Legendary filmmaker George A. Romero returns to unleash another chapter in his zombie series! In this new tale of terror, Romero creates a harrowing vision of a modern-day world where the walking dead roam a vast uninhabited wasteland and the living try to lead "normal" lives behind the high walls of a fortified city. A new society has been built by a hand of ruthless opportunists, who live in luxury in the towers of a skyscraper, high above the less fortunate citizens who must eke out a hard life on the streets below. With the survival of the city at stake, a group of mercenaries is called into action to protect the living from the evolving army of the dead waiting outside the city walls. Land Of The Dead features a cast of great actors including Dennis Hopper, Simon Baker, Asia Argento, Robert Joy and John Leguizamo.
"In a world where the dead are returning to life, the word "trouble" loses much of its meaning."
I wasn't born a Zombie movie fan. I became one during a fateful night where a premium channel decided to run a Night of the Living Dead marathon. Before that night I hadn't really seen any zombie movies; I was an ardent slasher fan but I quickly got caught up. After seeing all of George Romero's Dead films virtually in one go, I was a dedicated fan of the man's work and I wanted to see a lot more undead gore from the father of the modern Zombie. Thanks to the back to back successes of the Dawn of the Dead remake and Shaun of the Dead, George was finally given a chance to return to the graveyard. Armed with a professional cast, studio support, and the largest budget of any Dead film, Land of the Dead was unleashed upon fans. While familiar Romero flavors are retained and there is plenty of gore to go around, it lacks the meaty satirical bite that made the previous films classics.
The world has gone to hell in a handbasket. With every bite, the living joins the ranks of an ever-growing army of walking undead flesh eaters. Society has had to close ranks in order to survive. Fiddlers Green is a thriving metropolis where those with power and money like Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) live high in their glass tower while those with little to nothing work as scavengers or live in slums. Armed with a military vehicle dubbed Dead Reckoning, Riley (Simon Baker) and his pal Charlie (Robert Joy) along with the hot-headed Cholo (John Leguizamo) lead the band of scavengers who head out each night to ransack supplies for the lazy wealthy back on the Green.
When Cholo's attempts to join the upper ranks and purchase a luxury apartment inside the Green are rejected by Kaufman, he steals Dead Reckoning and points the vehicles' massive arsenal towards the city. The only man capable of stopping Cholo is Riley, the man who built Dead Reckoning. But Riley wants out of the scavenging life and to be free of Fiddler's Green. Kaufman cuts him a deal; retrieve Dead Reckoning and get all the supplies necessary for a life among the walkers. If the living weren't enough trouble, Riley faces an army of walking corpses who are growing more intelligent and have become even more deadly.
I have vivid memories of my excitement at hearing the news that George Romero's long in development "Dead Reckoning" script was finally going to get made. I eagerly devoured news updates online and followed the development blogs. I loved the news that Tom Savini's protege Greg Nicotero who got started on Day of the Dead was going to be doing all of the gore effects for this film. The news that Dennis Hopper and Asia Argento would be a part of the cast felt right at home making the flick almost like a family affair. To say the least, when I went into the theater I was pumped. Leaving the theater 93-minutes later, my enthusiasm had lost a bit of its mojo.
While I will say Land of the Dead is a decent flick and is well made, it sadly didn't feel like it was worth the time and energy and excitement I spent eagerly awaiting its release. I don't know how much of the film's fate is due to studio meddling, but for a Romero film, it feels oddly toothless. The biting satire of early 2000s America was limp by comparison to what we were given with Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead. The various character's focus on cash and dollar values just doesn't stick. When food and other important consumable supplies are dwindling, it's tough to swallow Kaufman's stand that Dead Reckoning cost him $2,000,000. Or Cholo's scheme to hold Fiddler's Green hostage for millions of dollars? Where are you going to spend cash in a zombie apocalypse? I get that goods in short supply have a value but Dawn of the Dead kinda already pointed out that paper dollars have no real value other than fuel for a fire on a cold night or when the TP runs out.
Then there is the cast. While I appreciate Simon Baker trying to make Riley someone tired of being responsible for others, he just feels flat for a hero. Every line delivery sounds the same and I swear the man never blinks as he sternly stares at every person he talks angrily to. On the flip side, we have John Leguizamo as Cholo. I always like it when Leguizamo can lay into a character with some sleazy charm as he does well here but I don't quite buy him as the heavy with an attitude or a viable threat. That said, he does chew the scenery as good as any zombie. The letdown for me was Dennis Hopper. Hopper more or less just sits there and prattles off his lines without really giving any enthusiasm for the part. If he'd delivered an ounce of the menace and terror he exuded as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, his Kaufman might have been something memorable. Asia Argento's badass hooker with the heart of gold helps round out the cast and offers up a nice call back to Dario Argento's involvement with Dawn of the Dead making this flick feel like a family reunion of sorts.
That isn't to say I dislike Land of the Dead, I do enjoy it, but it's far from my favorite in the series. With a twenty year wait between films, Land of the Dead just feels like too little too late. Had the film been made in the mid-90s as planned, it might have worked a bit better when the stains of 80s excess were still apparent. Where I feel the need to frequently pull out the other three films for a viewing, I rarely feel that same pull with Land of the Dead. It's decent, it's got its moments and it is entertaining, but I don't love it as much as I want to. The Director's Cut that runs a few short minutes longer certainly works better, it's got a couple more character beats and there is quite a bit more gore, but there's nothing drastically different. If you've only ever seen the Theatrical Cut, you'll be hard-pressed to spot the differences.
At the end of the day, I dig Land of the Dead. It's not amazing. It's not the greatest Zombie film ever made nor is it George's best work, but it's still a solid watch. It's a great way to kick back and burn 90-minutes of your day and enjoy some delicious gore and moody atmosphere. It certainly wasn't George Romero's triumphant return to the genre he spawned, but it's a welcome addition none the less. If it's been awhile since you've last seen Land, I'd say it's a good time to give it another look. There's a lot to like and appreciate about this film, even if it may not be as grand as its predecessors.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Land of the Dead rises from the Blu-ray grave for the second time courtesy of Scream Factory in a two-disc Collector's Edition Blu-ray set. Both Region A locked BD-50 discs are housed in a standard sturdy 2-disc Blu-ray case with identical slipcover. There is also reversible artwork featuring the original theatrical poster art. Disc One contains the 93-minute Theatrical Cut and opens to an animated main menu with traditional navigation options. Disc Two contains the 97-minute Director's Cut and opens with a very touching tribute to George Romero before arriving at an animated main menu with traditional navigation options. New and archive bonus features are spread out over both discs.
For the first time, both cuts of Land of the Dead are now available on Blu-ray. The Theatrical Cut has been given a new 2K scan of the internegative while the Director's Cut didn't get a new scan, but instead was upgraded from a VC-1 encode to AVC. Presented in 2.35:1 1080p, both transfers look pretty great. Land of the Dead already was a pretty decent looking Blu-ray upon initial release and that assessment holds here. In terms of improvements, details come through a bit clearer, fine facial features in particular draw a little more attention. Black levels and shadows are a bit stronger providing a slightly improved sense of depth. Not a drastic improvement mind you, but during some of the darker sequences, especially those that weren't featured in the Theatrical Cut, they look better. Colors are also a bit more stable with a stronger primary presence with a generally cooler appearance without pushing into teal territory. Again not drastic changes but if you really look and spend the time jumping between discs you start to notice the slight differences.
The Theatrical Cut doesn't appear outwardly different from its Director's Cut counterpart. It is, thankfully, free of the numerous noise and aliasing issues that plagued the DVD release. Colors are stable with healthy flesh tones and strong primaries. Film grain is apparent but not too intrusive allowing for a solid amount of details to come through. The most notable difference between the two transfers comes in the form of speckling. It's nothing terrible, the film looks like it's in great shape, but I did notice a few more black dots spotting around and is most apparent in brighter scenes. Again nothing terrible and hardly worth griping about. All around both cuts of the film look terrific even if they're not massive improvements over the previous release.
Land of the Dead arrives with the same strong DTS-HD MA 5.1 release as the original Universal Blu-ray, but now also comes with a nicely down-mixed English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. Truthfully, I prefer the 5.1 mix, it just sounds a bit more natural and busier scenes in the slums, the arena zombie fight and the films' big gory climax sound terrific with plenty of squishy stuff to fill up the surround channels. That said, this 2.0 mix is no slouch. It's got plenty of oomph where it counts with clean dialogue and solid scoring and sound effects with a decent amount of atmosphere. That said, I tip my hand to the 5.1 mix. Dialogue has a little more space giving it a natural sound, it doesn't sound as forced through the front/center channels as it does with the 2.0 mix - it gets a little more left/right area to work with. Sides and rears get a nice punch of activity when and where it counts and the rumbling engines of Dead Reckoning add a nice little bit of LFE activity. Whichever way you go, you should be in good shape.
In traditional Scream Factory Collector's Edition Fashion, a whole host of new and archival bonus features were made available for this set. I always have to tip my had to Shout/Scream factory because they really do their best to make their selections worth the price of a double dip and Land of the Dead is no exception. There is a ton of new and old material here to keep fans occupied for several hours.
Theatrical Cut Disc
Dream of the Dead Documentary Director's Cut: (SD 24:40) This is a pretty terrific look at George Romero and his career with filmmaker Roy Frumkes who filmed Document of the Dead during the production of the original Dawn of the Dead. With optional Director commentary track.
Deleted Footage from Dream of the Dead (SD 18:03)
Theatrical Trailer (HD 1:45)
Director's Cut Disc
Audio Commentary with George Romero, producer Peter Grunwald and editor Michael Doherty.
When Shaun Met George (SD 12:59)
Bringing the Dead to Life (SD 9:31)
Scenes of Carnage (HD 1:42)
Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene (HD 3:18)
Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call (SD 1:05)
Bringing The Storyboards to Life (SD 7:54)
Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead (SD 12:56)
A Day With The Living Dead (SD 7:34)
In 2005 I had high hopes that Land of the Dead would be George Romero's return to form. While it's got some solid zombie carnage to bathe in, the final product wasn't all I'd hoped it would be. I appreciate it a little more each time I see it, but it's not my favorite Zombie movie, nor is it the best one George ever made. It's a shame he's passed because I always hoped he had one more in him. As such, this Collector's Edition of Land of the Dead from Scream Factory is a fitting tribute to the man who made the Zombie movie what it is today. A solid transfer upgrade, great audio, both cuts of the film, and a ton of new and archival bonus features make this release an easy one to encourage folks to grab up. Especially if you're a big fan of the flick and were worried about double dipping, it's an easy call to make. Highly Recommended.