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Land of the Dead(2005)
In a modern-day world where the walking dead roam an uninhabited wasteland, the living try to lead "normal" lives behind the walls of a fortified city. A new society has been built by a handful of ruthless opportunists, who live in the towers of a skyscraper, high above the chaos on the streets below. Outside the city walls, an army of the dead is evolving, and with the survival of the city at stake, a group of hardened mercenaries is called into action.
For more about Land of the Dead and the Land of the Dead Blu-ray release, see Land of the Dead Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on October 2, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, Robert Joy, Dennis Hopper, Eugene Clark
Director: George A. Romero
» See full cast & crew
Land of the Dead Blu-ray Review
Romero goes big(ger) budget.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, October 2, 2008
In a world where the dead are returning to life, the word "trouble" loses much of its meaning.
With a budget of about three times the total cost of his previous three films in the Dead series, George A. Romero's highly anticipated fourth installment, coming some 20 years after the release of Day of the Dead, was met with high expectations and an enormous anticipation among fans. Romero proved to be a master of stretching every dollar in his previous films, putting story first, far ahead of intricate special effects, household names to star in the films, or lavish sets. While the aforementioned Day of the Dead proved the weakest entry among the first three films, it nevertheless served as an intriguing glimpse at life in a world overrun with the living dead, and the mayhem and breakdown of social order and common sense in the face of the ultimate despair. Indeed, all three of the Dead films, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead, concentrated on a small band of survivors hole up in a single locale as the films examined the human condition in such terrible situations. Now, in Land of the Dead, these themes remain, but Romero expands greatly on the lore of the films, places several name actors in prominent roles, and showcases neither a small group of survivors nor one central location, but logically progresses forward by introducing an entire society struggling to move forward in an enclosed city with the living dead encircling its heavily-fortified perimeter. In every facet of the filmmaking process, Land of the Dead is flashier and more impressive, technically, than its sister films in the series. Does the influx of cash, name actors, impressive special effects, and vastly improved set design make for a superior Dead film?
They're trying to be us.
"When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth." It's been years since the dead first rose and plagued society with fear and paranoia, but mankind has valiantly attempted to move on and create a more secure world, one that almost seems to be a voluntary prison that has fortified itself from the hordes of undead that roam the Earth in search of human flesh to devour. With an electrified fence, a military force, and water on two sides, Fiddler's Green seems to be the safest place in the world. Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving, and the true enemy to mankind's survival may already be within the city walls. To begin the story action, the renegade Cholo (John Leguizamo, Ice Age), who envisions himself much more valuable that he really is, commandeers the Dead Reckoning, a powerful vehicle with the latest in weapons and armament. He then threatens to destroy part of the city, including the home of the city's overlord Mr. Kaufman (Dennis Hopper, Speed), if he is not handsomely rewarded financially. Kaufman calls up the Reckoning's creator, Riley (Simon Baker, Sex and Death 101) to retrieve Cholo and the Reckoning before the Dead that live outside the city have a chance to get in. Meanwhile, the zombies who lurk outside the city seem to be getting smarter. Led, as much as the living dead can be led, by Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), they gather to combine their newfound skills for what may be a mortal blow to Fiddler's Green -- and the last hurrah for mankind.
Land of the Dead is a sound, logical progression of how society may very well move on during a zombie infestation. The survivors rely on crude but highly effective technology to defend themselves, including heavily armored vehicles, plenty of handheld weapons and small arms, and large fortifications equipped with an electrified wire perimeter. Make no mistake about it, these individuals live in a war zone, and if the movie proves anything, it is that even during a war pitting mindless automatons with only human flesh on the brain versus living, thinking beings can be a losing effort for the living-- because those with the ability to think, think too much outside of basic survival techniques, and work for themselves and against one another rather than as a cohesive whole against a horde of relentless enemies. The Dead films have always been about exaggerating and emphasizing the core of the human condition, and Land is no different. We see the living succumb to the vices of greed and complacency in this picture. Various characters remain focused on dollars and riches, even in a world where wealth means far less than it would in a "normal" environment. In the meantime, Romero shows audiences various scenes of individuals attempting to return to a cozy, normal lifestyle. In their attempt to reclaim that normalcy, they forget there is a war outside the city walls, where a vast and relentless enemy army stands ready and willing to destroy them. It is the complacency of the many, just as much as the greed of the few, that just may be the downfall of this sliver of mankind.
In Land of the Dead, George Romero has also worked in the continued progression of the zombies in a most logical manner. Fans will recall the evolution of the living dead throughout the series, and in Land, their further development into more adept, "intelligent" beings takes yet another evolutionary step forward and fits perfectly into the evolutionary path the beings have taken in the previous two films. In Dawn of the Dead, we see the zombies coming en masse to the mall, with the suggestion that they are returning to a familiar place, somewhere that played an important role in their lives. In Day of the Dead, the zombie dubbed "Bub" recalled the muscle memory of the military salute, and the proper use of headphones, a telephone, and even a pistol. Land of the Dead continues the slow yet steady climb up the evolutionary ladder as zombies further recall the basics of using blunt and sharp objects as weapons, remembering basic skills such as pumping gasoline or firing a weapon, and working together to easily defeat obstacles.
Land of the Dead features a diverse cast with more star power than the previous films combined, and they are all over the map as far as their development and connection with the audience. Simon Baker as Riley is an affable enough hero but has no real arc in the film. He plays an important role, but other than offering a level head in a crisis situation and providing some technological know-how that proves important later in the picture, he comes off as a very ordinary hero, but then again, one may argue that such a character is more realistic to the situation than would be a musclebound Schwarzenegger type who mows down rows of zombies in every other frame. His sidekick, the severely burned and slightly mentally challenged Charlie, comes off as somewhat annoying in scenes, but he also plays his role as somewhat of a middle ground between human and zombie. His mental acuity is rather low and his face is disfigured (reminiscent of a zombie), but his instincts and allegiance to his friend go unquestioned (showcasing the best attributes of man), and of all the characters in the film, he is probably the most balanced, influenced by nothing else than to see each situation through with a positive outcome, namely the continued survival of himself and of his friends. John Leguizamo's character is perhaps the most interesting, playing as an anti-hero of sorts. His motivations are simply greed and social advancement, but it's hard not to root for someone so adept at shooting zombies through the head, not to mention the character that plays as public enemy number one to the film's most dubious character, Kaufman, played by Dennis Hopper. Like Leguizamo's Cholo, Kaufman is driven by greed and power in a world where such things seem to matter little, and he holds the position Cholo desires to settle into. His power and wealth are his sole focus to the end, and the fates of both of these greedy characters make for a fascinating case study in the perils and pitfalls of such single-mindedness, even in the face of an enemy that is also singleminded, but with a completely different focus.
As a side note, Pittsburgh's own George Romero continues to base his film in the Steel City, even though Land of the Dead was filmed in Toronto. Those familiar with Western Pennsylvania will note several visual and verbal references to the area, and may even make the connection between the name given to the Dennis Hopper character, Kaufman, and the influential Kaufmann family that hails from the area, founders of the now defunct Kaufmann's Department Stores. The family commissioned renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to construct Fallingwater, recognized as a U.S. National Historic Landmark.
Land of the Dead Blu-ray, Video Quality
Land of the Dead bites into Blu-ray with a solid 1080p, 2.35:1-framed transfer. Colors are excellent throughout the film, and even in the dark, bathed-in-blue sequences that open the movie, they stand out as natural under any lighting condition. Black levels are superb in most scenes, but a few shots show a hint of gray in the darkest areas. Detail is very good in most every shot. The wear and tear on the vehicles, particularly Dead Reckoning, shines through. The gore, in classic Romero style, looks fantastic as every severed limb, ripped chunk of flesh, exposed innards, decapitated heads, and drop of blood are clearly revealed in many shots throughout the movie. Grain spikes in a few scenes; otherwise, it's not present in abundance. Flesh tones veer to the red side of the spectrum and appear somewhat unnatural. Despite being drenched in darkness, the image has quite a bit of depth and many scenes jump off the screen. The interior of Kaufman's penthouse apartment is rich and lifelike with solid colors and realistic textures. Land of the Dead won't be nominated for year's best transfer, even if the contest was only between other Universal titles, but the transfer holds its own and, through its dark style, holds its own nicely.
Land of the Dead Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Offering listeners a DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack, Land of the Dead brings its horrifying world to glorious life. The sound is rich, full, and immersive, and right from the dread-inducing score over the opening credits, which floods the soundstage with creepy notes and atmospherics, listeners will surmise that they're in for quite the treat. Excellent, rumbling bass accompanies the soundtrack and is palpable in a wide variety of sequences. Surrounds are used effectively and naturally to create a terrifying atmosphere of music and sound effects. Bass-heavy beats fill the soundstage, motorcycles drive to and fro around the listening area, fireworks explode and pop all around, gunfire emerges from every speaker, and splattering corpses and blood smack the pavement with nasty precision. The soundtrack also features some hard-hitting hip-hop numbers playing over one sequence of the film in chapter 8 that pulsates and pounds away with clarity and excellent fidelity. Dialogue reproduction is clean and crisp with no volume anomalies to report. This is one loud, tough-as-nails soundtrack that is reference material through and through. It gets the blood flowing and makes the movie all the more enjoyable.
Land of the Dead Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Land of the Dead offers viewers plenty of raw bonus materials to chomp on, beginning with a commentary track featuring director George A. Romero, producer Peter Grunwald, and Editor Michael Doherty. It's always a treat to have a chance to listen to Romero, and he provides another solid track here. He, and the other participants, discuss zombie lore (including how one may become a zombie and the evolution of zombies, including a discussion of the character "Bub" from Day of the Dead), the motivations of the characters, both subtle and obvious, a discussion of scenes added back into this release from the theatrical version, the film's gruesome effects and various CG shots, and more. The track flows well and works best for fans of the film and of Romero's body of work. Universal has also made this disc U-Control enabled. The picture-in-picture window appears only intermittently, but users can jump directly to the segments of the film where the window appears. Viewers who choose to watch will be treated with storyboard art, interviews with cast and crew, behind-the-scenes footage, and more.
The Remaining Bits (480p, 2:56) is a series of deleted scenes. When Shaun Met George (480p, 12:59) is a great, fan-friendly feature showcasing Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead fame as they travel to Canada to appear as Zombies in Romero's Land of the Dead. Scenes of Carnage (480p, 1:43) is simply a collection of the film's most gruesome scenes played consecutively. Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene (480p, 3:18) is an intriguing un-narrated feature that looks at the evolution of a number of scenes before and after the addition of special effects. Bringing the Storyboards to Life (480p, 7:55) shows viewers a series of storyboards playing over the final corresponding scenes from the film. Concluding the supplements is Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call (480p, 1:04), and it is not what I expected it to be. Rather than showing people rehearse for roles as zombies in the film, as the titles implies, it simply shows a few crudely animated CGI zombies dancing.
Land of the Dead Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Land of the Dead, despite its financial advantages over its predecessors, is not the finest film in the series. That accolade remains firmly in the corner of Dawn of the Dead, and probably always will. It's hard to topple the king, and Dawn remains the finest zombie film yet produced. Land is no slouch, and makes for a fine addition to the series. It features a logically sound progression of a world in crisis, overrun by the living dead, and it also offers a decent story and plenty of gore. Land of the Dead works best for those movie lovers who have invested countless hours viewing Romero's previous zombie films, and they will appreciate the story's place in the franchise. For everyone else, Land of the Dead is an enjoyable horror movie with plenty of blood, guts, and action, and with its quick pace and decent story line, those without prior knowledge of Romero's body of work will find plenty to enjoy here as well. Universal's presentation of Land of the Dead on Blu-ray is excellent. Featuring a solid video transfer, a delectable lossless soundtrack, and some good supplemental materials, this is a disc well worth adding to your collection, and for fans of the film and the Dead franchise, Land of the Dead comes highly recommended!
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