Dawn of the Dead (2004) Review

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Isn’t a good remake an oxymoron

Dawn of the Dead (2004): 9 out of 10: I sympathize with the fanboys that feel any remake of Dawn of the Dead is sacrilegious. You get an emotional attachment to films that scared you in your youth. (One of mine is Assault on Precinct 13 that was remade recently and I just know I will be disappointed with the remake. I am still scared of ice cream trucks as a result of seeing that film when I was 9.)

Remakes themselves have a well deserved bad reputation. (the Easiest movie trivia question: What is the best film remake? The Maltese Falcon, of course. That Humphrey Bogart perennial was a remake of a 1931 film of the same name. I’m sure back in 1941 that there were a couple of people complaining that Bogart was no Ricardo Cortez and the ruined the story by taking out the affair and homosexual subplots. The first film after all was a pre-code affair. (The easiest TV movie remake 12 Angry Men with Henry Fonda)

Dawn of the Dead is, in reality, a different movie than the original. This is no shot for shot Psycho remake, nor is it the same movie with a glossier CGI coat of paint. It is a faster, more intense zombie film. It is one of the best action-horror films of the last ten years. The opening twenty minutes is simply one of the scariest action-packed sequences I have ever seen. By the time our band of protagonists gets to the mall, they are not the only ones catching their breath.

It becomes a pretty good-sized group at the mall, and you end up slogging through some slow bits as the zombies eat it down to a more manageable size. The acting is across the board good, and the effects are suitably gory and plentiful. (Thanks to David LeRoy Anderson and Nightmare on Elm Street scream queen Heather Langenkamp, of all people, who co-own AFX Studio) Director Zack Snyder wisely dumps much of Romero’s sociological subplots and replaces them with a more timely commentary. (Instead of zombies as consumer motifs, we have shooting undead celebrities. And instead of an outwardly hostile motorcycle gang, we have a more subtle power struggle between the otherwise powerless.)

The updates honestly work, as a more literal remake would have fallen flat. Is Dawn of the Dead better than the original? I won’t say. Is it one of the best films of 2004? Yes. Is it better than Romero’s sequel, Day of the Dead? Good Lord, yes.

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