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Dawn of the Dead
2004 - R - 109 Mins.
Director: Zack Snyder
Producer: Earl Newman
Written By: George A. Romero, James Gunn
Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer, Kevin Zegers
Review by: Harrison Cheung
A remake of the 1978 horror movie that was directed by horror master George A. Romero, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ is a smartly re-engineered thrill – a mind-blowing orgy of horror, guts, gore and the walking dead! Is this movie better than the original? Yes. Better than ‘28 Days Later’? Well, this is a different beast.

First time director, Zack Snyder, was given a gift with this project. Hollywood tends to remake classics with disastrous results – the pointless shot-for-shot remake of ‘Psycho’, the MTV-powered remake of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, hell, they even remade ‘Casablanca’!

Remakes are incredibly attractive to big studios because they hope to capture both old and new audiences (see the current rage for turning old TV series into movies a la ‘Starsky and Hutch’, ‘Charlies Angels’, ‘Scooby Doo’). But why mess with a movie that clicked with a certain audience at a certain period of time?

Romero’s first ‘Dead’ movie, ‘Night of the Living Dead’, the 1968 classic which was shot effectively in b/w and remains successful as a claustrophobic movie about racism, rage and paranoia. Ten years later, when Romero did ‘Dawn of the Dead,’ the magic was over. Shot in garish color during the height of the disco era, the movie looked cheap, suffered from atrocious production values (in spite of make-up effects master Tom Savini's work) and had a terrible cast – none of whom ever pursued an acting career after this amateurish outing.

So fortunately, this is not a remake of the classic ‘Night of the Living Dead’ but instead, a remake of its weaker, less loved sequel. (Romero also did a third 'Dead’ flick which has mostly been forgotten.)

The basic story of Dawn has remained intact. For reasons unknown, the dead are walking the earth and have turned cannibalistic. A small group of survivors hole up in a shopping mall, which gave Romero the opportunity to skewer American materialism and consumerism. If the human race is all about shallow greed, do the survivors deserve to survive?

For movie buffs who love horror, the first sign of this movie’s quality is in the casting. Indie queen Sarah Polley, the brilliantly fluid young Canadian actress who starred in ‘Weight of Water,’ ‘eXistenz,’ ‘My Life Without Me,’ ‘The Sweet Hereafter’ (and the list goes on and on) stars as a young nurse who’s life is horrifically turned upside down at the very beginning of the undead attack. Polley, who is Canada’s answer to Cate Blanchett, is searing as she alternates between very real shock and vulnerability to some tough-girl/maternal scenes that seem to channel Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the Alien movies.

Ving Rhames is the tough and gruff, bigger than life action hero/cop and everyone’s best ally – especially when you’re facing hordes of hungry corpses. Mekhi Phifer rounds off the three leads as the man with a pregnant girlfriend, hoping for a return to normalcy.

Our survivors ironically barricade themselves in a mall called The Crossroads. The mall, as a little world inside a world, gives the survivors a moment of respite but the zombies like to shop too! Soon, the mall becomes the focal point for thousands of the undead as the survivors first try to turn the mall into a fortress and then decide to make a run for safety.

Compared to ‘28 Days Later,’ ‘Dawn of the Dead’ is much faster paced, an action/horror movie. Dialogue is curt and believable. This design makes it better and worse than ‘28 Days’ since we lose some time to learn more and care about the characters but we don’t have a second to spare before the next monstrous attack. And unlike ’28 Days’, ‘Dawn’ literally has a cast of thousands giving the production shocking swarming scenes that weren’t in the original. But fortunately, director Snyder (who cut his teeth on TV commercials) doesn’t make the mistake of say, last year’s terrible ‘House of the Dead,’ which blatantly turned the movie into a ‘standby and watch mode’ of a video game. This isn’t just a body count movie. Nor is it a big budget movie with just a reported $25 million to play with. (I wonder how that compares in adjusted dollars to the 1978 movie's $1.5 million budget?)

Shot in and around Toronto, Canada, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ perfectly captures that feeling of a sleepy Spielbergesque suburbia gone to hell. I suspect Romero purists will be pleased with this remake, a bang-on interpretation of the original film’s themes about race, consumerism and materialism, polished and burnished with a superb cast and modern production values. Look for some great cameos! And people faint of heart or with high blood pressure are hereby warned!
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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