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Dawn of the Dead

A movie directed by Zack Snyder

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Sometimes remakes DON't stink

  • Feb 28, 2009
  • by
In WWII, a German tank commander noted, in regards to the American Sherman tank, "You could knock out 10 of them, but there would always be an eleventh one there." That's akin to the predicament faced by the human survivors in Zack Snyder's remake of George Romero's 1979 Dawn of the Dead; you can have all the guns, ammo, and provisions you need, and shoot one zombie, two zombies, a dozen zombies, but what about the hundredth? The thousandth? The five thousandth? Snyder's audacious treatment of this grim zombie fare starts off with a grabber of an opening sequence. Ana (Sarah Polley) literally wakes up one morning to a ravenous zombie daughter, with her zombie radar set on Mommy and Daddy. After narrowly escaping her newly zombified husband, Ana makes it out to her front yard in time to see the end of the world. Her subdivision is in absolute chaos, with houses on fire, police cars and ambulances skidding around the neighborhood and hungry, hungry humanoids running amok. The camera follows her escape with an aerial shot that shows the anarchy to be city-wide; after crashing her car into a tree, Ana joins a group of survivors heading for the refuge of the local mall, to turn it into a Fort Apache-style redoubt against the pasty-faced hordes. And that's all before the opening credits. This kinetic, high-octane kicker is enough to jolt the most jaded horror fan as it wastes no time setting up what's to come. The crew of survivors has a run-in with the macho rent-a-cops who have staked out the mall as their own, but the two groups eventually come to terms with each other, with Ana's skills as an RN making her a valuable addition and cop Kenneth (Ving Rhames, once again doing a take on Pulp Fiction's Marcellis Wallace) soon becoming the de facto leader of the group. A truckload of other survivors make it to the mall and they make the best of things; Kenneth becomes friends with the gun-shop owner across the street as they communicate via mark-and-wipe boards and devise new ways to beat the boredom. It's just a matter of time, though, before their position is compromised by the armies of flesh-eating goons outside, and things go from bad to worse. Unlike the undead in Romero's movies, these zombies move more like Olympic sprinters than shambling, shuffling, slack-jawed miscreants, and the zombification process is also much quicker, with the newly dead back up and ready for action inside of a minute. Owing to that speed, things get ugly on a national scale much faster, and each individual member of the walking-dead community is a much more dangerous threat. In fan circles, the snorts and harrumphs could be heard far and wide when it was first announced that this remake was in the works; given the recent spate of dreadful Hollywood remakes, it's not surprising. But Snyder's redux stands perfectly well on its own merits, wisely staying away from a note-for-note cover of the original. There's enough invested in characters to make the audience feel a genuine twinge at their doom, and screenwriter James Gunn piles on the despair one layer at a time as the mall's walls close in on the ensemble. Gore-hounds won't be disappointed either; the movie is a gun nut's wet dream as its characters turn into crack shots pretty quickly, and with all kinds of ordinance. There's more than one death-by-chainsaw, a head being obliterated by a 12-gauge shotgun, too many clubbings and gunshots to count, zombie flambé, a propane fireball scattering scores of zombies like tenpins, zombies squished by trucks, a (living) guy who gets mowed down by a speeding ambulance, and more than one unfortunate turning into zombie chow. Spectacularly, one unlucky wretch winds up with the shaft of a broken croquet mallet shishkebabbed all the way up through his chin, making his skull into a kind of WWI Kaiser helmet. Oh, and let's not forget the newborn zom-baby, who makes an appearance halfway through…definitely a novel touch. The faithful will recognize Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, and makeup honcho Tom Savini from the '79 version, all appearing in cameos. The DVD is a little short on features, but the ones included are definitely worth a look. There's the video diary of Andy from the gun store across the way, as the Ted Nugent-type sets up a VHS camera to chronicle his own thoughts during his last days. Despite his provisions and more guns-and-ammo than some small armies, Andy can only hold out so long and becomes more gaunt and distraught as time wears on (gaps in his video account show that he recorded over an old tape of his daughter and ex-wife). Poignant and chilling, Andy's "home movie" definitely hits a nerve in places. "Special Report: Zombie Invasion" isn't quite as convincing, as it tracks the zombie outbreak through newscasts from a bunker-mentality White House and CDC (it's a nice touch that the Secretary of Defense is a sort of cross between Donald Rumsfeld and Robert McNamara). The "news anchor" is less than authentic, and the whole thing seems a little cheap, though the Reaganesque platitudes from the President (right before the station leaves the air for good) is a wry twist. Snyder himself provides commentary for 12 deleted scenes, some of which are quite good while others wouldn't have done much to advance the story. "Surviving The Dawn" is the DVD's making-of documentary, covering the movie's origins, the "mall" that the art department built (in the shell of an actual mall that was slated for demolition), the long hours of filming, and the director's take on the '79 original. It's interesting to note that the makeup department relied much more heavily on old-fashioned latex, stipple, and fake blood rather than modern CGI effects, with the end result bound to please the gore mavens out there in DVD-land. Unfortunately Snyder and producer Eric Newman provide a commentary track that's more exasperating than informative at times, as they tend to ramble and follow tangents rather than provide pertinent remarks on what's happening onscreen. The flesh-chomping undead have been a staple of horror movies for quite awhile now; indeed, if a horrible virus ever brought back the dead, peckish and irritable, we'd all know what to do by now, having learned all the ground rules for zombie outbreaks in countless movies. At this late date, it's tough to put any spark of inventiveness into the genre, which is exactly why Dawn of the Dead was ripe for a remake. This latter-day version trades some of Romero's social commentary about consumerism for dark atmospherics and biting comic relief (after all, malls are more of a fixture on the consumer landscape now than they were in '79). With zero wasted effort, sympathetic characters, superb acting, and a seamless score and editing, this is more than a credible remake: It's a great horror movie (especially for a directorial debut) that stands on its own two feet. Watch the original, watch this one, then go to the mall and keep an eye out for zombies trying on pants at the Gap.

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October 21, 2010
Excellent review
March 01, 2009
I liked Andy so much that I found myself wishing that they would have scrapped the whole remake idea and just made a completely original film built around his character. I wasn't as crazy about this as you were since remakes usually turn me off (with the exception of 2 of the 3 INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS flix), in fact I didn't like it at all. I hate the sprinting zombie concept. I wouldn't object to it so much if they mixed 'em in with the shamblers--like the longer they were undead the slower they got, or those who had been dead longer before the plague hit and they were reanimated were slower--anything that presented more of a mixed bag. I suppose I'll rewatch this one day and I may feel more kindly towards it then...But it'll still be just a remake and thus (to my mind) unnecessary. Great review by the way. But could you break it up into paragraphs and make it a bit easier to read? I tend to lose my place in long paragraphs on a computer screen.
More Dawn of the Dead reviews
review by . October 09, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****     As much as I love the original source material, Zack Snyder's 2004 remake of "Dawn of the Dead", a George Romero zombie horror classic, is actually a pretty respectable movie. Unlike most horror remakes these days, it follows its own path; and comes out its own movie, which was nice. This is the only kind of remake of Romero's film that I could have ever enjoyed. It's not as good as the 1978 film that inspired its existence, but in its own little way, it gives …
review by . April 01, 2008
Dawn of the dead
I love zombie movies, and this is the best one among them.  The characters are trapped in a mall where there are tens of thousands of zombies outside, and they have a shoot a zombie celebrity look-alike game, what's not to love about this movie!
review by . November 07, 2010
More characters, less depth
   In some ways, this film is sacrileage for me. Dawn of the Dead, the original, is one of my favourite films ever, a masterclass in scares, black humour, gore and all round entertainment. Luckily, apart from the shopping mall setting, this doesn't try to be the original. It's less about chills and black humour, and more about action and a fast pace. It's entertaining, but lightweight.      One of thing that I will credit this film with is that it has a …
review by . August 21, 2010
George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead is a classic horror movie that really didn't need to be retold...but that's exactly what director Zack Snyder has done so I guess I should review it after having seen it twice. I admit there have been far worse remakes, but I can't help but sense how unnecessary this was especially since these two films are worlds apart in many ways. They don't really remake Dawn of the Dead so much as they re-use some elements from the original script and slap the title "Dawn …
review by . May 01, 2009
Dawn of the Dead is pretty good. I was very surprised when I saw this movie. I have to say that I was very impressed. The script by James Gunn and the direction was on par with the original. Ving Rhames was the man. He played his role quite well and was creditable as the tough cop. The set pieces were up to snuff and the gore effects were excellent.    A strange mutation has quickly spread across the land. It hit so fast and so hard that nobody was prepared for what was to come. …
review by . June 29, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
I had seen this movie a couple of times and it's just great. The plot is pretty straightforward, even though it relies mostly on cliché themes to move the story along. So as a rule, most films such as this tend to be predictable and quite tepid. Luckily, `Dawn of the Dead' has strong personalities to fall back on, making it thankfully every bit a character-driven drama as it is a horror-action piece.    Sarah Polley convincingly plays a waif turned survivor with just the right …
review by . March 18, 2004
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Some nice thrills and dark humor.     Cons: Drags in the middle nothing great in the acting area.     The Bottom Line: A good update on the original.     For many people the routine of everyday life is something that is often taken for granted. Today, the demands on a persons time are at al all time high, as there is often less time to relax and enjoy the many finer things in life.      In the film Dawn of the …
About the reviewer
Jerry Renshaw ()
Ranked #527
I play honky tonk guitar on a semi-pro level and can often be found on weekends playing in some stale-beer-smelling beer joint around Central TX.That's after me seeing the USfrom a van when touring with … more
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First-time director Zack Snyder remakes zombie master George A. Romero's classic 1978 gore-fest DAWN OF THE DEAD, wisely replicating only the basic elements of Romero's movie, instead sticking to his own vision of a world overrun by undead flesh-eating creatures. The action begins with nurse Ana (Sarah Polley) waking up to discover her boyfriend has become a tasty midnight snack for a formerly cute neighboring kid. To her horror, she realizes that the whole town is in a similar state of ghoulishness, until she runs into still-alive cop Kenneth (Ving Rhames); the levelheaded Michael (Jack Weber); and Andre (Mekhi Phifer), a rebel with a pregnant wife in tow. As in Romero's original, the group heads for the local mall where they barricade themselves inside. More survivors surface, while in the outside world the zombies go about their day by slowly taking over the planet. Undeterred by the odds against them, the survivors plot, scheme, and enjoy their mall paradise. As they plan their escape, some incredibl...
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