Thursday, April 15, 2010

What price Survival?

I've been a fan of George Romero since I first saw Night of the Living Dead on Creature Features at a very young age. When I first saw Dawn of the Dead, on its initial home video release, I was amazed. He had done it again, in a completely different way. Day of the Dead was the first Romero zombie film I saw in the theater, and I loved it; in some ways most of all. It was another fresh take on the genre he had established, with what I'd argue are Tom Savini's greatest effects achievements. A fitting climax to what I assumed would be his zombie trilogy.

Fast forward quite a few years, and there's word of a new Romero zombie offering in development. Imagine my disappointment when I found out it was being shot in Canada, pretty much eliminating my chance of fulfilling that lifelong dream of being a Romero zombie extra. Dead Reckoning evolved into Land of the Dead, and I'll admit, somewhat to my surprise, Romero came through again. Given a real budget to work with, he proved his ability to make an equally powerful film. He combined some amazing practical effects with a restrained use of CGI that I thought worked just fine. We had the pleasure of seeing the film at its Las Vegas premiere. Unfortunately, Universal had the brains (of one of the zombies) to release the film in the middle of summer blockbusters, rather than waiting for a targeted Halloween release, and the film didn't have the breathing room to make a lasting impression. As a result, we won't see a direct follow up to the one film that I think would be best suited for it.

But things don't end there. Following the big studio experience, he decided to get back to his guerrilla style roots. Sure, I was a bit concerned when I heard the marketing pitch of Blair Witch meets Night of the Living Dead - but I knew Romero was a leader, not a follower, and was not going to turn out a derivative product. I saw Diary of the Dead at a midnight premiere screening, and while the film had it's share of weaknesses, some with casting, some with a dependency on less successful CGI effects, I thought it offered an interesting statement for it's time, as all the previous films had.

Which gets us to Survival of the Dead. The first Romero zombie film in 25 years that I first saw on home video (albeit on a 104" wide screen). I can honestly say it's the first time that one of Romero's zombie films didn't exceed my expectations. Is it horrible? No. I particularly liked the western feel, and would have liked to have seen that played up even more. Unfortunately, my issues were once again with the acting (Alan Van Sprang, reprising his small role from Diary is okay, but lacks the charisma I've come to expect from Romero's leading men) and CGI effects (which, literally from the first shot, are groan inducing). I suspect that over time I'll consider it on par with Diary, but never in the same class as the original trilogy or Land.

So have I lost faith in George? Absolutely not. I cannot wait to read his zombie novel, The Living Dead: The Beginning. And if he makes another zombie film, I'll be right there on opening day. Because the worst Romero zombie film is sure to be better than the average imitator.