Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Dawn Of The Dead (original)



IF the human mind is like a computer (or vice-versa), then Dawn of the Dead is a brilliant movie.

The movie is actually fantastic no matter which way you slice it, but I have a very good reason for starting the review this way, which will only become apparent at the very end.

When discussing Dawn Of The Dead, it’s almost impossible NOT to bring up the subject of learning how to program a computer in the language of BASIC. Obviously.

• sound of mouses clicking towards any other website *

No, seriously – hear me out. When I was in high school, taking Computer Science 101 or whatever, and learning how to program in BASIC (this WAS 1989, after all. I think we still had Radio Shack TRS-80s in the lab, or whatever), I learned how to make the computer learn simple things with simple language:


IF (A) happens, then (B) is the result.

(B) does some stuff, then spits out (C)

(C) makes (A) important.


It’s the closed-loop “END IF” thing that I want to address. I have noticed, in subsequent years, that brilliant movies have this kind of closed-loop resonance happening with certain sequences, or over the spread of the entire film. It’s always subconscious; as a viewer, you’re never aware of how brilliantly the puppetmaster (writer, screenwriter or director) is pulling your strings. It’s the hallmark of a great story – you should never be aware of the process, only immersed in it.


For instance, in Superman I, when Lois first casually mentions “Air Force One” walking through the Daily Planet, that jump-starts the ENTIRE sequence of Superman first revealing himself to the public. Flying up to snatch her helicopter (Notable lines: PIMP: “Hey man, that is a baaaaad out-FIT!!” and LOIS: “You’ve got me?!? Who-who’s got you???”), then thwarting the gangsters on the boat in the Hudson (“Bad vibrations?”), then getting the cat out of the tree, etc. The whole coming-out sequence ENDS with Superman rescuing the very same Air Force One (“Don’t talk. Just fly.”) It’s the bracketing and resonance that strike a subconscious chord with the viewer. A closed loop of brilliant, structured screenwriting.

The same thing happens in Pirates Of The Caribbean with the two powdered-wig soldiers who try to arrest Jack Sparrow. Painfully, I don’t have the photographic memory to recall specifics, but I remember being struck by this fact as I walked out of the movie: The damn thing was STRUCTURED well, and those guys were a big part of it. My knee-jerk reaction to the original Pirates was, and always has been, “How hard was that? A fun movie, well-crafted, and well-performed. Why can’t they just do this all the time?”

Those British soldier guys are THAT good. I want to know more about them. And I couldn't, for the life of me, find a picture of them.

Anyway, Dawn of the Dead. *shaking blog awake*


IF the rednecks are having that much fun shooting zombies, while pounding beers and being rednecks, THEN

The movie MUST end with a triple suicide of our heroes, who have given up hope over the relentless swarm.

That’s the (maybe-never-released?) Director’s Cut – there’s no “Let’s Just Go Fly Off In Our Helicopter With No Gas” ending, it’s actually just bullets in the head, because This Shit Is Too Much To Deal With. Hence, the brilliantly bracketed and resonant storytelling. And deeply disturbing zombie plotline, i.e. no matter how much you prepare and fortify for this menace, overall, you’re totally fucked. Those rednecks have long been eaten.

Of special note is the racist cop in the shootout in the building at the beginning: the man is a cosmic soul brother with Ritchie, the Total Asshole Bad Guy from Out For Justice, who is OFF THE CHART in terms of the Pipe Up The Ass Graph.


Of other special note is the fact that this movie contains the Greatest Stunt Ever, where the one zombie STANDS UP into whirling helicopter blades. I’ve discussed this before somewhere on this blog, but in real life, as a stuntman, I don’t care how many inches of prosthetic shit you have on your head - between your thighs, you have to have grapefruit-sized balls with the consistency of cold, hard unflinching steel to willingly STAND UP INTO a fucking helicopter propeller. This is still, in my jaded movie-biz opinion, the Greatest Stunt I’ve ever seen. I hope that guy got a blow job or something that night. Because he’s a serious fucking rockstar badass stunt guy. (“Hi honey! How was work today?” “Oh, you know, the usual – put my head into a helicopter’s whirling, deathly blades. Are we having mac ‘n cheese?”)

I also couldn't find a picture of That Guy. But you all know who I'm talking about.



Catfreeek said...

Another brilliant review!

Octopunk said...

I'm starting to think Stan has moved past the Guinness and the absinthe and the pot and the acid and the horse tranquilizer, and now only sits down at the keyboard when his veins are sizzling with 10 ccs of rarified adrenalin extract from the mad toxic octo bat.

I imagine he sits down and sees in his mind's eye a conspiracy freak's bulletin board, a huge map overlaid with photos and news articles and dozens of differently-colored bits of string connecting the push pins together, and says "now how do I make this clear?" And then he does it.

Nice work, Stan. It's a pleasure to read.

Did Mr. Karewa teach you BASIC?

Octopunk said...

The one snag is that you describe Air Force One as walking through the Daily Planet. Your modifiers dangle like steel grapefruit nads, sucka!

JPX said...

I used to have an original copy of that sweet Dawn of the Dead poster, but sadly it has become lost in time. I remember seeing this on grainy video with Octo in the early 80s and we were just blown away by its awesomeness. We ended up catching the less awesome Day of the Dead at the seekonk drive-in (although I think I like it more than most). Another terrific review, Stan. You are just one more blogger who makes me realize that I have no idea how to write.

HandsomeStan said...

Well, crap - that wasn't my intention, JPX :) As Octo correctly notes, I've left a modifier swinging in the breeze.

I HATE when I do that.

And Octo, yes it WAS Karewa! Well-remembered! I recall his big programming joke for the class was to use the command "DIM" (which did something useless) and assign it to a value, which he cleverly noted as "SUM."

This was all so he could write "DIM SUM" on the dry erase board and chuckle at his own brilliant Chinese food reference.

Whirlygirl said...

Terrific review! You're constantly impressing me. I just watched dawn of the dead for the first time last year and was blown away by it's awesomeness.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

I agree with Whirlygirl (for once). Your output this year has been very impressive indeed. I don’t get it though – is there really such an alternate ending or is that what you would have liked to see?

Every time I scroll past Richie I just want to punch my computer (and then watch Out for Justice again). Remember the scene where he shot the lady in the head because of a minor traffic violation? WHAT AN ASSHOLE!

HandsomeStan said...

But let's not forget that Ritchie did take a humiliating frying pan to the head in the most lopsided final fight in action movie history. The frying pan was the warm up for the eventual scissors through the skull. Or was it a drafting compass? I can't remember.

Seagal: 47
Ritchie: negative 8

He even shoots Seagal in the arm, which only makes Seagal blink for a split second, before punching Ritchie in the face with the VERY SAME arm.

See Also the Pool Hall Brawl in OFJ, when the guy playing Ritchie's brother (and about 20 other dudes) are thoroughly and humiliatingly beaten by Seagal alone. Man, can we do ActionThon one month?

Total Pipe Up The Ass.

[Other recommended William Forsythe (Ritchie) viewing:

Stone Cold. He plays "Ice" the biker, and him and Lance Henriksen MORE than compensate for Brian Bosworth's mullet. Hearty action fare.]

With regard to that secret DOTD ending, there is footage in the movie where they're each contemplating doing themselves in. I read somewhere recently (it HAD to be on this blog somewhere) that Romero wanted to end the film like that, just 3 suicides and done. But Studio Powers-That-Be types demanded something less ghastly and depressing.

So Romero left in the "contemplation" footage, but cut out the actual suicide footage, which may or may not exist today at all.

Or maybe it was a dream I had, and it's the ending I wanted to see.

Either way, it's a much better ending.

Octopunk said...

It's been a while, but I seem to recall the woman in a solo, contemplative scene.

Since I'm all up in Stan's grammar grill today, I will point out that he indicated the actor playing Ritchie's brother also plays 20 other characters in the movie.

"...when the guy playing Ritchie's brother (and about 20 other dudes)..."

Heh heh heh.