Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dawn of the Dead

(2004) *****
Truthfully, I wasn't intending to watch Dawn04 for this year's Thon, having reviewed it a year ago. I saw it as part of a horror movie party masterminded by my girlfriend. I offered it as an afterthought suggestion when we were deciding what to watch first. I really tried to sell everyone Re-Animator or Of Unknown Origin, but when I got to Dawn, I guess I just couldn't contain my enthusiasm.
I won't bother with a recap; instead, feel free to browse these rave reviews from Johnny Sweatpants, Octopunk, and Jordan, and of course Jordan's kickass Zombie Roundup. I'd also suggest taking the time to read the comments for all of these; there's all kinds of good stuff in there. This is a SPOILER heavy review, so read on at your own risk.
A few things I noticed this time around that I hadn't completely appreciated last time...
--In the opening credits, there are a few shots of human cells being attacked by zombie cells. These cells appear to be of either three different types or in three stages of metamorphosis. If it's the former, it suggests that the cellular transformation is happening all over the body and not in just the brain. Peaceful and stationary before infection, the cells are rocketing across their petri dishes by the time the infection is complete.
--When Michael discovers the zombie in the sporting goods store, both the zombie and the person it's attacking appear to be wearing security guard uniforms. I wonder if the security guards might have held the balance of power longer if they'd had those two and the one who attacks Kenneth by the fountain beefing their ranks.
--Ken Foree, one of the stars of the original, plays a televangelist broadcasting a sermon the night after the zombie crisis begins. The first few times I saw this, I snickered during his monologue, thinking, "Sheesh, these clowns are still on the air?" This time around, it dawned on me that the evangelists may have been right all along -- witness Andre's abashed brooding about the "End of Times" while washing his hands next to Kenneth. Kenneth parries brilliantly by pointing out, essentially, that if this were really a biblical thing and everyone were being judged for their sins, he wouldn't be in the mall with Andre's thug ass.
--I'm so glad this movie didn't turn into a sideshow about CJ trying to get his old superiority back. Other movies have been made less fun by making that exact choice. CJ's conversion into a good guy happens without a single hiccup and I've gotta give this movie props for not getting sidetracked.
--This was really the first time I stopped to consider how it would actually feel to fall to a gradual infection. I began to consider this while watching Frank in his final moments with his daughter. He holds her, gazes straight ahead, and whispers, "Time to go, honey." Obviously he knew he was close. My question is, was the feeling just one of extreme unwellness? Could he have felt the hunger dawning on him even then? Perhaps it was time for his daughter to leave the room because she was starting to look delicious. It'd also cast a different light on Frank's last moments with Kenneth standing guard. Maybe that's a look of hunger on his face and the only reason he's not attacking is because he knows he's too weak to move. Kenneth is in position to shoot him instantly and, as Frank notes, "You want every single second." Why waste any of it on a hopeless attack?
--Jordan pointed out that the survivors, "deal with their differences of opinion rather quickly and efficiently (for a change)." And that's totally true early on in the movie, but as the movie wears on the malcontents of the group seem to get a little bit more cranky with each other. Steve's act wears thin with everyone almost immediately -- He crows, "Why don't we drop by the marina, hop in my boat and take it for a pleasure cruise, you jackasses?" and even Monica, who only 15 minutes of screen time earlier was screwing him in the electronics store, rolls her eyes, appalled. Monica's also clearly irritated by Nicole. Where would that frustration have gone had everyone been there a month later?
--It also looks like they're running low on some key supplies. Whatever "that lemon stuff" is that Steve likes to put in his booze and that Andre's been feeding to Luda is gone. And later in the movie, Steve goes to the coffee thermos and rolls his dark eyes when it sputters empty.
--Much ado has been made about Ana remembering to grab the keys to her car and to the boat. Nobody here remembered to give any credit to Steve who remembered to bring his boat keys with him when he left the house as well.
--When did CJ get appointed propane specialist? Three propane tanks get detonated by gunfire and flare, and every single time it's CJ throwing out the tank and pulling the trigger
--The muzak they hear on the elevator on the way to the armored cars is "All Out of Love."
--That head in the cooler on the fishing boat during the end credits must have been put there by someone. There had to have been two fishermen to begin with. One of them had to have been bitten beforehand. It's doubtful anyone would say, "Hey, let's go fishing," after getting bit by a zombie, so I'm guessing the two wound up on the fishing boat as part of an escape attempt -- either away from Milwaukee like our protagonists, or away from a Lake Michigan island, perhaps hoping for better luck on the mainland. Anyway, one fisherman turns before the other one's been bitten -- otherwise how would the surviving fisherman have had the strength to fight off an attack and cut the zombie's head off? The question is, where'd that guy go? Did he commit suicide? Maybe he turned into a zombie himself and then fell off the boat in his zombie rage.
--That makes me think of another thing: You know how silly your cat looks when it trips? Ordinarily it's a pretty slick creature, but the moment it loses its balance, it looks like a total loser. There are hours of footage sent into America's Funniest Home Videos about this exact thing. I wonder if zombies look as ridiculous when they lose their balance.
--If that head was able to survive without the body, that means that the surviving fisherman took down his buddy the hard way: cutting the zombie's head off while it was still attacking.
I'd like to give a special shout-out to Jordan who provided me with a copy of the disc, complete with director's commentary -- I literally just noticed the DC was on there about 3 minutes ago, after dozens of viewings. It's a burned copy. I'm going to have to get the full version at some point, just to see all the extras. Everyone's been raving about the featurette of Andy's video journal from inside the gun store.
I wish I could see this for the first time all over again.


I'mnotMarcbutmyboyfriendis said...

did jpx ever write a review for this? i couldn't find it.

Jordan said...

Excellent points all around.

I've got the extras; I can send them along. I keep the extras from every DVD I burn; I corral them separately (so they don't take precious disc space away from the movies) and make big omnibus "extras" discs. I've got about 22 discs of extras at this point. I compress them much more, because, who cares.

The closing-credits sequence is really superb. As I think I said in my review, it's like the fade-back-in at the end of Helter Skelter (the song). You can totally end the movie on the docks, with that excellent close-up of Sarah Polley. Then it's like a smirk: "Do you REALLY want to know what happened next?" And you don't even get to find out what happened; what went wrong. Probably, somebody had the same "escape to the island" bright idea and they fucked it up. You just can't get the upper hand with zombies; it's like betting against the house. (I may have used that metaphor last time, too. I'm just a big old retread.)

DCD said...

Well, here's another one for the list. The zombie category is daunting since there has been so much written about it on Horrorthon.

I love the I'mnotmarc v.Octo scenario in the comments of the "Zombie Roundup" post!

Johnny Sweatpants said...

Awesome stuff. But I thought the muzak was "Don't Worry Be Happy"? Or were both of them in there?

Jordan said...

Both of them are in there.

I'mnotMarcbutmyboyfriendis said...

pants -- DWBH is playing in the main mall early on in the film. the air supply tune is in the elevator after the dead have breached the mall and everyone's running for their life towards the escape vans.

they have a moment of gasping silence and then CJ hears the muzak. "i like this song," he smiles. it's the last time he smiles in his life.

jordan- pleasepleaseplease. i thank you so much for the first disc. also, is it just an uncut version, or did you put the deleted scenes in their proper place by yourself?

i also have to thank you for the burned copy of the 70's version of snatchers. i might have stolen it from octo. maybe he gave it to me. who knows anymore, in this crazy world?

Jordan said...

It's "The Unrated Director's Cut." (I didn't add anything.) One of the extras is Zack Snyder explaining about the "unrated world" where you can "do anything," and what that means for the movie.

Zombie movies have to be unrated, in my opinion. Romero insists upon it (to the financial detriment of the movies; nobody will pay to make an unrated movie). But it just has to be that way. It suits the form. Zombie crises are so bad, that the people who are too "squeamish" to deal are already dead in the first five minutes.

Even before the credits, you get stuff like the stopped bus with the bloodbath in the back window, and the naked girl staggering around. Not in the theatrical version.