Movie Discussion: Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004)

  • Monthly Theme: Zombiesdawn_of_the_dead_ver2
  • The Film: Dawn of the Dead
  • Country of origin: U.S.A.
  • Date of U.S. release: March 19, 2004
  • Studio: Strike Entertainment, et al.
  • Distributer: Universal Pictures
  • Domestic Gross: $59 million
  • Budget: $26 million (estimated)
  • Director: Zack Snyder
  • Producers: Marc Abraham, et al.
  • Screenwriters: James Gunn
  • Adaptation? Yes, of the 1978 film Dawn of the Dead, directed by George A. Romero.
  • Cinematographer: Matthew F. Leonetti
  • Make-Up/FX: Gary D’Amico, et al.
  • Music: Tyler Bates
  • Part of a series? Not really. This is a remake of a film from the Romero Living Dead series.
  • Remakes? No.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. Contemporary genre actor Ving Rhames (Jacob’s Ladder, The People Under the Stairs, etc.). Cameos by genre stars Ken Foree (From Beyond, Dawn of the Dead (1978), etc.) and Tom Savini (Maniac, From Dusk till Dawn).
  • Other notables?: Yes. Character actors Sarah Polley and Mekhi Phifer. TV star Ty Burrell.
  • Awards?: n/a
  • Tagline: “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.”
  • The Lowdown: Zack Snyder’s remake of the Romero zombie classic was well-received and successful. This version follows a feisty nurse (Sarah Polley) as she navigates the zombie apocalypse, teaming up with a gruff cop (Ving Rhames), a handsome everyman (Jake Weber), a paranoid expectant father (Mekhi Phifer) and many others to wait out the crisis at a local shopping mall. But as the zombie hordes outside the mall grow in number, the survivors realize they need to hatch an escape plan…

If you haven’t seen Dawn of the Dead our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Sean: Did you like the movie?

Kristine: I did. I think I might have liked it as much as the original, even though it had less ideological heft. There was basically no social commentary or political critique in this remake. I mean, the primary conflict here is humans versus zombies. Even though some of the humans were dicks, it was just because they had terrible personalities, not because they were meant to showcase any kind of idea. I didn’t see anything bigger than that going on in the movie. Whereas the original had a lot of big and depressing things to say about society, right? But regardless, I definitely would put it up there with Cronenberg’s version of The Fly in terms of being a quality remake. I found it to be highly watchable. It zipped along nicely. You know how I hate long movies, right? When I saw this was nearly two hours long, I was like, “Ugh.” But then it went quickly. What say you?

Sean: Hmmm…. I liked it. I wouldn’t go farther than that maybe.

Kristine: Not as much as the original, I gather.

Sean: No. But they’re very different, right?

Postmodernist statement on race in America.

Kristine: Yes, I think they are quite different. This felt a lot more like an action/adventure film.

Sean: I mean, I kind of can’t forgive a movie that has that “Down with the Sickness” song in it twice (in both Muzak and regular versions).

Kristine: Oh God, that was terrible.

Sean: But I love both Sarah Polley and Jake Weber as the leads. And that opening ten minutes, where Sarah Polley’s Ana wakes up and all hell has broken loose, is pretty spectacular.

Kristine:  I agree the opener is great. I liked Polley and Weber (who looks like a bizarre amalgamation of David Arquette and Tim Roth) a lot. I also really liked Michael Kelly as CJ.

Sean: I actually said to my boyfriend during the movie, “He’s like a hot Tim Roth,” about Jake Weber.

Kristine:  Exactly. But for me the main thing this movie has over the original film is fast zombies. Sorry, but fast zombies are so much scarier than slow zombies. I get that slow zombies work really well as a representation of the plodding multitudes that just keep coming. And I get the appeal of that classic zombie formula, where the slow, gathering hordes work as a social critique of mass culture and mob mentality and the rest of it. But fast zombies are scary. What was the first film to feature fast zombies? Was it 28 Days Later? (And don’t start with the “they aren’t zombies, they’re infected people” bullshit).

Sean: The first movie to feature fast zombies is also the Movie That Shaped and Changed My Brain for All Time: The Return of the Living Dead. The best zombie movie ever made.

Kristine: I see. And what year was that made?

Sean: 1985.

Splitting headache.

Kristine: I still get scared thinking about one scene from 28 Weeks Later where Robert Carlyle is running across a field in broad daylight being chased down by hordes of fast zombies. Terrifying. Do you agree that fast zombies are scarier, even if slow zombies make for a better metaphor?

Sean: Oh god yes. I completely agree, with only one exception: the original Night of the Living Dead still scares me with the slow zombies. But fasties are scarier in all other instances.

Kristine: Okay, I want you to do something for me.

Sean: Yes, ma’am. Anything.

Kristine: I need you to explain this complicated zombie movie chronology to me, because I’m getting a little bit lost. When were Romero’s original zombie movies again? And which ones got remakes? And when were the remakes? And which ones have we watched and which ones haven’t we watched? I’m suffering from zombie confusion.

Sean: Ok, the original zombie movie on which the modern, Walking Dead-style zombie is based is George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). There were zombie movies made prior, but they were either Caribbean voodoo-inspired automatons or just shambling weirdos. The modern zombie as we know it today enters the culture with Night of the Living Dead.

Kristine: Right.

Sean: About a decade later, Romero makes a sequel called Dawn of the Dead (1978), with an assist from Dario Argento. Dawn is set in the same universe as Night, but they don’t share any characters. There’s not any real direct continuity between the two. We’ve watched both. In 1985, Romero finally gets around to completing his trilogy with Day of the Dead. Like Dawn, Day has its own set of characters and is set in the same basic universe as the previous two films. But again, there’s no direct continuity between the three films. We’ll be watching Day of the Dead later this month.

From the Secret Diary of the Emmy Voting Committee, Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy section.

Kristine: Okay. Got that. But what about remakes?

Sean:  Night of the Living Dead was remade in 1990 by Tom Savini, FX-man extraordinaire. Romero was involved with the production. In fact, he wrote the screenplay for the remake and a couple of stars from the original movie did cameos. We haven’t watched it, but hopefully we’ll get to it someday. Another remake (Night of the Living Dead 3D) was released direct-to-DVD in 2007, which I’ve never seen and have heard is shit.

Kristine: Ok. This is getting complicated.

Sean: Oh, I agree. As you now know, Dawn of the Dead was remade in 2004 by Zack Snyder, with the beloved James Gunn (who wrote and directed cult classics Super and Slither) writing the screenplay. Romero gave the following quote in reaction to the remake: “It was better than I expected. … The first 15, 20 minutes were terrific, but it sort of lost its reason for being. It was more of a video game. I’m not terrified of things running at me; it’s like Space Invaders. There was nothing going on underneath.” Based on the success of Snyder’s version of Dawn, Day of the Dead was remade as a direct-to-DVD movie in 2008. No one from the Dawn remake was involved, except for Ving Rhames, who is in it but not as his character from Dawn. As a totally different character. Confusing. I’ve seen the Day remake and it is a horrible piece of crap. It’s really awful.

Kristine: Okay, so the original trilogy goes NightDawnDay. And The Return of the Living Dead is not a Romero movie. And he was not involved with making it.

Sean: Shit. Here’s where things get really complicated.

Kristine: Ok, I’m ready.

Banksy Was Here.

Sean: John Russo, the novelist who wrote the screenplay for Night of the Living Dead in 1968, parted ways with Romero. Legally, Russo owned the rights to the “Living Dead” moniker, though Romero was free to create his own zombies movies. He just couldn’t use the phrase “Living Dead” – thus, Romero’s sequel is titled Dawn of the Dead. In 1977, Russo wrote a novel called Return of the Living Dead that was meant to be a sequel to the original 1968 film. He then wrote a screenplay and began the process of developing it into a feature film. Along the way – I’ll skip over the finer details here – Dan O’Bannon (the guy who’d written the screenplay for Alien) came on board and completely rewrote the script and took over as director. So the 1985 film The Return of the Living Dead is O’Bannon’s own unique vision and bears almost no similarities to Russo’s 1977 novel.

Kristine: Okay. Have you read it?

Sean: No, I’ve never read the novel.

Kristine: What does Romero think about The Return of the Living Dead? Are Russo and Romero enemies, or do they love each other’s movies?

Sean: I don’t think they’re enemies, but I think The Return of the Living Dead is a thorn in Romero’s side because it came out the same year as his own movie, Day of the Dead. And Return was a hit, while Day flopped. I think that annoys and pains Romero. Plus, the people who owned Romero’s movie sued the makers of Return, claiming that the public would be confused about the two movies. They wanted to prevent Return from coming out, but they lost. End of story.

Kristine: Okay. I think I got it. Can I list the things I liked about the Dawn of the Dead remake?

Sean: Please.

Kristine: Tom Savini‘s cameo as the sheriff on tv who coins the term “twitcher.” I was so happy when I recognized him right away.

Sean: 275 horror movie points awarded. But what about Ken Foree? Peter from the original Dawn of the Dead? Who also played Charlie Altamont in The Devil’s Rejects?

Homophobic cameo.

Kristine: No, I missed him. Fuck.

Sean: Subtract 760 horror movie points.

Kristine: No.

Sean: He was the televangelist fire-and-brimstone preacher who was like, “Man-on-man relations” blah blah blah.

Kristine: Oh, right. Okay…

Sean: And what about Scott Reiniger, who played Roger in the original? He’s the army general on tv who is like, “I suggest you come to Ft. Pastor.”

Kristine: Ok, I also love the “hijinks in the mall” sequence (which also appeared in the original movie) when the motley crew of outsiders is allowed a few minutes to have fun and cavort in all the stores and stuff.

Sean: I loved that, too. Though the blonde chick in the lingerie was a bit much. Pulling out her tits to get buttfucked by the dad from Modern Family?

Kristine: Agreed.

Sean: Did you think the movie made good use of the mall setting?

Kristine: Not good enough. I think there was room for more. Every time they did use it, I enjoyed it (like the birthing scene in the Babies”R”Us store or whatever). I don’t understand why the setting wasn’t utilized more.

Sean: I want to just state that the obese zombie woman running at Ana with her gigantic stomach bouncing and her arms raised was terrifying.

Movie to world: Fat people are abject (also see, Cemetery Man).

Kristine: I wanted that obese lady to be put out of her misery as soon as I saw her, before she even become zombified. She was terrifying and repulsive.

Sean: Word.

Kristine: I want to restate how much I loved Michael Kelly as CJ. He looked super familiar to me but I couldn’t place him – then I realized that I knew him from that Netflix show House of Cards, where he plays a bald, nebbishy weasel who is Kevin Spacey’s Chief-of-Staff. The complete and total opposite of CJ. I died when I realized it was him. I really enjoyed his performance here and not only because I found him hot. Granted, his character’s transformation is totally underwritten, but he plays such a good redneck asshole. But then he goes on to provide excellent evidence for why, if possible, it is always good to have a redneck on your side in a crisis (weldin’ skills, shootin’ skills, gasoline hurlin’ skills)

Sean: I actually really liked how the movie made it seem like the jerky secuirty guys would be major antagonists, but then they sort of joined the team. I liked how the movie undercut some of our clichéd expectations in that way. But I hated the twink security guard’s “no-mance” with that redheaded bulbous-forehead girl.

Kristine: I also have to say that (reminiscent of Kate Hudson in The Skeleton Key) I found it ludicrous that Ana was parading around in a sundress and flip-flops throughout the mall. You never know when zombies could get in and you have to run for your life. If I were in that situation, I would find The North Face and be fully decked out in survivalist everything, ready to scale the sides of buildings and parkour away from zombie hordes.

Sean: I am really enjoying the thought of you in North Face outdoorswoman clothing.

Kristine: I am wearing a puffy vest right now. And L.L. Bean duck shoes. So.

Sean: Hmmmm.

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 1.24.56 PM
Inexplicable gay prison sex scene.

Kristine: I love how you think that in a zombie apocalypse, I would choose to don a twee vintage cocktail dress and kitten heels. Grrrrr.

Sean: “Kitten heels” makes me vomit.

Kristine: I was amused by the movie’s portrayal of mall security guards as power-hungry, small men. I thought the second-in-command guy was hilarious.

Sean: I wasn’t that keen on the moment where the old gay guy is like, telling his coming out story to CJ and his crony while they are locked up and stripping their shirts off. And CJ is like, “This is hell!” The joke in that scene was most definitely on the old gay, not on their homophobia. Gross.

Kristine: That was weird for sure. That scene should have ended up on the cutting room floors.

Sean: It was like, “Hi, a straight man director thought this would be hilarious.” I hated it.

Kristine: Yeah, agreed. But speaking of man-on-man relations, I loved the long-distance bromance between Andy the gun shop owner and Ving Rhames’ Kenneth.

Sean: The scariest moment in the movie, for me, is when Andy holds the blood-smeared sign up and you realize he’s become a zombie. Like this uncanny horrible shadow of the way they used to communicate. That was awesome. Do you agree?

Kristine: Yes, I loved all the Andy scenes and I was really upset at his fate.

Cute suicide, Michael. Adorbs.

Sean: Yeah, the Kenneth/Andy stuff was a really great invention of James Gunn’s screenplay. The redheaded girl going to the gun store after the dog was….

Kristine: You are getting into my “Dislike” list. Stop. Let’s stick with what we liked, for now.

Sean: Fine, but she was horrid.

Kristine: Agreed. I appreciated how the Andy relationship gives Kenneth some motivation – he has to have something to live and fight for, right? At first it’s getting to Ft. Pastor to find his brother, then it’s Andy.

Sean: Yes, for sure.

Kristine: What about the utter horror of the little nuclear family’s fate (Andre, Luda and child)? God, was that dark.

Sean: Zombie baby.

Kristine: It made me very uncomfortable that Luda was shackled to the bed in order to give birth, even though I knew she was a zombie. It still was just troubling as fuck. The whole sequence was totally harrowing through and through, for me.

Sean: Well, yeah. I thought it was a pretty amazing metaphor for “traditional family as prison/bondage for lady.” Though, to be honest, I was bored by all the Andre/Luda stuff, and Luda’s character and presence in the movie was annoying and discomfiting to me. I watched this with my friend Cannon and 45 minutes into the movie she was like, “Has that goddamned pregnant woman even spoken?” And she hadn’t. Wait, I think she’d nervously whispered “I have to pee” to Andre. She is there, like every other female character in this movie besides Ana, to function as a prop more than a person. She’s the symbolic mother figure, and she needn’t speak or have needs and desires beyond “I have to pee.” Redheaded Forehead just wants to wuv a puppy. Blondie just wants to get reamed and strut about. That’s it. Whereas Kenneth, Andre, Michael and CJ get multiple shadings to their characters.

Suburban shock.

Kristine: I can’t really argue with that.

Sean: I thought the zombie baby effect was cool looking, though. And sure the baby stuff was bleak, I guess… I don’t know. I wasn’t into it.

Kristine: Poor zombie baby. I was upset for baby.

Sean: You were?

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: I would have been much happier if it had eaten its way out of the mother or eaten Andre’s face or something. I wanted zombie baby mayhem.

Kristine: Eaten it’s way out of mom, killed dad, and then scurried off into the mall, giggling like a gremlin.

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: And frolicked in a fountain.

Sean: Yes. Like the baby from Dead Alive.

Kristine: Exactly what I was going to say. I loved that baby so much.

Sean: 400 zombie points awarded.

Kristine: I know that all the various ladies in the ensemble were disappointing cardboard props, but I still loved Sarah Polley as Ana and loved that she was our lead character. And I especially dug how smart and resourceful Ana is – remembering to grab her car keys before she flees her home in the opening sequence and remembering to grab asshole Steve’s boat keys even though zombies are descending upon her.

Luda inexplicably births a Garbage Pail Kid.

Sean: Yeah, I agree with you there. Ana is just smart and gritty and good and I loved the chemistry between her and Michael. I was sad that he had to die.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: I like, sort of cried.

Kristine: I never realized how tiny Sarah Polley is. She must be like 5’1″.

Sean: Oh yeah, she’s a total Winona Ryder. Did you love her husband getting zombified at the beginning, and her neighborhood all descended into apocalyptic chaos? How her zombie husband was chasing her car, but then just veered off to eat someone else after a block?

Kristine: Yes, that was all good. I thought her husband was ugh and I was glad when he got it.

Sean: Agreed.

Kristine: I thought the movie overall looked really great, like that scene where the camera just pans around to take in all the devastation in Ana’s neighborhood, or when she’s fleeing in her car and we see a bird’s eye view of the city burning and like, trucks smashing into gas stations and stuff.

Sean: Yes. And that particular detail – the truck that smashes into the gas station – is actually a nod to Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead. When Ben tells Barbra the story of how he came to be at the farmhouse, he describes a very similar scene, where a truck covered in zombies barrels into a gas station and it explodes.

Kristine: Right, right. But for the most part, I enjoyed Snyder’s stylized visuals (though I do have a few complaints in this area). I thought the opening and closing credits were effective and scary, and I thought I was over jumpcuts. But you’re right that the music was abysmal at times.

Sean: But how great was ending with the Jim Carroll Band song?

Hot rednecks always get the coolest death scenes.

Kristine: Oh, sure, but that song is just great.

Sean: So great and such a great pop reference for a zombie movie. This is the thing about Zack Snyder. Do you know of him?

Kristine: I don’t.

Sean: He’s famous for directing CGI fanboy-epics like 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch Things like that.

Kristine: I haven’t seen any of those movies.

Sean: He can have a very keen pop sensibility (Jim Carroll Band) or he can also have a nightmarish one (“Down With the Sickness”). Let me respond to your earlier comment that there is no political context to the movie, unlike the original. I actually don’t agree. But I just think that Snyder takes the genuinely subversive, paranoid elements of the original movie and turns them into pop spectacle. The best example being the opening credits montage that you just mentioned of all the real-world news footage of war, conflict, riots, etc. set to the Johnny Cash song. I mean, that’s Snyder’s version of political commentary. It’s a very “YouTube generation” way to stage political commentary. What do you think?

Kristine: I think it’s actually underscoring what you’re saying – sure, that is political commentary – but it totally lets those who don’t want to indulge in thinking critically off the hook. You don’t have to think about the images, you can just read them as generically scary images of chaos, right? He is not making the viewer connect the movie with other, real life horrors, or making a point of how society shows it’s true colors when the shit hits the fan. Like I said earlier, in this version the asshole, antagonist characters are that way just because they’re assholes, right? There’s no real examination of whatever larger social or cultural or political forces shape characters in specific ways. And in the case of CJ, they redeem themselves without any real story arc explaining how or why. The only scene I can think of that hints at a larger infrastructure of power imbalance is when the helicopter passing overhead clearly sees them and is obviously not going to rescue them. The Man does not have the backs of the hoi polloi. Right?

Sean: Right. I totally agree. The movie is slick post-MTV, post-YouTube entertainment, and has about as much depth and complexity.  That’s fine – I don’t mind it, as long as we’ve still got the original Romero to revisit and go back to. It’s a very different style and mindset of moviemaking than Romero, as captured by his quote from earlier. But this is why I can’t say it’s a great remake, like Cronenberg’s version of The Fly or Carpenter’s remake of The Thing. It does not earn a place among those films, for me. But it’s a fun, good, gripping piece of pop cinema, and I like it.

Kristine: Let’s talk about what we disliked.

The truth about children: inside they are all like…. THIS!

Sean: Nicole, the redheaded girl with giant forehead.

Kristine: Number one with a bullet is Nicole. Lame.

Sean: Hated her.

Kristine: Stupid. The only skill she contributes to the group is… spray-painting?

Sean: I am offended that so many movies make the person who loves dogs into a simpering idiot. Like, dog people are all twee, sentimental morons. Not true. Plus that dog was cute.

Kristine: The only time I felt any empathy for Nicole was when the group was lowering Chips from the roof into the horde of zombies so it could bring Andy some food. I was dying.

Sean: Agreed on the puppy-lowering scene. I was screaming “No!” at the tv.

Kristine: I know the RIMAs ended up being right that the zombies only wanted human flesh – but how did they know?

Sean: But in terms of Nicole, I don’t like when the plot of a movie is moved forward because some stupid girl character does something stupid and the movie is like “See how dumb girls are!?”

Kristine: And God was she dumb. Let’s run down the list of female characters while we are doing our dislikes. Here I go: 1. Nicole, the simpering slow-witted redhead.

Sean: Hate.

Kristine: 2. Luda, the walking Russian womb who never speaks.

Sean: I thought she was Iranian? But she was a nothing.

Kristine: No, don’t you remember that the one time she speaks, she is whining about how she wants the baby to have a Russian name?

In the parking lot at Lollapalooza ’94

Sean: Right.

Kristine: 3. Norma, the trucker who gets killed.

Sean: Loved her, but didn’t like that she wound up exterminating the 21st century non-white family.

Kristine: 4. Monica, the bitchy blond bimbo.

Sean: Who gets like, cut to shreds by a chainsaw, along with the old gay. Which is basically a statement about how much use Zack Snyder has for bimbos and queers.

Kristine: 5. Obese wheelbarrow woman from Hell. That’s it, right? Not very encouraging.

Sean: Like I said before, if Sarah Polley wasn’t the lead, the movie would be over-the-top ridiculous misogyny. As it is, it’s just stupidly unimaginative and sexist.

Kristine: Yes. So, I said that for the most part I enjoyed the aesthetics and visual choices in the movie, but I did find the abundant and nonsensical usage of close-up slow-motion shots to be really irritating and just dumb. Examples: slo-mo close-up of CJ combing his hair (shot from above). Slo-mo close-up of Norma dropping her cigarette and stamping it out. Ten thousand slo-mo close-ups of shell casings falling to the floor… At first I thought those shots were foreshadowing something important (only possibly true in the case of Norma’s cig – right before she enters the baby shop and finds the zombie family), but they were just there… Why? Because the director likes slo-mo close-ups?


Sean: This is Zack Snyder’s signature thing. The slo-mo.

Kristine: Oh, really? Like I said, I’m not familiar with his oeuvre. But all the slow motion close-ups were hella dumb.

Sean: Totes dumb.

Breakdancing zombie?

Kristine: It reminded me of that one scene from The Devil’s Rejects – the slo-mo shoot-out that is totally a music video? Do you know what I am talking about?

Sean: Yeah, I think so.

Kristine: I was mad that I wasted some of my brain trying to remember the slo-mo scenes in case they proved to be significant later. I gave that up after the 80th slo-mo close-up of a shell case dropping… Do you agree that overall the visuals are pleasing if a little overstylized at times?


Sean: That’s exactly how I’d put it, yes. My big theory is that Zack Snyder’s flourishes are an example of male melodrama. All the stylistic stuff, the excess… It’s almost Baz Luhrman-esque.

Kristine: Like in the place of the music swelling?

Sean: Sure, yes.

Kristine: Totally agree.

Sean: What did you make of the superbleak ending? Where the movie becomes a found footage movie in the last few seconds?

Kristine: It was… super bleak. There is at least some hope in the original. But for me, nothing will top the bleakness of the ending of Night of the Living Dead. I’m trying to think of other movies we have watched with super-nihilistic, bleak endings… Help me out.

Sean: Wake in Fright. 28 Weeks Later.

Kristine: Yes, yes.

Sean: Um, A Serbian Film.

Movie to Luda: Just lie there, Womb, and do what God made you to do.

Kristine: Oh, God. Yes.

Sean: The Wicker Man. The Devils. The Brood. The Stepford Wives.

Kristine: Sure, I guess.

Sean: The Devils? So bleak! The Stepford Wives? The bleakest!

Kristine: The Devils, yes. I can’t take The Stepford Wives seriously enough to feel bleakness from it.

Sean: OMG, Repulsion. Black Christmas. Phantasm. The Omen. Lots of 1970s movies have überbleak endings.

Kristine: Yes. But do you agree with me that Night of the Living Dead is still the most harrowing of all?

Sean: One of the most, yes. So is this nihilistic ending just not same kind of nihilism as the original Night of the Living Dead? If so, how are they different?

Kristine: Because Ben was killed by humans, not zombies, for one. He survived the zombies and then was killed by a lynch mob of whites.

Sean: Right…

Kristine: The imagery of Ben’s body on the burning woodpile has a lot of other social/historical connections. Here, it’s like… Well, they had a good run of it and they had a chance.

Sean: Remember in the final found footage moments when they open the ice cooler on the boat and there’s that sick zombie head in it gurgling?

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 1.24.08 PM
Chronicle of a Gay Foretold

Kristine: Gross. When you are ready, I have something to add that I expect will earn me many horror movie club points.

Sean: I am ready.

Kristine: I noticed a name in the opening credits and a quick Google check that confirms: The costume design for this movie is done by… Denise Cronenberg. I was 99% sure it had to be wife/sibling of David (it’s his sister) because of the name and because I knew they filmed in Canada. And I was right.

Sean: Oh.

Kristine: I am awaiting accolades and points to rain on my head.

Sean: I am impressed. Good catch.

Kristine: How many points?

Sean: Mmmm… 250.

Kristine: Fine.

Sean: One last thing. I noticed that the cast of characters in this movie is conspicuously and pointedly blue collar. They’re all reg’lar folks that we don’t often see as main characters in movies like this: a Best Buy salesman, a nurse, a security guard, etc. I think there’s some element of class consciousness there. Or something.

Kristine: Maybe that is part of the reason the helicopter doesn’t pick them up. They aren’t the 1%. Like, Nicholas Van Orton from The Game probably has an underground zombie-proof bunker for exactly this occasion, right? These characters are at a loss, with nowhere to go, so they gather at the church of the common man: the shopping mall. Rich folks don’t need to go to the mall.

Sean: Agreed. That’s well put. That’s what I was driving at.

Ratings Roundup

The Girl’s Rating: Stylistic triumph AND A good romp

The Freak’s Rating: Slick, bloody and fun AND Horror for the YouTube generation


15 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004)

  1. My comments from earlier this year:

    Frankly, it seems to me that whoever decided to make this simply used preexisting situations and events. It’s not like there weren’t already exploration post Dawn of the Dead (1978) with the Italian Spaghetti horrors.So instead of actually remaking the classic Dawn and contributing a new spin they made Dawn of the Crazies.

    Remember that prologue in the ghetto? The comment on civilization and modern long distance communications? All of the social commentary of the original is gone.
    The new, improved crazies barely give our heroes a chance so that it does not even seem worthwhile to take chances, and when they do it proves hopeless. The darkness of Return of the Living Dead was already cranked up from the original Dawn, but it was tempered with lots of humor. Here the humor is all but absent and there is no hope.

    Violent zombies were already attempted in Re-Animator, but it was on a one to one basis and that was more than enough to make the point.
    We do not need our heroes overwhelmed when the crazies are already going 60 mph. I admit the scene with the two Dead Reckoning vehicles was effective, but to what end?*

    Also, Romero has always a masterfully presented great characters by taking his time and allowing moments of lull to develop them, we do not get that here. We don’t care who dies or does not. Even potentially good characters like the guy across the street are bumped off and instead we are stuck together with vapid characters. A few other characters had potential, but it was never developed.

    The other ‘big’ contribution, the living dead baby, was also already presented in Brain Dead / Dead Alive, not only that, it is already a part of general culture with the Living Dead Dolls line, and again such darkness is tempered with (dark) humor. But also, how much of a surprise was it? It was truly telegraphed right from the start.

    I really find this remake absolutely unnecessary in that it brings nothing new to the table. Not that it is not enjoyable on its own, but in that is is a lousy introduction for newcomers to the genre, though apparently it is meant for fans of the original (thus the cameos).

    My rating: See it for curiosity’s sake, but absolutely forgettable: stick with the superior original.

    *This movie and World War Z need not only lessons in the Square-Cube Law but also the Law of Diminishing Returns as applied to Human Resources Management: There comes a point where adding more people becomes counterproductive to the effort. More is sometimes less.

  2. Opening credits and found footage ending were cool – everything in between was pretty lame. It was just…nothing, instantly forgettable.
    Please remind me – did this version have the bikers invade the mall?

  3. Exploration? I think I meant explored “It’s not like there weren’t already explored post Dawn of the Dead (1978)”

    Also, Sarah Polley so soon after Michele Soavi! (both are Munchausen alumni.)

  4. Herman – I wouldn’t disagree with ANY of the points you make here – and they’re really well-put to boot. But I think one of the issues with this remake is the basic identity confusion of the project itself. When you remark here that “apparently [the remake] is meant for fans of the original (thus the cameos)” I think that’s not quite right. I don’t actually think this movie was made for fans of the original. I think the cameos are there for two reasons: 1) Zack Snyder himself is a fanboy, and he’s making references for his own edification that aren’t necessarily meant to be received or understood by his audience (I’d label this The Problem With Fanboy Directors – I mean, take a look at Tarantino – what percentage of his audience really groks all the reference, both musical and cinematic, that he makes in his movies? Those references are there for masturbatory reasons mostly though I DO think Tarantino is more interested in having larger conversations in the language of Mass Culture than Snyder is) which leads to 2) The cameos are there as armor against detractors who are ready to discredit the project. The cameos are a Mass Culture example of tokenism, where you have them around just to take the power away from your detractors (like, How can you say I’m sexist when we’ve got two women working on the project?” but here it’s “How can you say I have no genre cred when I have these awesome cameos?”). It’s like, Snyder wants his movie to really be a big popcorny sugary snack for the masses, but he ALSO wants to try to legitimize it to the Romero crowd. He can’t do both. It’s a catch-22.

  5. I sort of disagree just as a matter of comparison between this movie and most other mainstream/Hollywood horror releases. When I look at this movie compared to say, any Underworld, Resident Evil, Paranormal Activity or Saw film, it looks better in comparison. If I compare it to weirder, more interesting zombie movies like Re-Animator, RotLD, Night of the Creeps, Romero’s og trilogy, etc. it looks bigger and dumber. To me, it’s all about the basis for comparison.

  6. Recently I had to screen NOTLD for my fifteen year old daughter, just in case she saw one of the new generation of zombie films (which is almost inevitable at this point) just so she could properly place them in the proper context and so she’d have something to compare.

    Needless to say, it blew her mind. Later in the year we (the whole family) saw World War Z, which again by strict definition is a Crazies film. But at least she had the NOTLD background already.

    If someone saw this version of Dawn before the Romero films, I can only see it diluting their effect.

    I really do not mind fast versus slow zombies, but they do feel to me like two distinct sub-genres which affect the viewer in different ways. The slow zombies makes the viewer focus more on the inevitable disease, death and decay all of us are heading to. See The Walking Dead with their “kill me before I turn” emphasis. No surprise that Nicotero (a long time Romero collaborator) is involved in Walking Dead.

    This focus becomes lost with the fast zombies, which for the most part become a ferocious, lethal sort of predator*, instead of a sad, funereal meditation on what happens to our bodies on our way to and immediately after death.

    *Why is it that we don’t see obese, disabled elderly or weak ‘fast’ zombies? ROTLD did this with the freaky amputee zombie to very memorable effect. If filmmakers insist on showing us fast zombies wouldn’t it be cool to show us zombies breaking bones or destroying themselves by their own viciousness?

  7. I think this movie looks OK next to most other horror movie remakes of the last 15 years, but that’s the highest praise I can give it.

    I’m glad you mentioned the music. I think Zack Snyder’s ability to effectively combine music and image is right up there with Johnny Cash’s ability to sing falsetto. Using When The Man Comes Around over the opening credits is a great idea, but it seems randomly placed over the footage. His other movies have similar problems, e.g. Watchmen uses songs explicitly referenced in the comic book, but in every single case it’s just distracting because it’s slapped in wherever.

    I’d be interested in reading James Gunn’s original script for this (before it was rewritten by Michael Tolkin and Scott Frank) because I’ve read an interview with Sarah Polley saying that she signed on for this because she thought that the political commentary was even stronger than the original. Given that she lost two teeth to the riot police while protesting against a conservative government, I’d hope she is politically aware.

    I also want to know if the rumour is true that in the original script, the human zombies weren’t interested in the dog, but then the canine zombies came running out. It’s a little trite, but it would have been vastly preferable to the ridiculous scene of Nicole running off alone to save the pooch. Ugh.

  8. Would also LOVE to read Gunn’s original screenplay. But I’m fine with this being a piece of popcorn entertainment. I’m not sure I believe Snyder is capable of making anything else. If Gunn himself’d had solo control over writing and directing, this might have been a modern masterpiece.

  9. I think it’s funny that the reason Gunn didn’t do rewrites or generally get more involved in Dawn of the Dead is because he was to busy writing & co-producing Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed.

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