Land of the Dead: The Director's Cut Review
“So long as we’re alive they ain’t never gonna run out of food”
…and as long as they don’t run out of food, George A. Romero’s tales of the living dead are going to continue to appear at irregular intervals. It’s now almost forty years since Night of the Living Dead impacted on popular culture meaning that Romero’s on old territory, but also one he knows especially well. Despite being faced with sundry bastardisations, fake sequels and wavering remakes, he’s always managed to retain his own voice, writing and directing each official instalment and maintaining the high standards. Of course, this creates a situation whereby each film becomes a tough act to follow, and with Land of the Dead this is perhaps even more so the case. Firstly, because we’ve had to wait a full twenty years since the last in the series, 1985’s Day of the Dead. And secondly, because Romero’s Dead movies are always far more reliable than the non-Dead ones. Arguably the last truly great example of the latter was 1981’s Knightriders, yet still expectations run high for this latest effort.
From the off Land of the Dead has two things in its favour: it’s taken from a screenplay which Romero has been nurturing since Day of the Dead (some of this film’s concepts and ideas were initially planned for inclusion in that venture); and it’s directed by a man who remains the definitive zombie filmmaker. Though recent years may have produced some fine examples of the genre, and therefore competition, in the form of 28 Days Later… and Shaun of the Dead, both make clear acknowledgements as to who came up with the “rules” in the first place. Moreover, Land of the Dead doesn’t hang around for the uninitiated. Rather a snappy credit sequence fills us in on the essentials, and from thereon in it’s straight down to business. And cinematically speaking, the zombie action is typically up to par: the wit, invention and playfulness are all present and correct, whilst the gore quotient is similarly – and imaginatively – satisfied.
Yet Romero isn’t merely offering up a resurrection of old techniques, rather his zombies are continuing to evolve. Building upon the character of Bub from Day of the Dead, here they’re beginning to communicate and, much like the apes at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, getting accustomed to tools (or perhaps that should be weaponry). Tellingly, Romero’s black protagonist for this picture – a mainstay of the series – is now one of the undead in the form of Eugene Clark’s Big Daddy. This time around it is the zombies who are the oppressed, who have become the subculture.
In plot terms we are some years into the coming of the living dead. The humans have begun to formulate plans which means that the undead are merely a hindrance in their acquisition of food and pharmaceuticals from deserted towns or have become a form of chained-up entertainment in seedy drinking holes (cue a cameo from Shaun of the Dead creators Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg). Indeed, they’re almost living as though nothing has changed, holed up in barricaded cities and maintaining the class structure: the wealthy live in the safe haven of their tower blocks (in this case a high rise by the name of Fiddler’s Green), whilst the ordinary folk are relegated to slums and ghettos immediately recognisable to anyone familiar with early nineties’ urban thrillers (Trespass, Judgement Night and the rest).
What this effectively does is to create a connection between the working classes and the zombie “subculture”. Both are underdogs, both are presided over by Dennis Hopper’s ultra-rich mogul, and both see the Fiddler’s Green complex as a source of both aspiration and resentment. The key zombie plot strand sees Big Daddy and various undead cohorts moving towards this giant beacon, but are they going there to destroy both it and Hopper or simply to move in? The next stage in the evolutionary change perhaps?
In fact the casting of Hopper is one of the very missteps throughout the entire film. His less than considered choices over the past decade or so mean that he never really comes across as the Machiavellian figure required of the material, but rather another rent-a-baddie identical to those witnessed in Waterworld, say, or the first season of 24. Moreover, it also plays awkwardly with the pleasingly ordinary qualities which we see portrayed elsewhere. The likes of Robert Joy and Simon Baker truly embody their blue collar hero roles, and even succeed in making both John Leguizamo and Asia Argento play down their usual over the top impulses – no mean feat.
This similarity on either side of the living/living dead divide (and Big Daddy, a former service station proprietor is similarly portrayed in a low-key manner by Clark) isn’t quite given an equal balance in plot terms, however. Whereas the zombie strand has effectively been developing since 1968 and the very first Dead picture, the human story is essentially starting afresh and as such could really occupy any film. The crux of this strand is the theft of an expensive armoured vehicle named Dead Reckoning (as its moniker suggests, its use primarily revolves around dispatching of the undead) and a rivalry between Baker’s character and Leguizamo’s. Yet whilst it doesn’t quite hold the same level of interest as Big Daddy’s progression towards Fiddler’s Green, it is nonetheless well handled by Romero. In fact, there’s almost a flavour of John Carpenter’s early action movies; essentially it’s offering up taut, if basic, genre thrills in much the same way as Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape from New York once did. (In this respect, does that make Asia Argento the new Adrienne Barbeau?)
Indeed, throughout Land of the Dead you sense that Romero is truly making the effort as though heralding his own comeback. There’s the essence of a calling card to this venture and as such we’re left not only eagerly awaiting the next Dead instalment (however long it may take…), but also his next feature however it manifests itself. The damage caused by The Dark Half, Bruiser and relative inactivity since the early nineties appears to have well and truly been shaken off.
On the whole, Land of the Dead’s presentation is mostly pleasing. We get the film in its original 2.35:1 ratio, anamorphically enhanced of course, and taken from a fine print. The colours are as rich as expected, the clarity superb and the darker scenes ably handled. The only real problem is the intermittent artefacting, the likely effect of Universal releasing the film on an extras-heavy DVD-9, rather than go for a two-disc offering. That said, the problems only arising on occasion, and even then it is barely apparent.
As for the soundtrack, here we find a DD5.1 offering which is as effective as you would hope. Primarily, it’s the score which is treated to the surround sound treatment, though a number of scares and, as you’d expect, explosions are equally well handled. Moreover, there are no technical flaws to speak of, rather the only complaint that it likely to arise will come from those hoping for the inclusion of a DTS track.
With regards to the extras, these are plentiful enough to warrant individual discussion, as follows:
Commentary by Writer/Director George A. Romero, Producer Peter Grunwald and Editor Michael Doherty
Though perhaps not quite as entertaining as you would wish, this nonetheless makes for an interesting listen. Keeping things scene specific, the information comes in bite-size offerings as opposed to a lengthy outpouring of facts. As such it can result lengthy pauses, but then we do get lengthy discussions of the rules of Romero’s zombie movies, the improvements in special effects and make-up this time around, plus praise for Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (see below).
Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead
A fairly standard combination of talking heads and B-roll footage, this featurette offers an overall look at the film’s production. For the most part it generally tells us just how great Romero is and he “elevates the genre”, but there are some nice snippets to be gleaned, such as Hopper basing his performance on Donald Rumsfeld or Argento informing us that she “feels secure around zombies”.
A Day With the Living Dead
Similar in its outlook to the above, this piece is decidedly more irreverent giving the presence of Leguizamo as host. During his seven-minutes he takes us around the set with boyish enthusiasm, speaking to the actors, special effects people and the like whilst also bemoaning the lack of nudity in the picture.
Bringing the Dead to Life
The most serious featurette on the disc, this spends nine-minutes in the company of Greg Nicotero, the special effects supreme and takes us inside his studio.
Six Deleted Scenes
At approximately 30-seconds apiece, these make for very minor additions. Indeed, you’d be hard pushed to notice their inclusion had they featured in the finished film.
When Shaun Met George
The most enjoyable extra on the disc, this follows Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright as they headed to Canada to film their brief cameo and meet their idol. Highly entertaining, it’s not unlike the Joe Cornish featurette which appeared on the Shaun of the Dead disc.
SFX and Storyboard Comparisons
Both of these come without contextualising commentaries, but then they’re self-explanatory enough.
Scenes of Carnage / Scream Tests
Easily two of the oddest additions on the disc. The first compiles various gore shots from the film, whilst the second has crude CGI figures dance in a manner akin to Michael Jackson’s Thriller video – not unlike the similar piece which appeared on the Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within DVD a few years back.
Theatrical Trailers for The Skeleton Key and King Kong
Rounding of the package we have promos for the Kate Hudson’s nonsense horror flick and Peter Jackson’s forthcoming remake.
Note that all special features come with optional English subtitles.
8 out of 10
8 out of 10
8 out of 10
8 out of 10
Last updated: 25/04/2018 21:42:38