LAND OF THE DEAD

Region 2 (UK) Edition  [Region 2 and 5 coded]

Reviewed by Matt West

Director:  George Romero

Starring:  Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento


ďNice shooting!Ē
ďThereís no such thing as nice shootingĒ

Not many films were as long-awaited as George Romeroís latest Dead film, and the problem with long-awaited films is that they frequently donít live up to the expectation.

Many titles were bandied around for this one. For as long as I can remember it was always meant to be Twilight of the Dead. Personally I think that title had a bit more class, and cohesion with the previous titles of the series. But you should never judge a film by its title.

As I'm currently boycotting cinema, Land of the Dead was a film I never planned to see there. Dead films donít belong in the cinema. They belong on ropey quality home VHS systems. For that reason Land of the Dead is an unsettling experience as it doesnít feel like a Romero film. It looks a bit too polished, and there was obviously money available, which is at odds with cheap fun like Dawn of the Dead. Even our zombies are now a little more sophisticated in their dilapidated form. There are none of Saviniís ketchup-and-cream grey-faced zombies with big-collared shirts here: the new film is just endless offal and coloured sugar syrup Ė itís guts and guts and guts Ė much more in keeping with Fulciís style.

All of this seemed to be enough to turn off an awful lot of Romeroís fans, who seem to have dismissed this film a little too quickly. Its certainly not as good as any of his previous efforts, but itís a hell of a lot better than most of the dull nonsense Hollywoodís plodding out these days. And it has Asia Argento.

If you came in half way through, you could be forgiven for thinking youíd stumbled upon Escape From New York. Unfortunately for Romero the logical next-step for his Dead films has been done before. Well, fool him for being so complacent, and taking forever to get this off the ground. Thereís very little thatís original here and itís not Romeroís fault. I donít think heís knowingly mimicking other films.

Anyway Ė the plot, for what itís worth, is essentially about a small group of people trying to get by in a world of the undead. I could go into more depth but, to be honest, the rest of the plot, and Dennis Hopper, is all pretty irrelevant. It is fun. And thereís a fantastic subplot in there as well.

SPOILER ALERT! Forget everything other than the lead zombie. This is what the filmís all about and itís superbly played by Eugene Clark. It took me a while to see what was going on Ė but these moments are so well handled it makes you wonder why Romero bothered with the rest of the film and didnít make this the emphasis.

Aside from Eugene Clark, the cast are incredibly weak. Whether this is a failing of the script or the director Iím not sure. If I had to guess, Iíd say it was unenthusiastic actors who didnít really know how to play a zombie film. Everyone seems to be trying so hard to become the next action figure T-shirt face, especially John Leguizamo, who really does drag the film down. Asia Argento seems fairly surplus to requirements and acts that way too Ė but her English is coming on leaps and bounds! This is especially evident in the extras.

THE DISC

The film is predictably presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The transfer is good as one would expect, and, given the amount of dark scenes, the blacks hold up very well with no visible ďpumpingĒ etc. The 5.1 audio track (at 384kbps) is very weak and doesnít really challenge the senses.

The bitrate rarely dips below 7.0Mbps and never ventures higher than 8.0Mbps.

The layer change is either very well placed or does not appear during the main film. Given the bitrate Iíd say itís feasible the whole film is on one layer and the extras are on the other.

There are subtitles on the extras and also for the commentary, which is always good to see. 2 Entertain take note!

THE BONUS FEATURES

Letís leave the film, because itís very difficult to take apart and determine whether itís any good or not Ė what else do you get for your money?

Well at face value itís EPK stuff.

The highlight of the extras package is When Shaun Met George; Simon Pegg and Edgar Wrightís video diary of their experiences on and off set as zombie extras. Their enthusiasm is as infectious as it was in Shaun of the Dead and their stilted meeting with Romero is very genuine and the subsequent chat over a milkshake is a more relaxed affair. What is clear from this and the other extras is that the crew were 100% committed to this film. Everyone seems to be having a whale of a time and putting in their all. Itís refreshing to see, and one would imagine many of them would give their left nut to work with Romero, and so were probably working cheap or for free.

Undead Again is a Sky One / Entertainment Tonight-style behind the scenes featurette which tells you nothing you wouldnít already know from reading the back of the DVD box. (12 mins)

A Day With The Living Dead is a further extension to Undead Again presented by a dreadful actor who essentially messes about with some zombie dummies, much to his own amusement. (7 mins)

The Remaining Bits would appear to be deleted scenes. Not being overly familiar with the film itís hard to spot whether they are or they arenít. Most of them are single shots and are presented with raw audio which at least makes them fairly interesting. Itís odd to see some single shots that have been cut given the fairly short running time of the film itself. (3 mins)

Scenes of Carnage is an utterly pointless repetition of the main zombie reveal in the film set to a classical score. (2 mins)

Bringing the Storyboards To Life Ė well itís fairly obvious what weíre dealing with here isnít it? Theyíre nice storyboards, Iíd rather theyíd been included as a photo gallery as by this end of the menu youíre really starting to get bored with seeing the same sequences over and over again. These storyboard-to-screen comparisons are fairly pointless really, since the whole point of the storyboard is that itís meant to match whatís on the screen. Theyíre nicely drawn though.

Scream Test is everything thatís wrong with modern films. Iíve seen this a dozen times before, in fact the same damn dance on Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. I donít need to see it again and itís just pointless. As an Easter Egg it may have made sense. Itís essentially an hilarious animatic of a zombie doing the Thriller dance. Oh my aching sides.

The Commentary, from George Romero, Peter Grunwald and Michael Doherty, is a patchy affair. You wonít learn anything from selecting it, but itís a lively one so someone out there will enjoy it. Itís the usual ďOh thereís Roger! Roger was great. Wasnít Roger great? Man, Roger was great. I liked working with Roger because he was so great. Oh man, he really was great. Yeah, thatís RogerĒ. We get these commentaries all the time now. If thereís nothing to say Ė letís save the bitrate for the film? Not to mention the endless ďThatís CG, thatís a puppet, we added that, we added that, we added that ÖĒ.
Weíre also treated to two trailers, one for Peter Jackson's version of King Kong and one for Skeleton Key. I had no interest in either film before I saw the trailers and even less now.

SUMMARY

All in all, as a package it will appeal to the low-end consumer. Those expecting something more from the extras to analyse the journey from Night of the Living Dead to this latest offering will be disappointed. While the extras list is extensive, thereís actually very little on offer. A small triumph of marketing over content.

This is a film that you really must see. Thereís a lot of good stuff in with the bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Site content copyright © J.A.Knott - 2002-2005