Saturday, September 1, 2007

LAND OF THE DEAD - UNRATED DIRECTOR'S CUT

Filmmaker George A. Romero made a long-overdue return to theaters – and the genre he invented – with last summer's Universal release, LAND OF THE DEAD (2005). While an exciting and often surprising zombie horror film, the latest entry in Romero's "DEAD" series doesn't quite stand as tall as the previous three entries.

Set some years after 1985's DAY OF THE DEAD, LAND takes place in a world now completely overrun by the walking dead. A millionaire (Dennis Hopper) has somehow walled off Pittsburgh (though shot in Toronto, it's clearly supposed to be Romero's hometown), where the wealthy live in sealed skyscrapers as the poor fend for themselves on the streets. Protecting them is a group of armed mercenaries led by Riley (Simon Baker, RED PLANET) equipped with a tank-like vehicle called Dead Reckoning. When one of the mercs, Cholo (John Leguizamo, the ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 remake) is screwed over by Hopper, he takes the tank and threatens the city. Meanwhile, the living dead are starting to evolve intelligence and are marching on the city.

The movie is an entertaining horror/action flick, complete with Romero's trademark dry wit and (in this case, maybe too-obvious) social commentary. The zombie effects are exceptional, and it's nice to see Romero work with a decent budget, allowing him at last to increase the scope of his vision. Unfortunately, while full of visceral thrills, the movie is short on the kind of dread and horror that made earlier entries in the series so memorable, and it lacks a strong dénouement. I liked it more than many reviewers, but I don't think it comes anywhere close to the classic status of its predecessors.

Universal's "Unrated Director's Cut" provides a flawless, 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, with full-blooded 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks. The disc is loaded with bonus features: at least five behind-the-scenes featurettes, John Leguizamo's video diary, deleted scenes, a commentary track by Romero, a music video and a short feature about the film's cameo appearances by SHAUN OF THE DEAD filmmakers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright.

While it's not likely to be remembered as a classic, it's a solid zombie horror film, well made and directed, and the Universal disc worth adding to your DVD library.

BUY: George A. Romero's Land of the Dead (Unrated Director's Cut)