If you've followed George Romero from Night of the Living Dead to Dawn of the Dead to Day of the Dead, you were probably waiting with bated breath for the fourth installment in his Dead series, Land of the Dead. In previous films, Romero tackled themes such as racism (NOTLD) and consumerism (Dawn of the Dead). Those movies' storylines worked solidly, the characters were believable, and the theme didn't override the entertainment factor. Sadly, though, in Land of the Dead, Romero gets lost in social commentary (post-9/11 world) that is neither compelling nor coherent.
The plot revolves around the last remnant of the human population who have survived by barricading themselves within the remains of the city of Pittsburgh, which is surrounded by rivers, electric fences and guards. The rich live in a tower dubbed "Fiddler's Green" while everyone else survives in the streets with only the slightest bit of hope that they will attain the status necessary to live in the tower. The disenfranchised Cholo (John Leguizamo) is tired of being Mayor Kaufman's (Dennis Hopper) whipping boy, so he steals an armored vehicle known as "Dead Reckoning" and threatens to destroy Fiddler's Green unless he gets five million dollars. Kaufman then hires Riley (Simon Baker) to take out Cholo and bring back "Dead Reckoning."
Lest we forget that this is a zombie movie, there are indeed zombies, although in this movie the zombies are adapting and have a leader, Big Daddy (Eugene Clark). You can debate preferences for fast zombies or slow zombies, but evolving zombies? In Day of the Dead, the wacky Dr. Logan undertook the training of the zomie Bub, who had our sympathy. When he finally broke free and killed the pompous Captain Rhodes, we rooted for him. Bub was a single evolved zombie in a story arc that was used to great effect. In this film, giving the zombies intelligence (or explaining it in any fashion) doesn't work at all. Every bit of dialogue and character motivation seems specifically inserted to preserve the social commentary - not enhance the story line.
That's not to say it's all bad. Romero finally got a decent budget to work with, so the cinematography (perhaps the best of all his films) and special effects are much better than in previous entries in his series. There is also the memorable, genuinely creepy scene where zombies rise out of the water. The DVD comes loaded with extras: subtitles in French, English, and Spanish, Undead Again: The Making Of Land Of The Dead, A Day With The Living Dead, Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene, Bringing The Storyboards To Life, and so much more. Not the best in Romero's Dead franchise, but worth the viewing for longtime fans.
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