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Dawn of the Dead 2004

Mar 20, 2004 (Updated Mar 5, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:The frightening first 10 minutes. Ving Rhames' hero is great as well as Jake Weber's.

Cons:Too many one dimensional characters, useless dialogue, plus this should never have been made.

The Bottom Line: Looking past what I didn't like about it, the movie has enough gore, Ving Rhames, and zombie killings to earn a recommendation


The makers of the new "Dawn of the Dead" do not love the original as much as I do, which I regard, and always will, as the best horror film ever made. But, driving home after the movie, a thought came across my mind. Someone who loves Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" as much as I do could not logically do a remake. It just wouldn't work. No one would go see it and it would not make any money whatsoever, in the theaters or on video. You know why? If someone who loves "Dawn of the Dead" as much as I do actually remade it...there would not be a film. It wouldn't exhist.

Before I saw the movie, I considered even the slightest thought of remaking that cherished film a travesty. I still consider it to be a travesty even after viewing it. Is the film itself a travesty? No, of course not. It is an average zombie film. We already got a horror film to be comparable to the original "Dawn" last summer. It was called "28 Days Later." And you know what, it had zombies in it too. There is no need for this remake, which honestly, seems like it's trying to rip off "28 Days Later" than pay homage to "Dawn," but I just refer back to what I mention earlier: it's not their intent to pay homage. In which case, why did they call this movie "Dawn of the Dead"? For the love of god, call it something else. "Dusk of the Dead." Anything. They're out to get some bloody green. I can make them happy right now, though. The theater was packed. There will be plenty of green. Will it be bloody? I don't know, the crowd seemed pretty happy.

I have to mention right now the pre-credit sequence of the film, which lasts, I believe about 10 minutes. This sequence of brilliant. The original "Dawn" picked up some amount of time after "Night of the Living Dead," meaning they were semi-screwed. This movie starts out in a regular society and it puts this world through moments of terror and fear when the zombies inexplicably turn up.

This is seen through the eyes of Ana, played by Sarah Polley, a nurse who gets off work, goes home to her husband, makes love, and wakes up to find the neighbor girl in complete zombie get-up, and, well, there's no more room in hell. Polley manages to survive and as she drives from danger, we see the crumbling world around her. I found these scenes to not only be shocking, but quite disturbing and horrifying. I was actually in fear of what I was seeing, it's that scary, and for a zombie film, terrifyingly realistic.

Cut to the opening credit sequence which gives us the dark red bold font with the black background, via "Last House on Dead End Street" or anything dark and morbid from the 70's. This is spliced in with how the zombie terror is affecting various parts of the country and what the government is doing about it. But then...the real horror starts. Midway through the credits, the film shows it's true face. The music is replaced by the grossly inappropriate use of a recent Johnny Cash song.

This made me furious. The great moments of fright were ruined, the mood was lost, everything just seemed, well, silly. I was actually angry at this. How insultingly inappropriate this song was. If you think your grandmother turning up on your honeymoon and giving you the sex talk kill the mood, then just watch the opening credits of this film. I don't care how much one likes this song, it does not belong here, and it set me up for 45 minutes of being in a really really foul mood. And my rum and coke was getting low.

Sarah Polley meets up with policeman Kenneth (Ving Rhames), Andre (Mekhi Phiefer) and his pregnant wife, plus Michael (Jake Weber). The original gave us moments where the characters reflect on what they are leaving behind and what is coming up ahead of them. In that film, they arrive at that mall as not only thinking of it as a last resort, but also what little there is left of a normal society. In this film, give it say, a few minutes, and boom they're in the mall.

Even more characters show up. Three bumbling security guards who want to take the zombie situation as a means to, I guess, create their own Gestapo? They lock our heroes up in stores and wave guns around. Is this supposed to be a nod to Joe Pilato's insane Cptn. Rhodes in "Day of the Dead"? If it is, it doesn't work, it takes away from the film, it doesn't have a payoff, and where Pilato's motives seemed believable, the Cross Road Mall's security guard's motives are...inexistent.

Just when you thought the limit was reached, a truck full of some more characters turn up! These are mostly forgettable, and I believe the script deep down thinks they are too. Either they are done away with in a predictable fashion, or...who cares? Does anyone honestly give a damn about the yuppie and his girlfriend who have sex in front of the store camera's? Okay, the teenage girl added a nice touch of drama and innocence lost, as well as Max Headroom. Yes, I said Max Headroom.

It wasn't until maybe 45 minutes into the film that I accepted it for what it is. An average zombie film, as mentioned earlier. I didn't expect it to be comparable to the original going in, and I shouldn't have expected it watching it. There are very few witty moments in the movie, even if the mall is not used as a means of consumer satire or a metaphor for the shopping public, like in the original. It is used as an action only setting, like the "Die Hard" skyscraper. Looking at it from this point of view, the movie grew entertaining. I starting liking it as a means of escapism from other current and better films. The first ten minutes mixed in with what you get after the next 35 minutes of yourself shouting "Someone! Kill him!" (I'm not referring to a zombie) gives us something to recommend and even pick the characters you like and want to see live.

I like the Polley, Weber, Rhames, and Phiefer characters. Their actions are mostly tragic, but understandable. They present themselves with difficult choices, ones that result in debate in the food court, and either way you look at it, each side has their own valid points, and whatever angle they go at, it creates tension and well acted well played results. Pfiefer even provides us with possibly the saddest and psychologically true scene in the movie, one I will not get into, while Rhames (I love him in this) presents us with a hero we can laugh with, root for, and be afraid for when the possibility of danger arises. These are good people. They should have been the only ones in the mall.

The zombies on the other hand are nothing spectacular, atleast in this film. They begin as absultely terrifying in the first part, but once in the mall, they are proof that "28 Days Later" has begun the trend of what zombies are now going to be like in every zombie film released from now on. Quick and angry. Very angry. It worked wonders in "28 Days Later." It doesn't work as well here. I yearned for the slow zombies, the traditional zombies. Atleast they had some personality. We had a feeling of what they were like pre-dawn. In this, all we can gather is that when they were alive they would have changed out of those dirty clothes. Between them shouting and running all over the place, and the fast cutting direction by Zack Snyder, I must admit, I had a headache after this movie.

This is not a movie about anything else but shooting zombies. But who says that can't be entertaining? If the movie had stuck with what it had given us in the beginning, though, it could have been something much more than pushing toward the high points of running around in a mall and shouting at one another while entertainingly shooting zombies. It could have been a damn scary reflection on the future, but still of course contain the Ken Foree, Tom Savini, and Scott Reiniger cameos. Yes, even the store named after Gaylen Ross.

I'll leave with this final paragraph. What in hell is with the last act of the movie? Not necessarily the last "act," but the last, say, minute and a half? Are they referencing Fulci's "Zombie"? Now THAT doesn't work. It belongs in the cluster of low points in the film, only this is in it's own category: deleted scenes wannabe. And who in their right mind would think that the solution to the problems is "mysterious isolated island" instead of "huge mall containing everything we need." I'll tell you who: the current state of Hollywood where everything must move dangerously outward to keep the action going. The fact that they remade "Dawn of the Dead" reflects on another state of Hollywood, but I think you know what I'm going to say, so I'll just say this: Ving Rhames is at his coolest and he shotgun blasts a lot of zombies. Come for the Dead, stay for the Ving.


Recommend this product? Yes

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