Tuesday, October 6

5 Ways Romero's Land Could Have Been Better

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Das hype und anticipation. I was so jacked for Romero's Dead return to the wide release silver screen for months. I followed every news blip and dug for new pics on the 'net daily. Even going as far as to feel my way around Google internationally on pages in languages I couldn't read. Then the day finally arrived, July 24th, 2005. I saw Land of the Dead on its opening night, then the night after with some buds from HorrorTalk, and even the night after that alone (yes, I'm that guy). Those theatrical viewings were nearly a blur; the build-up was so enormous in the horror community I lost all sense of critical thought upon it spooling onto my eyes. Though after quite a number of subsequent visits on video; I've found problems which are hard to ignore. I'm not meaning to trample on Romero's work, as he richly deserved a fourth big screen Dead series conclusion(?), but I see a lot of potential in small unrealized changes.

Chop out Manolete, Pillsbury, and Motown
Absolutely unnecessarily characters crammed in for more zombie chomping fodder and their placement within the film is screwy. As a viewer, we finally get some exposition and are getting comfortable with the core leads of Riley, Charlie, and Slack. Then these three cookie-cutters are dumped at our feet. A statement could have been made if Romero introduced one "escort" and made him/her out to be some analytical combat genius. Have Riley, Slack, and Charlie quietly doubt the character and then have him/her fumble up and made dead by trusting technology or tactics over instinct. Just sounds like a better idea than three characters whose only claim is that one is Spanish, one's huge, and the other bitchy.

Have Big Daddy and crew walk through the landfill
This is a small alteration, but would have been interesting to see how Big Daddy reacted to the immensity of (and having no choice but make his way through) all the human refuse and decaying members of his population unceremoniously dumped by the living as seen in the beginning with Cholo's gang unloading bloody crates.

Reinstate the "must be bitten" rule
I don't really care for Romero so blatantly deviating from this universal zombie law with Land. Frankly, every dead body re-animating no matter what is a barrel full of bull and retaining the bite rule has its potential. Make the upper crust of Fiddler's Green so pompous that they require a trumped up mock sea burial in the moat lining the city's perimeter for those that died of natural causes. The poor nobodies outside the towering Green have to do all the work for the burial and foot the bill of any costs. That's a nice bit of the class division theme playing out right there. Then have Big Daddy watch from afar and make this another thing he gets pissed about concerning the humans depriving his species. Then later as the zombies are walking across the moat; they smash the coffins open on the murky floor and bring the dead into their living dead fold. This could also be seen as another instance of throwing it right back in the face of Fiddler's Green elite as they see their loved ones once again as ghastly bloated undead...with tools.

Trim the existing fat
Even at a tidy 97 minute director's cut, there are aspects that seem better left omitted. Examples are Phil Fondacaro as the pimped-out munchkin brains of the zombie vs. human battle arena, the scene involving Riley finding his car stolen (you've been fucked!), and the sequence where Mouse waits for the pick-up only to be slaughtered. These reek of afterthought runtime padding. If the film ran two hours this wouldn't be such an issue, but time is unfortunately of the essence with Romero applying such broad strokes to a huge palette.

Nail down the geography
This might seem somewhat tiny, but even now I struggle to gain a coherent picture of the island city's relation to the outside areas and vice versa. One pretty much has to resort to imagination in placing the zombie's trek to Fiddler's Green and where the living characters are or meant to be. The film regulates this to one or two long establishing shots of the last human stronghold and a brief rundown of the city's security layout by a military commander to a green soldier at an outpost. Oh and Riley explaining the bridge points way late in the film. Delivering a solid sense of geography is key especially when the entire story hangs on such a radically different world with characters running all over. Carpenter's Escape from New York accomplishes this effortlessly, but much of Land of the Dead is dragged down from these constant uncertainties.
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2 comments:

Tower Farm said...

LAND OF THE DEAD was okay. But, you are right. There is a lot of room for improvement. I figured you were just going to post five easy things to make fun of the movie. But, it looks like you really gave this some thought!

JM

wiec? said...

great list! one thing that didn't jibe well with me was money and how that all worked in that movie. after a zombie outbreak money probably wouldn't be of much use except for kindling.

if i were one of the guys risking my neck to get food for the folks in that town i'd be the one living in the penthouse not the other way around. and what was with all the rich folks and their suits anyway? there was a zombie holocaust maybe you can skip wearing the tie to work. and what kind of "work" did the suits do anyway?

i dunno. i had a love/ hate relationship with Land.

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