Land of the Dead
Some thirty seven years ago a young director created a new genre, the social commentary zombie flick. Since the Night of the Living Dead George Romero has followed up with Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, now he goes all out with Land of the Dead. Each installment uses the walking undead to satire the current political and social structure using extreme gore and a little humor to get the point across. Land takes place in the bleak future where the zombies have started to advance, they have begun to communicate, plot against the living and have learned to use tools and weapons. The living has also undergone a social evolution. Those that are wealthy have gathered in a huge glass tower called Fiddler’s Green, it’s basically what Donald Trump would create for his end of the world scenario, large, garish and intended only for those of rank and privilege. The survivors of humanity not so fortunate are relegated to living a dark existence in a slum of a city surrounding the swank tower. The whole complex is surrounded by water, electric fences and other perimeter defenses intended to keep the roaming zombies at bay. Since the zombies, under the ad hoc leadership of Big Daddy ((Eugene Clark), have started to organize they are now more successful than ever in attacking causing much consternation among the humans.
In charge of Fiddler’s Green is a man sure of his power and importance, Kaufman (Dennis Hopper). It is fundamentally up to him as to who gets to share the Green with him and who must live in the outskirts. Life in those surroundings are miserable, the population placated by gladiatorial bouts between humans and captured zombies, prostitution and alcohol. In order to gather supplies Kaufman he has his own private army of mercenaries who venture out tricked out tank, the Dead Reckoning, a rolling arsenal of destruction. Second in command of this task force is Cholo (John Leguizamo), a man who has managed to save enough to buy into the Green. When Kaufman refuses to let him move on up Cholo turns renegade and steals the Dead Reckoning. Kaufman dispatches Riley (Simon Baker) to retrieve the vehicle at any cost putting his desire to flee to the far more peaceful Canada on hold. Along the way we encounter the required hooker with a heart of gold, Slack (Asia Argento) who had been tossed in a zombie pit to fend for herself. Typical of a Romero zombie flick there is more than enough gore and blood to keep even the pickiest fan happy.
While many make films that satire the political and social climate few have done so in the fashion of George Romero. Here he takes on a recurring theme in human social structure, the class system. There have always been those that have and those that don’t. The underlying humor here is in the face of complete annihilation at the hands of the undead the very concept of wealth, power and status still exist. It would appear that such distinctions are so inbreed in us as a race that nothing, not even the end of the world can remove the need to feel superior to others. The well known method of keeping the masses down, bread and circuses, used so well by the Roman empire is alive and well here. Keeping the lower class at bay the use of zombies in death games, tradition and intoxication prevent the lower classes from realizing that they out number the wealthy. You can even visit the ‘have your photo taken with a zombie’ booth to lessen the apparent danger of the zombies. There is even a faint echo of class distinction with the zombies; Big Daddy is in charge, a former gas station attendant is now the king of the dead, ruling over his subjects with the ability to plot. There is even a little cut at the current political administration when Kaufman announces "We don't negotiate with terrorists".
There is a certain familiarity to the way Dennis Hopper plays Kaufman, it reminded me a bit of his presentation of the captain in the lamented Waterworld. Hopper plays over the top villains like few actors can, with a humorous evil that captivates the screen. He is a post apocalyptic Trump living in luxury with little if any regard for the lower class that makes his style of living possible. His power of life and death is not based on sheer, raw force like the Roman emperors; it is more subtle, by denying an application Kaufman sets the course for a man’s life and possibility of death. John Leguizamo has become one of the most versatile actors around. He can play tender, evil or outraged with equal talent. Here he is every bit the everyman, looking to make a better life for himself but opposed by the rich people who employ him. He is doomed to always be the servant, never the equal to these snobs. He is well trained as a stand up comedian and that has helped him in more dramatic roles, allowing him to inject just the right degree of humor in the to most tense situations. Simon Baker plays Riley as a man who just wants out of it all. To him Canada is the Holy Grail, a place where regular human beings can still be free and happy. He is also a man bound by loyalty willing to put his own dreams on hold to serve his masters one more time. With a father like Dario Argento, Asia Argento was born to play in horror flicks. She is talented, beautiful and wonderfully freaky. Here she adds something to the lovable hooker character that gives the film its much needed female distraction.
Like many directors George Romero did better with a shoe string budget. Land of the Dead may have had the largest amount of money available but it does lack some of the dark and sinister nature of Night of the Living Dead. This film not only satirizes politics and society but takes a little jab at its own genre. The zombies still shuffle along at a snail’s pace but now there is a touch more purpose to their movements. Romero knows what people seeing these flicks wants and to that end he delivers. There are limbs ripped off, flesh torn away and torrents of blood shed in increasing bizarre ways.
Universal has provided three ways to obtain this movie; an R rated full screen, Unrated Director’s Cut full screen and the preferred by most unrated widescreen version. In all the versions there are some extras in common. There is the required making of featurette, ‘Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead’, ‘A Day with the Living Dead’ where John Leguizamo takes you on a tour through a typical working day. The deleted scenes are in a section called ‘The Remaining Bits’ with nothing too special to be seen. One imaginative extra is ‘When Shaun Met George’ where Shaun of the Dead stars Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright so you around during their day of shooting a cameo appearance. There is also a feature commentary track with George Romero. For the director’s cut versions there are a few more extras. The makeup department is featured in ‘Bringing The Dead To Life’ while the special effects crew get in the lime light with ‘Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene’. The zombies take center stage with the featurette ‘Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call’. Finishing things off is the music video ‘Scenes of Carnage’. The video is an excellent 2.35:1 with no distractions and great transition between light and dark. The Dolby 5.1 audio is booming, this is not a late night disc unless your neighbors are with you watching. Bottom line this is targeted towards the die hard fan but anyone that enjoys horror will get into it nicely.