Following an ever-growing epidemic of zombies that have risen from the dead, two Philadelphia S.W.A.T. team members, a traffic reporter, and his television executive girlfriend seek refuge in a secluded shopping mall.
Now that zombies have taken over the world, the living have built a walled-in city to keep the dead out. But all's not well where it's most safe, as a revolution plans to overthrow the city leadership, and the zombies are turning into more advanced creatures. Written by
For me, it's definitely the worst of the Living Dead films and ruins Romero's otherwise solid track record in the zombie genre.
Rating: * 1/2 out of ****
Land of the Dead has been long-awaited for a good two decades. Set presumably some time after Day of the Dead, the plot focuses on a human population that has managed to survive by barricading themselves within the "remains" of Pittsburgh by means of guards and electrified fences (as well as rivers that are bordering the city). The rich reside in a tower called Fiddler's Green but everyone else is forced to live in the streets, with only the false hope of being able to attain high-class status.
One guy dissatisfied with living in the streets, Cholo (John Leguizamo), doesn't take kindly to the mayor's (Dennis Hopper) refusal, especially having been his lackey for three years with the expectation of reward. So Cholo steals the armored vehicle Dead Reckoning and threatens to destroy Fiddler's Green unless he gets his five million dollars (which is the amount needed to get high-class status, but did he really expect to be welcomed into Fiddler's Green with open arms after this incident?). Refusing to cooperate, the mayor hires Riley (Simon Baker) to bring Dead Reckoning back. Meanwhile, the undead are planning to invade the city thanks to the evolving zombie called Big Daddy, and given this couldn't happen at a worst possible time, you can guess what'll happen next.
I'm going to put it bluntly, this film is by far the worst of Romero's zombie movies, lacking in so many ways that I would still feel the same way even if I didn't have its predecessors to compare it with. But there are its predecessors, and having already seen three prior films in which characters must hold off scores of zombies at bay from inside some "safe" location before it's ultimately penetrated by the undead, let's just say seeing this a fourth time gets a little repetitive.
The film does have elements worth appreciating, the cinematography is excellent and easily the best of the series; I especially loved the stylish and creepy nighttime shot of zombies shuffling within a fog-shrouded forest. The movie is also the most action-packed of the series, so the non-stop gunfire keeps the movie watchable. The production values are also pretty good considering the budgetary limitations (some of the f/x still look pretty weak, though).
Otherwise, LOTD is rushed, unfulfilling, and does little its predecessors haven't already accomplished. What new material it does aim for is poorly conceived, a shocker considering Romero's had twenty years to mull over this material. Take the city, for instance, it's never fully explained how the monetary system works or where the electricity is coming from. I was able to suspend my disbelief for the latter in Dawn of the Dead, but I'm not willing to let Romero pull the same trick twice, especially when the inner workings of the city should have been further explored.
The movie's social commentary feels like a slapdash effort of contemporary issues tossed together without any real coherency, with characters acting in blatantly idiotic fashion for no other purpose than to continue serving the commentary. The original Dawn of the Dead's commentary on consumerism worked because it was a natural outgrowth of the way the characters' believably behaved (if you had free reign to a mall, you likely wouldn't want to leave, would you?).
Yet here, Romero feels compelled to ensure that Hopper's character won't dare negotiate, even preferring to leave the city (to go where exactly?) and kill an associate rather than give up five million bucks. To keep the commentary going, Romero even has Hopper take all his cash with him, even though I had to wonder what it was good for. Considering his demands, the same problem also applies to Cholo. Are there other cities/outposts out there using the same currency as well? If so, why not at least mention it so we don't question the characters' motivations, especially considering it's the basic framework that leads to so many deaths later in the film.
There are further instances of stupidity, such as Riley choosing not to warn anyone inside the city about Big Daddy. The soldiers protecting the city prove incompetent in almost every fashion, with one guard actually rappelling into a crowd of zombies. Later in the film, there's even a guy who wears headphones while he's outside the city, by himself, and not at all far from known zombie territory. This scene is also indicative of the countless jump scares Romero attempts, all of them obvious and hilariously overdone.
As for the zombies, there's the storyline involving Big Daddy, an undead gas station attendant who's inexplicably getting smarter. Much of the appeal of zombies is seeing them act out as mindless drones with no other motivation than to eat human flesh. That Big Daddy is able to think and seems to actually want revenge for his fallen zombie brethren completely mutes the sense of dread and terror that came with zombies acting on just pure instinct.
Most astoundingly, Romero takes this a step further and actually wants us to sympathize with the zombies. I shouldn't be surprised by this development, as it's all been clearly leading up to this point since Bub's humanity in Day of the Dead and the constant "they're us, we're them" lines. Doesn't mean I have to like it, especially when the previous installments have made it clear being a zombie isn't something to cherish and the general fact that they like to eat people doesn't exactly make me want to side with them. For me, LOTD continues Romero's downward spiral, and I still haven't liked a movie of his since the 80s.
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