Wednesday, February 20, 2008
I've read a lot of good things about George Romero's new zombie movie, Diary Of The Dead. It's been on festivals' Top 10 lists and it's received great reviews in the papers, but I didn't know anyone personally who had seen it. I was really looking forward to Diary because Romero's last movie, Land Of The Dead, wasn't so hot, at least not compared to his previous masterpieces. I was hoping that he had learned from his mistakes in Land and would come out with a much better movie in the end. After leaving the theater, though, I now believe that Romero is failing in the same way the other George has, by pushing out sequels or prequels to franchises that may have been better off left alone.
Diary Of The Dead is a complete departure from the way Romero has made his previous zombie epics. It's filmed almost entirely from hand-held cameras, making it a more documentary experience. The premise is that a group of college kids are making a horror movie when they find out that the dead are rising and attacking people. After hearing this, all of the kids, including their alcoholic, British-accented professor, hop in their Winnebago so they can all get home to their families. And because it's the zombie apocalypse, they inevitably encounter zombies and many of them die in the process.
George Romero had good reasons for filming Diary Of The Dead with hand-held cameras. One of the primary reasons I see is because the traditional zombie movie has already been done (many, many times I might add). Romero himself created and defined the genre. There had been a period of time that every zombie movie that came out was just as bad as the last. That was until 28 Days Later was released in 2002. That movie re-imagined and re-defined the zombie genre. After that, you can't go back to making zombie films the way you used to 20 years ago. But that's unfortunately exactly what Romero tried to do 3 years later with Land Of The Dead. Sadly, he realized that a little too late. So even though he declared Land would be his last "Dead" movie, he had to come back for one more. This time, he had to make something new. So he took the documentary approach, with little more reason than because it's "new thing."
This "new thing" is the second reason he chose to film Diary with hand-held cameras. And I think he felt it was such an important choice, that he needed to make his audience very aware of why he was doing it. User generated content is what drives the internet these days. It's Web 2.0, YouTube, blogs, Flickr, Twitter, Wikipedia, everything comes from us and everybody else is trying to jump on and make some money off of it. Romero knows that all of this is signaling a massive change and he wanted to capture it. But he had to make sure that we knew it, too.
This brings me to one of the major problems with the movie: the "message." The primary videographer in Diary was Jason and he was the ridiculous clichéd risk-his-life-to-get-the-shot guy. His girlfriend Debra clearly didn't understand why he was doing what he was doing, and we were told a dozen times over just exactly why. "Because people will want to know what happened." "The news is lying to cover it up." "People need to know the truth." "If people see how we survive, then maybe they can learn from us." "We can save lives!!" Every 10 minutes, we heard another reason why Jason was filming instead of helping. We get it, George. Please give the audience some credit.
Unfortunately, Jason wasn't the only cliché character in the movie. He was one of many. Debra was another one, the whiny girlfriend who doesn't understand her boyfriend. There was the southern belle from Texas ("Don't mess with Texas!") who was worthless at fighting and complained more than anybody else. But of course she was able to fix the broken fuel line in the Winnebago because her Daddy taught her how. There's the badass loner with no home or family and the techy glasses-wearing geek who can hack anything to make it work. And probably the worst of them all was the professor, spouting line after awful drunken line of "refined intelligence." And of course the bow & arrow was his weapon of choice because it was more sportsmanlike, or something ridiculous like that. It was as if someone looked through a book of stock characters and said, "We'll have one of these, and one of those..."
With all of that being said, I still enjoyed it. I mean, it was a zombie movie after all. There were quite a few new, exciting, and awesomely inventive ways to kill zombies. I won't spoil anything, though, because those were some of the best parts of the movie. However, other than the zombies and their deaths, there wasn't much I specifically can say I liked about the movie. The thing is, this is a zombie movie made by the George A. Romero. We have such high expectations of him that seeing a zombie movie with his name on it that isn't anything but amazing leaves us unfulfilled. I guess when it comes down to it, I would have liked this a lot better if Romero hadn't made it. If I saw Diary Of The Dead knowing that Romero had nothing to do with it, I probably wouldn't have been so critical and most likely would have just enjoyed it as another zombie movie.