Wednesday, October 26, 2005

"When the dead walk the Earth, the word trouble loses much of its meaning."

Just in time for Halloween, George A. Romero's Gotterdammerung arrived from Netflix. I've waited 20 years, and must say that it's good, but not as good as Dawn or Day. Land of the Dead sums up the sociopolitical themes of the previous three installments, but while it is bitingly funny (no pun intended) like the others, and serves up astute satire, the film feels like a let-down even though I enjoyed it a great deal.

I can't explain this. Perhaps it's the fact that Romero has actors like Dennis Hopper and John Lequizamo hamming it up with his shambling extras instead of the typical Romero leads who are...well, only moderately better than the shambling extras. Perhaps it's the techno-metal score and the CGI. None of this is bad, or poorly done--quite the contrary. But I have a soft spot for the Tom Savini days (he does have a cameo as a machete-wielding zombie, which is great); this film is slick and polished, whereas much of the charm of the initial trilogy lay in its rough edges. While hitting the right notes, it doesn't feel like Romero's classics--I never got that awful apocalyptic dread I associate with his others. Could be I'm jaded, or was expecting too much.

But here's why it's good: Pittsburgh has become a zombie-free oasis where a single secured high-rise provides upscale living for the rich. Outside the high-rise are the masses who live hand-to-mouth, scrabbling for what they can get. Amongst these are some people who go outside the city and search for food in heavily armed gangs. They're lavishly paid by Mr. Kaufman (Hopper) for their services, but nightly some of them get eaten. Kaufman and his cronies get the best stuff from these raids, the crumbs go to the masses, and it isn't until one of these toughs tries to use his money to move into Kaufman's tower that we find out how strict the class structure is; he turns "terrorist" and the shiznet hits the fan. All of this is typical Romero--he's used zombies for critical analysis before, and nothing about modern America (the class system, terrorism, evolution, race, civil rights) is ignored in film number four. This time there's a twist, however. The zombies are starting to learn. They "remember" how to use tools (one zombie in Day hinted at things to come), they begin to communicate, and they start acting together, with awful results for Kaufman's last bastion of civilization.

If the previous films were Romero's Grundrisse and Das Kapital, then this is his Mutual Aid.

Warning: Despite the humor and intelligence behind this horror flick, this is still a Romero zombie film. There are the requisite feeding scenes, and while the camera does not linger as it once did, they are hard-core! Not for the squeamish.