Dawn of the Dead (2004)

I do love me some zombies. I’ve recently been obsessed with online text-based game Urban Dead, which pits survivors against the zombie hordes, all played by online gamers. The threat level recently got kicked up a notch by an invasion from the Something Awful forum. What had once been a game that seemed like Second Life, complete with stuffy librarians and furry roleplayers and zombies that were only around to pick off for experience points, suddenly transformed into a game of survival. Survivors began barricading the malls, and those who weren’t lucky enough to find themselves in these modern day fortresses suddenly found themselves on the run 24/7.

Also, the game whetted my appetite for zombie movies. I wasn’t much a fan of this genre, but this game, along with a recent viewing of “I Am Legend,” helped me understand why zombie movies are so popular. It’s not so much about the monsters, but about what the survivors do to evade them.

Which brings me to the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004). I craved me some zombies and people stuck in malls, and this movie delivers.

I wanted to see the original, too, but Hollywood video doesn’t seem to carry it. However, George Romero, the zombie lore master himself, seems to like the remake, and if it’s good with George, it’s good with me.

Dawn of the Dead’s most controversial innovation was the fast moving zombies. Or, to be more accurate, zombies that move at human speeds. Romero envisioned stiff zombies that had been partially affected by rigor mortis. The new Dawn of the Dead eschews that philosophy and postulates, instead, that since zombies cannot feel pain, they are less physically limited. Both theories have their advantages. The remake, though, changes the movie from a horror movie into an action movie.

The motivations have been changed, too. Theoretically, the survivors could have holed themselves in the mall for the rest of their lives. The zombies were making no progress breaking into the mall. And there was no roving band of bikers threatening to bring in Hell. There was plenty of food, all the luxuries a person could ask for, and tons of personal space when the small stores get converted into rooms.

What motivated the survivors, at the end, to make a desperate escape?

I guess it’s the philosophy that it’s better to die a free man than to die a prisoner, and the survivors had just learned that lesson first-hand. It’s not explained in great detail in the movie, but the remaining characters had grown tired of being totally useless. They needed to do something, even if their crackpot plan would doom them in the end.

The intro sequence is classic. Ana (Sarah Polley) gradually grows aware of the danger. Small events, which initially seem to indicate that her daughter is sick, keep building in rapid succession until it reaches a fever panic when she discovers that the whole world has gone insane.

Even so, the movie also has a strange, yet fun, sense of humor. A montage sequence is scored to Richard Cheese’s lounge version of “Down with the Sickness.” As the survivors get bored, they play a game with the similarly imprisoned gun store owner across the street to shoot zombies that look like popular celebrities. I hate it when horror movies are full-bore depressing, so it was very enjoyable to take a break from the oppressive dread.

Anyway, decent movie that had me riveted the whole time. However, if you can’t stand watching blood — and you’re perfectly fine to feel that way — “I Am Legend” is also a good zombie movie … just thinly disguised.


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