Thursday, May 22, 2008

Let it be said though that I liked Land of the Dead, I don't care what the rest of the interweb says.

Have you ever noticed that zombie movies all take place in a universe WITHOUT zombie movies? It's as though zombies are a completely foreign concept to anyone who stumbles across one. It never clicks in anyone's mind that 'Hey! I've seen shit like this before on the TV!'

Wait, that's not entirely true. If it's a zombie movie with a bit of comedy, then you can acknowledge that zombies are in movies.

Of course this has nothing to do with anything else. Just one of those things that sticks in my head after watching Diary of the Dead, aka George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead. That's important, it's a Romero zombie movie.

This time, rather than taking on racial stereotypes or consumerism or militarism or corporate greed, we're attacking...YouTube. And blogs. And this 24 hour information overload society. Ok. Fine. I agree that this whole 'everyone's opinion matters and should be shoved online' thing might be a bad idea. I'll also readily admit that I'm a part of the problem. I have a Myspace, a LiveJournal, this blog, a Facebook, I use Twitter, I post pictures from my camera phone to another blog. I make my vacation photos available online via Picasa. And you know what else? I'll be the first to admit that nothing I do online matters to anyone else. More people come here from the Google looking for the pictures I've posted than for anything I have to say. I'd get a lot more attention if I were posting pictures of Scarlett Johansson naked.

Where was I going with that?

Ok, right, Diary of the Dead is about a handful of kids and an old drunk professor trying to survive in a world over run by zombies. Chronologically speaking, in the Romero zomb-iverse (I just made that up, you like it? Feel free to use it yourself), this takes place at about the same time as Night of the Living Dead. It's right at the beginning of the outbreak. Luckily though, these kids are all student film makers, so they have the most important thing to have in a zombie attack, a camera! As soon as the zombies see that, they get all self-conscious and start primping and worrying about the extra ten pounds that the camera puts on, so they have to rip out there guts to shed the weight, but then their guts are all over the ground and they start tripping over them and falling down. Then they start chasing each other, and then they're chasing the people and then the people are chasing the zombies and suddenly it turns into a Benny Hill skit.

I made that last part up. It may as well have though. At least that would have been unexpected. Instead, you have a fairly by-the-numbers zombie movie. And if anyone else had made it, this would be an entirely different article. But this is a Romero zombie movie. It's held to a different standard. Romero isn't just a director of zombie movies, he's a brand name. Romero is Pepsi to Sam's Choice Cola, he's Kraft Macaroni and Cheese to Kroger Brand Mac N' Cheese. It's a different standard. And when held to that standard, Diary withers.

The characters are shallow and underdeveloped. No one has a back story. Tony is the angry young man because he's from Brooklyn. Eliot is the technology nerd, you can tell because of his glasses. Everyone is just a poorly developed stereotype. At one point, our Scooby Gang gets stopped. By 3 angry black men. With guns. It wouldn't have been so annoying, and mildly racist, if the scene had been necessary. But, in looking back, if the whole time the were with them had been cut out, the movie would hardly have been effected. The only minorities in the movie are thrilled that they're in power now that everyone else who had the power before left! They didn't earn it. They weren't the ones who kept cool and gathered supplies and came to be respected for their foresight and ability to handle pressure. No, they stumbled into it.

This is the kind of social commentary that Romero gives us in 2008? And, what is he even trying to say about YouTube and the 'information age'? The heroes are the cameramen. This isn't exactly a vilification. The director takes time out to upload some footage to MySpace, and while he gets yelled at briefly for taking the time to do it, he's not shunned or cast out for it either.

And am I the only one that's already sick of this whole 'video taping it ourselves', 'this is the recovered footage' style of film making that's cropped up? The Blair Witch Project was original and Cloverfield was well done...but now, after 3 movies, I'm done. How much variety can you get out of the concept? How many different reasons can you have for some group of kids to have a camera ready to go when all hell breaks loose?

From any other director, this would have been a fun movie. There'd be no afterthought to it. You'd watch it, think, that wasn't bad and move on with life. But, like I said, it's held to a different standard because of the director. So, Diary of the Dead gets 6 eyeballs exploding after having a defibrulator discharged against the zombie's heads out of 10.