Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly, Kevin Zegers, Michael Barry, Lindy Booth, Jayne Eastwood, Boyd Banks, Inna Korobkina, RD Reid, Kim Poirier, Matt Frewer
**** / *****
I was – I think understandably – wary upon hearing that a remake was being attempted of Dawn of the Dead: zombie master George A. Romero's greatest film. With the dearth of incredibly awful horror remakes of late, I'm sure no one could blame me. Thankfully my fears were large unfounded, and, while it did not measure the original, Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead is a surprising and slick re-imagining of the Romero Classic.
The film opens with Ana, a nurse, heading home after a long day of work, to some rapid fire foreshadowing. Once home she gets it on with her husband in the shower, missing an important news bulletin. The couple go to sleep, and are awakened by a tiny figure standing in the doorway to their bedroom.
The next 15 minutes or so are pure zombie movie bliss. From Ana's escape amidst scenes of utter chaos in suburbia, to the fantastic opening credits sequence, which is intercut with news footage, all while "When the Man Comes Around" by the late, great, Johnny Cash plays in the background.
Ana inevitably teams with a battered crew of survivors, and, like the original film, they seek shelter in a sprawling shopping mall. It becomes clear at this point that the primary advantage that this film has over the original Dawn of the Dead is its cast. Sarah Polley is excellent, as is Ving Rhames as Kenneth, a hardened cop. I was disappointed by the omission of a incompetent "fly-boy" type character, as he as was re-imagined as a far more useful everyman, played very well by Jake Weber.
The film's writing is not quite as strong as its cast, and the film contains some characterization problems. The cast is far too large to explore each character fully, so many come across as very annoying or undeveloped, as it is clear they exist simply to be zombie fodder. In addition, some characters, such as CJ the security guard, seem to change very suddenly, without appropriate motivation.
This film also lacks the subtext of the original. That is, unlike Romero's film, which was a fairly clear commentary on consumerism, the remake does not have a clear message. Like its contemporary, the slightly superior 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead also peepers out somehow in the third act, as the survivors execute a desperate plan.
On the whole though, Dawn of the Dead is a lot of fun. The zombies are fast and brutal and the gore is impressive. The soundtrack is also uniformly great. There are also some fun homages to the original, such as the helicopter that appears briefly in the first 15 minutes, and a cameo from gore master Tom Savini. Try to find the others – there are many more.