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Ghost Files


Special Feature :

Khyron reviews "Land of the Dead"

*warning : may contain spoilers*

“Land of the Dead” - 2005, Directed by George A. Romero

For twenty years, the cult-like legions of George Romero fans have been waiting patiently for another installment in his signature “Dead” series. Two poor imitations (“Resident Evil” + sequel), a remake (“Dawn of the Dead” ’04), and a fantastic homage (“Shaun of the Dead”) later, George has finally received the funding for what has been built up as, “His Ultimate Zombie Masterpiece.”

The big question then becomes: Is this Romero’s ultimate masterpiece? In a word—no, this is not the be-all, end-all of zombie movies. Has the aging George Romero lost his touch on the zombie genre? Also, in a word, no, he hasn’t.

From the onset, we are taken back in time to when directors like Romero flourished. The Universal logo takes on a retro, black and white look that makes you think, whoa, this one is special. Starting with the line, ‘Some time ago,’ and followed by stylized, black and white zombie close-ups. The background is filled by sound clips from various news reports, bringing the uninitiated up to speed on the canon of Romero’s zombies. This opening title sequence is nothing short of brilliant.

There are three things you must know:

1) The unburied dead, no matter how they died, are returning to life.

2) Being bitten by a zombie ensures a speedy transformation.

3) They can be killed only by serious head trauma.

With that, you are dropped smack-dab into the abandoned, blue-tinted wasteland that is the “Land of the Dead.”

In a world overrun by countless zombies, Riley (Simon Baker), his second in command, Cholo (John Leguizamo), and a crew of mercenaries venture forth into the world, in search of vital supplies. Riley, discontent with humanity, is quitting his lifestyle in hopes of escaping to solitude in Canada. Cholo, on the other hand, wishes to use his black-market earnings to buy a place into paradise—Fiddler’s Green. This ultra-modern sky rise, ruled by the power-hungry Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), towers over the downtrodden remains of society.

With an ever evolving horde of the undead, and a rogue agent with a powerful weapon, the future seems grim for human survivors.

In the truest and most sincere sense, this is an old-school movie. Gone are the slow motion sequences, overabundance on CGI, and jittery, fast editing commonplace in the cinema of today. What we get instead are carefully planned shots that are given focus for longer than a few seconds. It was good to see that, in the age of MTV-style editing, there is still a director that doesn’t feel the need for hyperactivity.

In the previous films in the series, their strong points have always been a small, developed cast of unknown--yet not unskilled-- actors. While not unknown, the cast for “Land” is filled mostly by lesser (in the sense that they aren’t widely utilized) actors. As is the case in the original trilogy, this is a welcome and contributing factor to the film. Whether or not the characters are as relatable as the other films is sort of hit and miss.

Simon Baker does an exemplary job as the lead role. His performance was strong, and his presence was one of interest and enjoyment. I could find a few spots in which his British accent shown through, but it was nothing terribly distracting. Dennis Hopper was the perfect choice for a maniacal and ruthless CEO. His appearance and expressions were dead-on (if you would excuse the pun). John Leguizamo, however, is the true star of this story. His character, Cholo, is by far the most interesting, developed, and believable. Leguizamo plays the role with emotion and seriousness, proving yet again that his acting talent is top-notch. The rest of the cast is where “Land” falters from its predecessors. Many characters are so underdeveloped and uninspired that I never even took the time to remember their names.

My main concern going into see “Land” was the pacing—the run-time is a brisk 93 minutes. However speedy, this didn’t detract from the film in any meaningful way. Granted I would have liked a longer film, perhaps similar to that of this summer’s “Batman Begins,” but the pace of the story was handled just fine. It was fast enough to keep interest and was never bogged down for any great length of time.

And now, I’ve saved the best part for last. The part that is the sole reason many will flock to this film—the zombies. Gone are the days of the grey-faced horde of slow moving extras. “Land” is filled with thought-out and excellently crafted zombie masterpieces, each with their own personality. This culminates into their self-appointed leader, the aptly named ‘Big-Daddy.’ Greg Nicotero and team have created a style that equals, if not surpasses, the standard set in “Day of the Dead.” And, while not as gory as the before mentioned film, “Land” is definitely a ‘hard-R,’ and not recommended for the faint of heart.

Back to the original question, is this George Romero’s masterpiece? However enjoyable, and probably one of the best horror movies in the last 10 years, period, I simply don’t think this has the lasting appeal and built-in social commentary that keeps the original three “Dead” films popular, to this day. There are the often overly obvious references to post 9/11 rhetoric, and some similarities to the political climate of the world, but I didn’t feel these were as well scripted or delivered in “Land.” It was just too obvious! Another great downside is the lack of a memorable score. I still find myself humming the terrific “Dawn of the Dead” mall music, but for the life of me cannot recall one piece of theme music from “Land.”

In summary, this is a slightly flawed, however delightfully enjoyable piece of zombie horror. If you’re a zombie or Romero fan, don’t miss this one. And hey, who knows? Maybe “Land,” like “Day of the Dead,” just needs 20 years for its greatness to be fully realized.

Rating: 4/5

~ Khyron, 2005

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