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Gavin Schmitt

Blu-ray Review: "Land of the Dead" (2005)

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Years after the initial zombie outbreak ("Night of the Living Dead") a group of Pittsburgh survivors (maybe the last people on earth, for all we know) are holed up in the city surrounded by zombies... and on the inside, controlled by a very powerful man (Dennis Hopper) who will do anything to maintain his wealth and status.

George Romero stresses that this is not a sequel in any strict sense, seeing as no characters return. And indeed, one could skip the first three films and understand this one without difficulty. But yet, there are clearly recurring themes from the earlier tales. The rules are same, the infection is merely spread further. And there is a sense of living dead evolution, as Big Daddy is sort of the next generation from Bub in "Day of the Dead". In fact, the film draws on some elements from the original script for "Day".

From the beginning, you get the feeling this is going to be a great movie. The opening credits, with the references to the original film, were done very well (apparently created by Naomi Anderlini). You get a great sense of what it would be like to hear the radio call of a zombie outbreak, and the panic that would ensue. Unfortunately, every scene after the opening credits is on some level a let down that never matches the expectation.

Now, the cast is good. Simon Baker is a very good lead and John Leguizamo is wonderful (which could have gone either way, as he can also be quite annoying in some movies). Dennis Hopper played the powerful leader Kaufman, who was convincing with his lines such as "We do not negotiate with terrorists!" He could have been more Dennis Hopper-ish (you know, crazy, like in "Blue Velvet") but he did alright. And finally, we have the erection-inducing Asia Argento. Sadly, her role became more background than important as the film went on, and seemed to be there only for the purpose of having a "Gothic chick" attacked by zombies (and as a nod to her father's role in getting "Dawn of the Dead" off the ground). Even Tom Savini shows up, apparently as the same character from "Dawn", only now a zombie!

The gore is also good. This was Romero's move from classic practical effects to computerized, and he shifts very well. The gore really was good. It seemed to be added in at times to please the fans and not really be needed as part of the main story, but what we got was good. (Actually, this is a primary complaint -- the plot is more about rebels with a stolen tank than it is about zombies... the zombies are really not important to the story if you think about it, and that is just dumb for a "Living Dead" movie.)

The double-layered battle is clever: we have an outer ring of zombies, a middle ring of rebels, and an inner ring of the elite. The elite need the rebels to protect them from the undead, but the rebels struggle against both the zombies and the elite. Especially now that (some of) the zombies are becoming more intelligent. With rebels pushed between a rock and a hard place, which option will they pursue?

Any fan of Romero and his "Living Dead" series needs to see this. But the sad truth is that a comedy like "Shaun of the Dead" is actually a better zombie film than this real one. Even the "Dawn of the Dead" remake was better than this film, which is saying something. With all due respect to Romero, "Land" never quite reaches the levels of the original trilogy, though it does surpass the later attempts with "Survival" and "Diary". Furthermore, "Land" does age well and may be able to connect with audiences better today (2017) than when it came out. Certainly someone could make a Hopper-Trump connection if they wanted to.

Scream! Factory's 2017 Blu-ray is a collector's edition in every sense. The two-disc set has both the theatrical version and the slightly longer unrated version. The special features are far too many to list here. Beyond the many featurettes imported from an earlier release, we have plenty of new interviews (including one with Leguizamo and the highly entertaining Eugene Clarke). A new audio commentary was recorded with four of the zombie performers. There are storyboards, and we even get Roy Frumkes' "Dream of the Dead" documentary.

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