Review: Land of The Dead (2005)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #726

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Number of Views: Three
Release Date: June 24, 2005
Sub-Genre: Zombie Horror
Country of Origin: Canada, France, United States
Budget: $19,000,000
Box Office: $46,800,000
Running Time: 97 minutes
Director: George A. Romero
Producers: Mark Canton, Bernie Goldmann, Peter Grunwald
Screenplay: George A. Romero
Special Effects: Howard Berger, Gregory Nicotero
Visual Effects: Anthony Paterson, Jon Campfens
Cinematography: Miroslaw Baszak
Score: Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek
Editing: Michael Doherty
Studios: Atmosphere Entertainment MM, Romero-Grunwald Productions
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Stars: Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, Robert Joy, Eugene Clark, John Leguizamo, Joanne Boland, Tony Nappo, Jennifer Baxter, Boyd Banks, Jasmin Geljo, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Tony Munch, Shawn Roberts, Pedro Miguel Arce, Sasha Roiz, Krista Bridges, Bruce McFee, Phil Fondacaro, Alan van Sprang, Earl Pastko, Peter Outerbridge, Gene Mack, Devon Bostick
Cameos: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Tom Savini, Gregory Nicotero

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Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Reinhold Heil & Johnny Klimek “Road To Fiddler’s Green”

[2] Reinhold Heil & Johnny Klimek “Track 36 To Canada”

[3] Reinhold Heil & Johnny Klimek “End Credits”

The following appraisal was written in June 2017, one month prior to the death of George A. Romero, and never released until now. Respectfully, it has not been changed. 

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I think it would be fair to say that there’s not a man alive or otherwise who knows the undead quite as well as George A. Romero. If a young filmmaker is looking to take liberties with these pulse-free maggot vessels, then there’s an almost unspoken requirement to run things past George first. Take running zombies for example – when Zack Snyder’s Dawn of The Dead reboot clawed its way from the topsoil in 2004, all eyes were firmly on The Godfather of The Dead to seek his approval and he wasn’t overly pleased with the upgrades. Since then things have become a little harder to police as the population of this particular sub-genre has become simply astronomical. However, a blessing from the great man himself is not to be taken lightly. Edgar Wright’s zom-rom-com Shaun of The Dead pleased Romero so much that he rewarded the director and his co-writing star Simon Pegg shuffle-on roles for the upcoming fourth installment of a series he kickstarted four decades prior.

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When Land of The Dead was announced almost twenty years after his defiant last entry, Day of The Dead, his faithful legion of fans were understandably animated. That said, after such a lengthy hiatus, the pressure was now on Romero to deliver the grisly goods. Where his voice was considered so righteous with regards to any zombie film adhering to the do’s and don’ts that he’d laid out so meticulously, this provided him the opportunity to advance the template, while also placing him directly beneath the spotlight to come good as he had so masterfully previously. In America especially, a director tends only to be considered as good as their last movie, and a lot can happen in twenty years if your output has been anything other than steady. Considering the preceding trilogy of films had been so rich in social subtext, the big question was whether or not he still had anything to say as a filmmaker first and spokesman for humanity second. Of course, some of us just trusted that he would come up with the goodies as we owe this entire movement to him. Let’s just say that I didn’t lose any sleep over this one.

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The build-up to release was anything but leisurely for Romero as potential investors had their own idea on the direction he needed to take and received stiff opposition from The Godfather, quite rightly. However, he was also afforded a far larger budget than any other film in the series and this provided him the tools he needed to make a statement about the fast-rising gulf between the moneyed and poverty-stricken in his native country, as per his best laid plans. The movie’s events take place in two vastly differing locales – luxurious high-rise tower Fiddler’s Green and its squalid surrounding slums – and the divide really couldn’t be any more humongous. The former is pretty much every yuppie’s wet dream, a contained paradise that caters for every whim of the rich and affluent. Residents are free to sip on their margaritas in any number of on-site restaurants or take advantage of the vast array of designer leisure wear outlets, whatever tickles their fancy. Are they aware of the ongoing zombie apocalypse raging outside? Of course they are, but who needs a conscience when you’ve got those Diners Club Cards right?

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Sitting pretty at the top of this swank trifle is Kaufman (Dennis Hopper). The tyrannical titan of this particular tower spends his days chomping on Cubans, sipping fine cognac, and counting his currency in the comfort of his own plush penthouse. It’s tough to get into Fiddler’s Green without an excellent line of credit, and to keep out any undesirables, it’s protected by rivers and an electrified barricade called “the Throat.” To further assist his economy with sustaining itself, Kaufman has commissioned a fully armored and nigh-on impenetrable battle truck by the name of Dead Reckoning, to gather supplies from the outside the safe-zone. This is where the bankrolled mercenaries come in handy and the methods employed from unit to unit tend to vary rather wildly.

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The man who designed and commands this motorized behemoth is Riley Denbo (Simon Baker) and he’s all about the protecting and serving side of things. With the one good eye and ear of his badly scalded loyal wingman, Charlie (Robert Joy), watching his back vigilantly at all times, Riley has time on his hands to slum it with the lower classes and never once considers it a stretch. He knows only too well of Kaufman’s game but is biding his time to make his break Northward to locate more peaceful pastures and is absolutely nobody’s skivvy, least of all some jumped up rodent in a tailored suit.

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Alas the same cannot be said for his second in command, Cholo DeMora (John Leguizamo), who has designs on earning himself an early retirement to Fiddler’s Green and has long since resigned himself to being Kaufman’s pocket bitch. Where do you think all that fine malt liquor comes from? Cholo’s the man when it comes to looting that booze but also something of a loose cannon, making him far too exceptionable a candidate for long-term residency. Sporting an ego the size of one of Kaufman’s offshore account balances, he’s getting in goddammit – whether by fair way or foul matters not – and possesses just the hardware in Dead Reckoning to help rally his protest.

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Meanwhile Riley and Charlie are engaging in a spot of need to know recruiting, and in tough talking renegade hooker, Slack (Asia Argento), find themselves a prime example of Kaufman’s skulduggery. The muculent mogul greenlit her execution for assisting to instigate rebellion among the needy and Slack ain’t the kind of heat bitch to let bad blood go unbled. If I were Kaufman, I’d be letting out a little involuntary gas on my leather lounge chair right now as friends seem to be drying up all around him. However, mutiny is the least of his concerns, as liquor-laced egg nog may be plentiful in Fiddler’s Green, but Black Friday has to come some time and we all know zombies love a good bargain.

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Leading the retail therapy charge is festering Braveheart, Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), a former gas station attendant who has long since traded in his tools for drools. While walkers aren’t historically known for their cunning or smarts, papa’s got a brand new bag and half a brain to boot. Let’s not tangle the intestines here, he’s hardly Nikola Tesla, but he gets by and commands the vacant faced respect of his fellow shufflers. This may initially ask rather a lot of the viewer but lest we not forget the bearded puppet master pulling the strings here. If Romero says zombies can make fiends and influence their kind then so be it, after all, it’s not like he has a long history of dropping a bollock now is it?

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With that said, Land of The Dead ultimately falls a few lunges short of the promised land in my estimation, and winds up a victim of his very own strengths as a storyteller. Tertiary characters like Samoan Gargantua, Pillsbury (Pedro Miguel Arce), and pig-tailed princess pilot Pretty Boy (Joanne Boland), simply aren’t provided sufficient air time and the dream team isn’t finalized until too late in the game to truly utilize their strengths. Thus the film actually feels around twenty minutes too short; a front-handed insult if there ever was one as it is testament to the kind of distinctive characters that Romero’s writes for fun that we wish to hang out more. Minor gripe aside however, there are still some fairly hefty reasons to be cheerful.

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I’m convinced that Baker is Thomas Jane on weekends and he delivers in just as workmanlike a manner as our lead. Meanwhile, Leguizamo couldn’t be better cast as twitchy man-toddler Cholo, the late great Hooper nailed this kind of gig on auto-pilot, daughter of George’s buddy Dario Argento is simply a no-brainer, and the rest of the cast are pretty much tear and share fodder.

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However, in charred companion Charlie, we have our brightest flame (subject’s a sore one), and his every interaction is hard-wired to our pleasure nodes throughout. We fear for his safekeeping, rely on his sharpshooting, and find ourselves watching his shoulder over all others as he’s the kind of protagonist deemed all too expendable in less reliable hands but cradled in the loving palms of Romero.

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Land of The Dead doesn’t quite scale the nosebleed inducing heights of its predecessors and my third viewing confirmed this twelve years on. However, the zombies here are more than just target painted ducks, as a social satire it’s possibly more relevant now than ever before with recent political changes ringing all too true, and on a more rudimentary level, we are provided numerous reasons to care. The outlook for humanity may well be bleak but George never promised us resolution and we need cats like him to keep shit real with so many pretenders to his throne skulking about in the undergrowth. Give it up guys, play by his rules, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll let you taste his boot leather. Just to be clear, I’m calling dibs on the insole.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Nothing pleases me more than tossing the term cornucopia into the nosebag and there’s one such excess to nosh upon here with regards to gushing grue, courtesy of our dear friends at KNB Effects Group. If there’s an iddy-biddy gripe to be had then it is the MPAA we have to point our fingers at. You see, these rapscallions forced Romero’s hand into keeping the splatter fleeting and there’s never quite the linger factor to truly revel in the beautifully staged atrocities on exhibit. It’s all there, gizzards and all, but regrettably his roving lens can but skim the custard on this occasion.

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Read Dawn of The Dead (1978) Appraisal

Read Dawn of The Dead (2004) Appraisal

Read Day of The Dead (1985) Appraisal

Read Shaun of The Dead Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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