I really knew nothing of Dawn of the Dead 2004 until I saw the preview. No trailers, no TV spots, no hype. So I was quite surprised at how breathtaking it is, moving at a neck-breaking pace and not letting up on the gut-wrenching tension for the entire running time. The critics and majority of the audience agreed, something damn rare for a remake.
While many remakes are easy, pointless cash-ins on previous success and a quick way to mooch a few dollars off fans, DOTD 2004 is something quite different. Both Dawn of the Dead movies are great for their own reasons. And while most will judge this a remake only and do nothing but compare it with its 1978 counterpart, it's really best to watch them a two separate stories happening at the same time.
Young Nurse Ana (Sarah Polley) is living the suburban dream: perfect house, loving husband, well-manicured cul-de-sac. All that is about to change. As she drives home after a long shift dozens of clues surrounding the brewing trouble literally fall on deaf ears as Ana is too tired to notice. Overnight, her life is changed forever (as anyone's life can) when a lethal virus, that causes the dead to come back to life, spreads with alarming speed all over the world. Utterly, completely, hopelessly outnumbered, Ana flees her perfect life and hooks up with a bunch of other survivors who take refuge in a huge shopping mall.
I will not pretend that the satire of the original is something of my own discovery (as so many, many other reviewers have) and complain that it's pretty much absent in the remake because DOTD 2004 has so many other levels to it.
First of all, the zombies (the word is never mentioned in the film) can be seen as the perfect society. There is no conflict between them, no hate, no prejudice, and no grudges. They exist only to create more, as humans invariably do. The survivors barricaded in the shopping mall are rebels. They are refusing to conform and fight for their life, for their right to be different. And with this right to be different comes conflict and turmoil. The barricade between inside the mall and outside the mall is the line between the western world and the third world. Indulgent, ignorant and wasteful on one side and starving masses grabbing for whatever food they can on the other.
DOTD 2004 offers a wider range of characters (more zombie nosh!) boarded up in the mall: cop, nurse, hoodlum, survivalist old lady, pregnant woman, security guards, gay guy, arrogant playboy millionaire, pretty girl and average Joe. It could be argued that they're a far more PC assortment of characters than the original (DOTD 1978 had 2 SWAT cops and 2 reporters-the very people we rely on to protect and inform us in times of crises-chickening out of their utterly futile duties to fend for themselves) but it ends up with character arcs and a sense of sticking together to survive, despite differences, that the original didn't have.
The cast is well chosen and all act their parts brilliantly. Horror films have severely declined in recent years with most being turned into 20-something teen soap-opera trash. In DOTD 2004 you'll see a realistic group of people dealing enormous pressure with sense and reason. However, there is one particular moment in which a complete idiot character jeopardises the security for everyone else for the dumbest and stupidest of reasons. It really bugs me that this device is in the film and it damages DOTD 2004 and prevents it from having any everlasting integrity.
There are a few references to the original (I'd hate to call them 'in-jokes' as that term would be kind of inappropriate for a film of this nature) that fans will have fun picking up on. But mostly the characters and situations featured in DOTD 2004 are completely new. The most interesting of which is the gun store owner across the street from the mall who communicates with Ving Rhames with his whiteboard and marker pen.
Writer James Gunn (Scooby Doo, Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed) unleashes an entirely new monster this time. Many people have strongly complained at the 'fast zombie' type seen in this movie and (the absolutely awful) 28 Days Later. But they are far, far, FAR more terrifying than the slow, sluggish, rigger-mortis stricken corpses in the original. They'd be on you, ripping you're throat out before you can say 'crikey!' Yes, the 'turning times' vary wildly in the movie, but it all depends on the bite and how bad it is.
I had never heard of Zack Snyder before seeing this movie, but for a debut feature he sure has impressed me. Every scene in this film is shot and lit from an identifiable point of view. This could be YOUR shopping mall in YOUR town. Not some fantasy happening far away. It's these kind of qualities that make DOTD 2004 stay with you longer than Darkness Falls or Scream 86. I'm glad that Hollywood can still make horror films as bloody and relentless as this, though there were several cuts made to the theatrical version.
This new Directors Cut DVD runs 110 minutes and features more gore, bridging scenes, more character development, more violence and the odd restored shot here and there. It really is the definitive cut of the film to have and I urge you to buy this version.
Filmed in Super-35 the DVD presents the film in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby/DTS 5.1 sound. A truckload of extras include Commentary by director Zack Snyder and Producer Eric Newman, The Lost Tape: Andy's Terrifying Last Days Revealed, Special Bulletin: We Interrupt This Program!-complete news coverage of the attacks, deleted scenes, Raising the Dead and Attack of the Living Dead featurettes and Splitting Headaches: Anatomy of Exploding Heads.
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