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The original Dawn of the Dead, the first sequel, was a horror masterpiece. Even jaded critics like Leonard Maltin thought so. Day of the Dead followed, and while it was initially considered a disappointment, it holds up pretty well today. After that, there were a series of spoofs, remakes, sequels-in-name-only, and imitators like 28 Days Later. The remake of Dawn of the Dead was alright, but the original was so good, it couldn't be improved upon. Shaun of the Dead turned out to be both a great zombie flick, and a fantastically funny comedy. And then, finally, Romero made another official sequel, Land of the Dead.
Oddly, that sequel does not stick with me at all. I remember at the time being let down, and not feeling the viewing experience was worth it. Maybe with zero expectations, I should rewatch it, to refresh my memory. Anyway, when trying to fill up my Amazon.com shopping cart, in order to score free shipping, I discovered that there was another zombie flick out there, Diary of the Dead. Despite being disappointed with the previous offering, I decided it was worth the $14.
So, was it? Yes and no. First of all, the style of the film--shot from the perspective of a film student--has been done to death. It's a confining format, forcing the story to be told from the cameraman's (or camera men's) point of view. This can stretch credulity (much like in Quarantine), when no sane person would be so obsessed with capturing video when the world is falling apart. But if you're going to use this framing device, you can't tell the story unless somebody is filming it. My suggestion for future filmmakers using this contrivance: let us see through the lens, sure, but occasionally come outside the first-person perspective. I think we can handle the shift.
The story is interesting, putting the action at the beginning of the zombie infestation. This assumes that Diary is contemporaneous with Night, and possibly Dawn. We'll just have to ignore the old 60s and 70s cars and hairdos in the originals. Because Diary is chock-full of modern touches, from the cameras being used, to the internet and cell phones. The zombie effects are good, as they usually are in Romero films. There are scares, and plenty of grossouts. The on-screen dissolving of a zombie's head via acid was particularly cool.
The acting--never a hallmark of the genre--is perhaps a notch above some of the other entries. There are a few good lookin' actors, both male and female, to give everyone a little eye candy. This film spends more time than any previous entry showing us the world-wide scope of the zombie epidemic, via media and YouTube. But the global scale of the problem may be the film's undoing. As in each of the sequels, the outcome is so hopeless. Each time, our batches of survivors gets thinned out while attempting to outlast the zombies. Eventually, they get winnowed down to just a couple, with no hope in sight. Perhaps if the scale of the problem weren't so big, there might be some sort of hope, a refuge or something for the characters to get to.
All in all, it's a decent movie, for all of its familiarity and the contrivances. The other main trope they use is voice-over narration of one of the survivors. If that sort of framing bugs you, you've been warned. If you're a George Romero fan, absolutely, give it a spin. But it doesn't come close to the first three installments, Dawn of the Dead being the pick of the litter. Amazingly, while writing this review, I found out that there is yet another sequel, released last year, called Survival of the Dead. Amazing the stuff you miss when you stop reading Fangoria.
This is the kind of movie where it doesn't matter what the reviews are. You will watch it or not, depending upon your attraction to these kinds of movies. I suspect that even though I can't remember Land, and only halfway liked Diary, I'll still be checking out Survival. No sense fighting it. . .