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Land of the Dead

George A. Romero may have created the zombie genre as we know it, with his breakthrough 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead and his heralded 1979 follow up, Dawn of the Dead, but his fourth movie in the series, 2005's Land of the Dead, suggests that Romero would be best advised to give it up and leave it to others to carry on his mantle. Following the impact of Romero's dark, gory and satirical Dawn of the Dead, zombie movies spread like a plague via the prolific, low budget machinery of Italian horror cinema, but it wasn't until 2004 that they came anywhere close to a mainstream breakthrough. That year, Zack Snyder's energetic and superior Dawn of the Dead remake and the fun crossover hit romantic comedy from England, Shaun of the Dead, brought the armies of the flesh-eating undead into American multiplexes, deservedly expanding their appeal from a clique of morbid gore cultists to a wider audience by adding solid production values, rich characters, and sophisticated wit to the grindhouse formula. But Romero's return to his career franchise in 2005 — in stark comparison to the films he inspired — is a monumental letdown. In a world already overrun by brain-dead, flesh-hungry monsters, a super-rich fascist, Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), has created an oasis for the upperclass: a luxurious city island protected from zombie assault by bordering rivers and a perimeter padding of wild underclass ghettoes. Kaufman's oasis is threatened when the previously feebleminded undead begin to develop rudimentary smarts and communication skills and advance on his superficially isolated kingdom, but this shallow regurgitation of post-apocalyptic class-warfare tropes is merely a subplot to the mind-numbingly dull and pointless key narrative about slum-dwelling bandits-for-hire (Simon Baker and John Leguizamo chief among them) battling for control of a hi-tech zombie-slaying rig. Where Romero's earlier hits succeeded by focusing on desperate, ordinary characters under siege, Land of the Dead scatters its focus across a handful of aimless and/or shallow subplots populated with wooden, hardened characters who elicit little in the way of empathy, and who display a baffling lack of sense for supposed veterans of the war on the undead. Land of the Dead's characters are so lifeless that the movie's only remotely intriguing character is the growling leader of the barely cognizant zombies, and zombies aren't exactly beacons of charisma. Gore fans may also be disappointed by the sparse and lackluster splatter, with nary a memorable dismemberment to be counted. Also with Robert Joy and Italian horror progeny Asia Argento (think Moira Kelly, but slutty). Universal's Land of the Dead: Unrated Director's Cut offers a fine anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The feature is accompanied by a commentary with Romero, producer Peter Grunwald, and editor Michael Doherty. Featurettes includes "Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead," "A Day with the Living Dead," "Bringing the Dead to Life," "The Remaining Bits," When Shaun Met George," "Scenes of Carnage," " Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene," "Bringing the Storyboards to Life," and "Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call." Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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