Land of the Dead Review
George A. Romero last visited the zombies which had made his name in Day of the Dead in 1984. The film he made wasn’t the one he’d planned: he’d traded a budget cut for independence and had scaled the film down accordingly. Since that film, it’s fair to say that his career has been in the doldrums. While Monkey Shines and The Dark Half have their moments, his section of Two Evil Eyes was dull and seemingly directed on autopilot. I haven’t seen 2000’s Bruiser, which went straight to video in the UK. Now he returns to the zombies in Land of the Dead.
The remaining living people hide in a fortified city designed to keep out the mass of “walkers” outside. The rich and powerful, led by Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), live in the luxury apartment block called Fiddler’s Green. Outside, the human have-nots scrape a living in the streets. Some of them, like Riley (Simon Baker) and Cholo (John Leguizamo) run mercenary missions outside the city in an armoured vehicle called Dead Reckoning. Then Cholo seizes control of Dead Reckoning and tries to extort money out of Kaufman, who sends Riley out to stop him.
Returning to your roots can be a sign of desperation, but it seems to have revitalised Romero. Land of the Dead runs a tight hour and a half and has little fat on it. Plenty of Romero trademarks are here: the not-exactly-subtle political and social satire (“We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” says Kaufman at one point), a strong female character (Asia Argento) who isn’t just there to demonstrate the leading man’s heterosexuality. All we’re missing is a non-stereotypical black leading character. Dennis Hopper (channelling Donald Rumsfeld), John Leguizamo and Asia Argento are entertaining to watch, which makes up for Simon Baker’s blandness.
Another Romero trademark is gore, lots of it. Greg Nicotero is in charge of the sanguinary stuff this time, though his predecessor Tom Savini does make a cameo appearance. A larger budget and the presence of a major studio (Universal) means that Romero – unlike with the three previous zombie films – has to deliver a film with a MPAA R rating. An unrated cut will appear on DVD, but this R-rated version (certificate 15 from the BBFC) certainly doesn’t stint on the blood. There’s nothing quite as OTT as the biker on the blood pressure machine in Dawn of the Dead or the man being pulled in half in Day, though. Needless to say it won’t be for the squeamish, but there’s plenty to offer anyone else. Land of the Dead is the best thing Romero’s done in two decades – since Day of the Dead, in fact.