Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Day of the Dead (USA, 2008)

Dare we out ourselves as not being a big fan of George Romero's original Day of the Dead (trailer) from 1985? We saw it when it first came out and while there were aspects of it we liked, we found it a bit of a dirge that ran in circles and got lost in its desire for eye-popping gore scenes. Gore for the sake of gore is all fine and dandy in its own way – the Italians are particularly good at it, as we all know – but somehow, in Day of the Dead, Romero lost his message and the film lost its rhythm in the visceral excesses of the special effects and the flaws of the screenplay.
Steve Minor's 2008 straight-to-DVD "remake," if that is what you can even call this flick, is at least much truer to its purpose of existence than the original film was to its own. And what is its purpose of Minor's film? Well, to ride the coattails of the excellent 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead (trailer) and bring in some more bucks. The intentions are apparent in many ways, but probably most obviously in the cheap-trick casting of Ving Rhames (who played one of the last survivors in DotD) in a relatively small part that has nothing to do with his character in the 2004 film; Rhames disappears as quickly as, say, Joseph Cotton did in his later rent-paying films made in Italy (of which Lady Frankenstein [1971] is a good example). For all intents and purposes, Rhames is basically the "name star" that Rodriguez parodies in his much better horror film Planet Terror (2007 / trailer) with Bruce Willis, only in Day of the Dead Rhames actually sometimes appears in the same frame as the film's main characters.
In all truth, the 2008 version of Day of the Dead is so different from the 1985 original that we find it difficult to call it a remake. Hell, this "Day" doesn't even follow the "Dawn" that came after the "Night" but, going by the plot development, is an independent story. Sure, there are undead and military and a long stretch set in an underground base and even a "good" zombie named Bud – though in the original film, the "good" zombie was actually named Bub – but the plot and events and everything in-between and related is so different that this version, if anything, should at most be called a reinterpretation or simply "a new film inspired by" for, like 2007's House of Wax (trailer) or 2002's Ghost Ship (trailer) or even 2009's Friday the 13th (trailer), the film may perhaps bear the same name as its source and maybe includes one or two nods to the original story, but everything that happens within the film is totally new or different than the original. (The hockey-masked killer Jason, you might remember, was not even in the original Friday the 13th [1980 / trailer], while virtually nothing of the original House of Wax [1953 / trailer] – itself a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum [1953 / trailer] – reappeared in the 2007 "remake"; 2002's Ghost Ship, in turn, had virtually nothing to do with the 1980 cheapie Death Ship [trailer] and even less to do with the other "haunted ship" films to carry the same moniker, namely the 1943 Val Lewton production [full film] and the 1952 British cheapie [scene] directed by Vernon Sewell.)
Perhaps it seems like we are digressing, but the above is only even mentioned so as to point out that in the end, Steve Minor's Day of the Dead should be approached not as a remake  – or, perhaps, even as a reimaging – but rather simply as a zombie film that happens to carry a familiar name. (Anything for an extra buck, as they say.) And as such, is it any good? Well, like most modern-day zombie flicks it dumps true terror and horror and rubber prosthetics and ketchup and the uncomfortable feeling of unavoidable Armageddon innate to many of the old school gore film for CGI-heavy action and laughable, over-the-top violence (a good example of both being a zombie that jumps up onto and then scrambles across the ceiling at the hospital). Minor's Day of the Dead is populated with fast zombies and sudden virus-influenced conversions that may supply a few nice jumps and a lot of nihilistic laughs, but the flick does not really include any effective suspense and also totally requires you to check your brain in at the door and not ask too many questions. So, yes, it is fast and furious and fun, but it is anything other than intelligent – but then, intelligence is not something usually found in the contemporary zombie flick.
As mentioned before, Ving Rhames gets star-billing in a role so unimportant that anyone could've played it (he probably took the job so as to buy a new car or something), but it is co-star Mena Suvari (of The Rage: Carrie 2 [1999 / trailer]), she with the biggest butt in Hollywood after J.Lo, who is the true star of the film. And she, like everyone else in the cast, does well enough in a film that really only calls for most of its main actors to be good looking and likable or good looking and dislikable.
Day of the Dead does keep the concept introduced in Romero's original that zombies retain a certain level of their former selves – veggies stay veggies, moms sorta stay moms, military zombies can still shoot even if they can't aim – but the idea is not presented consistently and comes across a half-baked. (Then again, maybe one's aversion to meat is greater than a mother's love.) The film quickly moves from the quick conversion (into zombies) of the whole town of Leadville, CO, to the attempts of the final survivors – which, aside from Suvari (as Corp. Sarah Bowman), also includes her onscreen bro Trevor (Michael Welch of All the Boys Love Mandy Lane [2006 / trailer] and An American Crime [2007 / trailer]), his squeeze Nina (AnnaLynne McCord of Sirens of the Caribbean [2007 / trailer] and The Haunting of Molly Hartley [2008 / trailer]) and the mandatory wise-cracking Afro-American Salazar (Nick Cannon of The Killing Room [2009 / trailer]) – to kill all zombies and escape alive. Luckily for them, by the time of the final showdown in the underground bunker – a location also taken from the original film – the number of zombies has substantially if mysteriously reduced itself from that of an entire town.
Whatever. As we said before, Day of the Dead isn't intelligent but for that it is fast and fun. The CGI sometimes looks remarkably fake, but often it looks real enough to work. A lot of people die and some of the people you like – only the white ones, oddly enough – survive, and there's an ending that promises the option of a sequel that will probably never come. Day of the Dead is a by-the-numbers zombie flick that never tries to transcend its mercantile aim of making some dough by offering undemanding entertainment full of CGI blood and guts and laughs within a simple storyline.
Oh, yes, we forgot to mention that we caught the film in 3-D. If Day of the Dead was originally shot in 3-D, then Minor, despite his adroitly professional direction in general, has either no concept of or no interest in the technology, for the film never once seemed to consciously take advantage of the 3-D technology (in comparison to, for example, the 3-D version of My Bloody Valentine [2009 / trailer], which worked with the technology and included such visual treats as flying pickaxes and jawbones). Indeed, we tend to think that the film was converted into 3-D afterwards simply to take advantage of yet another possible drawing card to make a few more bucks.
Still, even as an obvious attempt to make money without offering any noticeable artistic or intellectual pretenses, Day of the Dead nevertheless makes for fun viewing. True, it is hardly an under-appreciated or yet-to-be-discovered masterpiece, but taken as simple entertainment professionally made, it does remain engaging and mildly enjoyable – which isn't exactly the case with many a film that try to offer a lot more but fail to even be diverting. (Land of the Dead [2005 / trailer], anyone?)

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...