DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) – The Dungeon Review!
Philip over at Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked asked if I ever did a comparison of the original Dawn of the Dead with the 2004 remake. Although it wasn’t exactly a request, I thought it would be good for me to take on the challenge of covering a remake. In three and a half years of writing reviews for this blog I believe I have covered two remakes; Last House on the Left (remake of Wes Craven’s 1972 film of the same name) and The Uninvited (remake of Jee-woon Kim’s 2003 film A Tale of Two Sisters). I find remakes wholly unnecessary and furthermore they usually suck. In fairness, the suckiness is my prime reason for staying away; but with all the films in my queue I have never seen, it is hard to justify watching 90+ minutes of someone else’s reimaging of a film I already love and have seen many times. Curiosity however does get the better of me sometimes. I was starving for some decent new horror in 2004 and Dawn of the Dead was getting rave reviews, so I made a trip to the theatre to check it out. A group of us went and it was a fun movie-going experience that involved a goodly amount of the drinking of alcohol so I had warm recollections about Dawn of Dead; but besides the appearance of a zombie baby I could not remember details. I definitely had to give Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake a re-watch! Did I enjoy Dawn of the Dead 2004 as much as the original? Bloody hell NO! But Snyder’s remake was not without its highlights. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Dawn of the Dead has a great opening scene! Ana (Sarah Polley) is a nurse just finishing a long and particularly busy shift at the hospital. She drives home to her hubby, does a little dance, makes a little love, and gets down to sleeping for the night. A little girl from the neighborhood lets herself into their home in the wee hours of the morning and stands looking at them from the bedroom door. Hubby is the first to wake up and sees the girl is badly injured. When he runs to her aid she bites him hard and deep. Ana tosses the little girl from the room and tends to her husband’s massive bloody wound. She calls 911 but no go! These infectious bites work fast and furiously and Ana’s hubby becomes a zombie in no time flat! He chases her about until she manages to escape into the bathroom where she climbs out a window. But the infection isn’t the only thing that moves fast, these zombies can run like the wind. A very energetic start in which Ana escapes and eventually becomes one of a group of survivors we will spend the rest of the film with.
Dawn of the Dead definitely delivers the gory goods! The film is action-packed and has very little downtime. There are some very impressive headshots where pieces of head and brain matter fly! Like the original, a pregnant antagonist is included, but it is taken to a whole new gory level! I really dug the zombie baby sequence and only wish it was a bit longer. It is a major spoiler I suppose, but we do learn that preggars was bitten quite early in the film. It is an even bigger spoiler to tell you this…one day I am going to write a song about this scene and I’m going to call it “Sarah Polley Shot My Baby in the Head”. There is certainly no lack of zombie hordes milling about and they are pretty impressive visually. There is some very nice zombie makeup too! As far as zombie makeup is concerned, I thought the remake was definitely superior. Although I would have liked to have seen more eating of entrails and such. I enjoyed the gore and a few of the characters die pretty wonderfully horrific deaths! You even get treated to one particularly horrific non-zombie death courteousy of a nasty chainsaw accident! The effects are pretty superb but I still don’t care for fast zombies. Fast zombies are all the rage these days. Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead came out within a couple years of each other and definitely started a trend. Although they were certainly not the first directors to include fast zombies; my next review will also feature fast zombies and it was made in 1980! I have come to accept fast zombies, and have even enjoyed them occasionally, like in Dead Snow. Fast zombies work okay for me in a more comedic situation. Zombies are purely fantasy and I suppose based on that you can do whatever the hell you please. But I just don’t think re-animated corpses should be fast.
Unfortunately I didn’t really give a shit about any of these people. They were all just zombie food as far as I was concerned. Character development is practically non-existent in Dawn of the Dead. When I don’t give a damn about who dies it really takes the sting out of watching their deaths. While Dawn of the Dead is absolutely action packed it lacked intensity for me. For the teeny amount of development there is I found several of the characters irritating and unlikable and the dialog at times on the painful side. There is a real lack of chemistry amoung the group, including Ana and Michael (Jake Weber) who are supposed to be romantically connected. The best character in the entire film is the dog and Andy. Andy was actually a very intriguing addition. Andy is not with the group but is trapped on the roof of the gunshop across from the mall. Andy communicates with the group by holding up written messages and we know eventually they will have to attempt to rescue the man. It was clearly Snyder’s intention to make the pacing and action a priority and that shows for good or bad. I do not believe that you need to sacrifice character development for action scenes. The film lost significant points for me because of this.
I liked how Snyder carries the suburbia theme a step further with his opening scene. The neighborhood Ana lives in is a very stereotypical Suburban Ontario landscape. Everything looks like it could have been built last week with its untreed, unnatural looking landscape with identical homes side by each. It seemed like a real waste that the mall enviroment is not used to its full potential. Here they have this great monstrosity full of goods that they really don’t take advantage of. I was thankful for no long musical montages of people trying on clothes, but it nonetheless seemed wasteful. And speaking of music, the soundtrack is no where even remotely on par with the original. Not by a long shot! On a remake vs. original level, there is no contest whatsoever, I like the original miles and miles more than the remake. I respect the fact that Zach Snyder made the film his own and did not concoct a Dawn of the Dead clone. Despite my issues with Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, I thought it was well-paced, gory, action-packed, mindless fun. Recommended.
Dungeon Rating: 3.5/5
Directed By: Zack Snyder
Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer, Jake Weber, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly, Kevin Zegers, Michael Barry, Lindy Booth, Jayne Eastwood, Boyd Banks, Inna Korobkina, R.D. Reid, Kim Poirier, Matt Frewer