For some horror fans, the late, great George A. Romero is considered the George Lucas of horror: he created a trilogy of classic films that changed the face of the genre forever, then years later returned with a second trilogy that was less well-received. But whereas Lucas second set offilms close off his universe, answering unasked questions and making his world feel smaller by tying every corner of it together, Romeros 2000s trilogy expands his living dead world further and brings the series into a new millennium. They dont diminish the legacy of his first three zombie movies. If anything, they make it richer.
Land of the Dead, new to Collectors Edition Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory (a disc was previously available from Universal), marks Romeros return to the zombie genre he created after a 20-year absence and is his first (and only) made for a major studio. Its the directors examination of post-9/11 fears and the increasing class disparity in America.
The wealthiest 1% have barricaded themselves in high rises towering over the city while the rest of the country is forced to fight for scraps amidst the zombie apocalypse below. Within this world operates Riley Denbo (Simon Baker), a scavenger who helps supply those living on the ground with food and supplies courtesy of his armored truckDead Reckoning. He runs missions for Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), who rules over the high rise city and has promised Rileys second-in-command Cholo (John Leguizamo) an apartment among the wealthy in Fiddlers Green. When those plans fall through, however, Cholo stealsDead Reckoningand plans to level Fiddlers Green, leading Kaufman to hire Riley and a crew of military policeas well as Slack (Asia Argento), who is rescued along the wayto retrieve the truck and stop Cholo. As all of this drama is unfolding, an army of zombies, led by the increasingly intelligent Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), make their way to the city.
Though its not up to the impossibly high standards of his first three living dead epics,Land of the Deadis easily the best of Romeros latter trilogy and probably his last best film. Like several of his other works, his original vision was compromised by working within a studio system. He was once again forced to make concessions on the film; Romero had written the lead role for a black actor but wasnt allowed to cast one, so he cast Eugene Clark as Big Daddy, the lead zombie. The film also had to go out in theaters with an R rating, and while the theatrical cut did retain a considerable amount of gore, I would always prefer to see Romero work without his hands tied in any way (for comparisons sake, both the R-rated and the unrated cut are included on this Blu-ray). But, despite some of these limitations, Romeros commentary on the world is as bleak and savage as ever.
Here, the ruling class are simply ignoring the problem while both the rest of the population and the zombies themselves organize an insurgency. In many ways,Landpredicts major events like the economic collapse and the Occupy Wall Street movement just a few years later, or even the massive tax reforms of recent months which benefit the wealthiest Americans while forcing the rest of us to suffer. Romero recognized this disparity years ago. Its precisely whatLandis all about.
If I have reservations about the movie even more than 10 years later, its that Romero doesnt explore these ideas enough. Much ofLands real estate is given over to being a straightforward action movie, and while its certainly entertaining in that regard, its hard to shake the feeling that theres a richer, better movie underneath just crying to take shape. Something likeDawn of the Deadwas more successful at balancing the thoughtful, socially conscious horror with the comic book action to which Romero often felt drawn. The commentary exists on the fringes ofLand, but its more or less a straightforward zombie action movie. But its also a really solid zombie action movie, with a couple of strong characters and some moments of the gnarly gore for which Romero is known (more so in the unrated cut, of course). While Simon Baker is probably a very nice person, hes too bland at the movies center, failing to register as anything but generic white hero guy. Thankfully hes backed up by the likes of Leguizamo, Robert Joy (as his scarred sidekick Charlie), and, especially, Asia Argento, who isnt given much to do but leaps off the screen with a dark charisma unmatched by any of her co-stars. That she is horror royalty only makes her casting that much more special.
Scream Factorys Blu-ray ofLand of the Deadoffers two cuts of the movie: the 93-minute R-rated cut released to theaters and the 97-minute directors cut previously available on Universals Blu-ray. Both versions of the movie are offered in 1080p HD, but the theatrical cut has been given a brand new 2K scan while the transfer for the longer unrated cut appears to have ported over from the old release. Many of the bonus features have carried over from past releases, too: the audio commentary from Romero, producer Peter Grunwald, and editor Michael Doherty; a nearly 30-minute making-of piece (Dream of the Dead); a shorter EPK-style featurette; deleted footage; featurettes on Simon Pegg and Edgar Wrights cameo in the movie as well as the makeup, the gore effects, the storyboards, and the casting; a photo gallery and the original trailer presented in high def.
Exclusive to this two-disc edition are some excellent newly-produced bonus features: a commentary from several of the featured performers who played zombies in the movie, new interviews with actors John Leguizamo, Robert Joy, Eugene Clark, Jennifer Baxter, Jasmin Geljo, Boyd Banks, and Miguel Arce, plus a few previously unseen deleted scenes. Its a pretty jam-packed set.
While Im happy we gotLand of the Deadat alleven with the compromises Romero had to make perhaps the greatest tragedy of the movieis that it wasnt released in the 1990s. While that would have undoubtedly changed its thematic concerns, it would have meant that Romero made a zombie film for each of the last six decades. No other horror filmmaker can come close to touching that. Sadly, hes gone now, but lives on in the greatness of his work a greatness that is celebrated on Scream Factorys disc. We miss you, George.
Movie Score: 3.5/5, Disc Score: 4.5/5
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