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Land of the Dead’ better suited for fans

Mark Bemenderfer | Wednesday, November 9, 2005

“Land of the Dead” establishes its unique identity by building off of a cinematic heritage that spans nearly half a century.

While it is a splendid palimpsest for a very select crowd, watching it with no knowledge of its predecessors leaves the average viewer in the dark. This is problematic for most viewers, which is why “Land of the Dead” is better suited for fans of its predecessors and genre aficionados than most general audiences.

In the original, due to unknown reasons, the bodies of the recently deceased began to rise up and attack the living. The military and society at-large proved incapable of dealing with the situation. To make matters worse, the animated dead appeared to get smarter as the living civilization declined.

This leads into the fourth of George Romero’s “Dead” series, “Land of the Dead.” Civilization at large has fallen, leaving only isolated pockets of humanity. The city of Fiddler’s Green is one such pocket and is depicted as possibly the final remaining US city populated by the living.

Lacking the means to support itself, the city’s corrupt government – led by the slimy Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) – sends out raiding parties to collect supplies from neighboring areas. But departing from the city for supplies is not a pleasant job, and certain members of the crew yearn for a better life.

The corrupt raider Cholo (John Leguizamo) dreams of joining the rest of the social elite in Fiddler’s Green tower. Another Raider, Riley (Simon Baker) has different aspirations. He wishes to leave the corrupt society and make his own way through the “wild.” Both characters are well developed and play wonderfully into various forms of interpretation.

Running counter to the aspirations of these two individuals is the smart zombie Big Daddy (Eugene Clark). After witnessing a raid on his town, he chases after the crew with an ever-increasing zombie horde, which leads to a climactic showdown with the corrupt, the innocent and the dead.

“Land” is a worthy addition to the series, as it continues everything that made the previous ones memorable. The satirical look at consumerism from “Dawn of the Dead” is back, as well as several other themes that a Romero fan would notice immediately.

The emphasis on the corrupt having power and critical looks on society at large would appear to be more appropriate in a non-horror movie. But Romero pulls it off admirably, pulling “Land” out of the standard mire of Hollywood horror.

Horror junkies will find plenty to like in the movie. The gore is abundant, as bites, headshots and explosions run rampant. The unrated version is one of the gorier films to in recent memory, though an R-rated version is also available.

The special features are great for longtime fans and newcomers alike. The DVD goes into great detail how the special effects were done, some of which are quite visually impressive. There are also some fan service features, as it shows where the zombie-parody “Shaun of the Dead” actors made cameos.

As good as “Land of the Dead” is, it is not for everyone. It’s aimed at a niche audience, and those within the niche will love the movie. And while it’s recommended that those not in the audience learn more about this particular niche, this movie is not the best place to start.