Dawn Of The Dead

Dawn Of The Dead

***1/2

Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

Something has brought the dead back to life with a hunger for the flesh of the living. A motley group of survivors - suburbanites Sarah Polley and Jake Weber, cop Ving Rhames and parents-to-be Mehki Phifer and Inna Korobkina - hole up in a shopping mall and try to decide what to do as hundreds of zombies mass outside...

Like last year's new version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead 2004 offers a reinterpretation rather than a strict remake of the 1970s film and while satisfactory in both critical and commercial terms - the movie topped the US box office charts on the week of its release - will likely be regarded as nothing more than a footnote to George A Romero's original in the years to come.

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Posterity aside, it's a case of wins, lose and draw.

The dead are scarier thanks to better make up, drawing from both Resident Evil and the 1990 remake of Night Of The Living Dead and their propensity to charge headlong after their prey in the manner of 28 Days Later.

The performances are generally superior to those in the original, though it's a toss up between Polley and Rhames and Gaylen Ross - note her name on a mall boutique - and Ken Foree - note his cameo as a priest on TV reprising the "When there's no more room in hell the dead will walk the earth" tagline - in the top-lined roles.

The writing, with Scooby-Doo scribe James Gunn working from Romero's 1978 screenplay, is inferior, lacking the mordant wit and satirical edge of the original, other than a cynical yuppie - one of numerous characters thrown into the mix midway through who you never really know enough about to care for - and a sniping contest involving picking off celebrity lookalike dead. It's telling, for instance, that when one of the characters voices a speech from the original, suggesting that the dead are coming to the mall through "instinct maybe" the next line, suggesting that "this was an important place to them" is omitted.

The direction is different, but appropriate. Where Romero's mise-en-scene had emphasised the relative safety of the mall and identified the main threats as the other living - "we're blowing it ourselves" - and becoming blase about his slow moving and clumsy dead, Zack Snyder emphasises the omnipresent danger through low lighting, rapid cutting and edgy hand-held digicam. MTV aesthetics, perhaps, but undeniably effective.

What really matters, though, is that Romero's film was a genuine original whereas this is but another piece of postmodern recombination. At least, however, the film-makers have the honesty to admit its derivative nature, with elements of Larry Cohen's It's Alive and - ironically - Lucio Fulci's Zombie creeping into the mix. And, above all, it's a pretty fun ride.

Reviewed on: 25 Mar 2004
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Flesh-eating zombies inhabit the city centre, forcing the few remaining mortals to take cover.
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Keith Hennessey Brown ***1/2

Director: Zack Snyder

Writer: James Gunn, George A Romero

Starring: Sarah Polley, Jake Weber, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer, Inna Korobkina, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly, Kevin Zegers, Michael Barry, Lindy Booth, Jayne Eastwood, Boyd Banks, R D Reid, Kim Poirier, Matt Frewer, Scott Reineger, Ken Foree, Tom Savini

Year: 2004

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: USA

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