the marauding zombies are shown. In fact, there are only maybe 3-4 brief overhead shots of zombies. No decomposing housewives are seen pounding on the doors ar gaunt local cowboys pressed against the loading gates. And oddly enough, even though the bulk of the film is spent wandering in and out of stores, nothing is even said about consumerism. The mall is just a shelter, nothing more. It could be an oversized parking garage the way it is handled here.
By mid-film approximately a dozen characters are introduced. Most of them are decent and believable and most are distinguishable by funny or desperate comments. But again, the writers fail to address the dilemma presented because there is little visible in terms of character weaknesses, bias or flaws. Weak links in this chain of survivors aren't apparent throughout the film, so the level of tension is really nonexistent except for action scenes.
One of the film's most compelling characters oddly enough is one that says nothing, and is shown only from a distance. He's a man trapped on the roof of a nearby gun shop — how is that for irony? We watch throughout the film as he becomes most desperate to his predicament, longing for the human contact visible from the mall residents next door. It is a surprising effective scenario that offers the strongest spark of compassion in the film, and is one of the film's bright spots. Romero would be proud.
The film's best speaking performance, however, is from actor Jake Weber. You're never quite sure what his motivations are as he quietly attempts to maintain some sort of harmony and balance within his group of survivors. Is he planning some sort of conquest or betrayal? You find yourself rooting for his survival after only a short time onscreen though, won over by his presence. He turns out to be the real deal and is a character that would work in almost any tense adult drama.
So that's it, and little else happens. Since the television broadcasts end early in the film, we have no sense of the societal meltdown outside that may be occurring. There are no crazed outsiders presenting a threat to the mall inhabitants. No survivalist or marauding bikers — no one comes. Are we to assume that everyone is dead? Nothing is said or hypothesized. In fact, the zombies don't seem to come around until they see activity on the ground outside.
So yes, this turns out to be a Dawn-of-the-Dead-lite. Except for a few quick scenes of violence, little happens that we haven't seen before. And in the final reel, when the group decides to flee the mall for another, presumably safer location, we're left with a series of jump cuts that are almost impossible to visually interpret.
I admit that there are three jaw-dropping shots in this film--you'll recognize them when you see them--that show the potential for a 2004 upgrade. One is an overhead shot of thousands of zombies rushing the character's escape vehicles. It's mind boggling in its scope and horror. The second shot--a speeding truck mowing down zombies--is a terrific nod to the first film's sense of bloody chaos. And there is an exploding head shot in this film that is easily comparable to the infamous exploding head scene of the first, and looks incredibly realistic. MPAA be damned!
As a re-imaging of DAWN, this film fails pretty much on every level. Void of social commentary and completely lacking any sort of political savvy, this is a film that is merely a stripped-down chase with a few prime moments of inspiration. As far as an action film, it's smarter than most, still offering enough predictable chills to be head and shoulders above standard current Hollywood horror fare. There are moments at the end that may even be a nod to the 1980 Italian release of ZOMBIE, probably overlooked by most critics and moviegoers.
The nicest touch in the film may actually be at the end with the use of a dawning day sequence, such as the one used so effectively in the first film. Despite the unending weeks of horror experienced by the characters in this film, the filmmakers use the rising of a fresh morning sun as a beacon of hope for the characters in this 2004 edition. It's presented in a uniquely visual way, and offers a quiet respite from all the previous violence.
I admit that despite all my problems with this film though I may pay to see it one more time simply to catch the opening credits, as well as the surprisingly effective cameos by original DAWN talents Scott Reiniger, Ken Foree and Tom Savini. The use of these wonderful faces are easily worth the price of admission, and were done with a real sense of creativity in the film's first 20 minutes. At least the filmmakers treated them with the respect they deserve, even though their screen-time is fleeting.
So, for a brief time (minutes before the screening started), a DAWN OF THE DEAD reinterpretation seemed to offer the possibility of greatness. But in the harsh light of day, it again turns out to be a mass-market, toothless disappointment. No other comment is necessary, I suppose. Sometimes it is better to live in the past, where all the cool dead people live.