While the original zombie film Night of the Living Dead introduced viewers to the modern concept of the undead for the first time, most contemporary fans, who were not culled by 28 Days Later or Shaun of the Dead, experienced their first taste of zombies with 2004’s Dawn of the Dead.
The original 1967 classic was remade in 1990, so it made the most sense to introduce a new generation to Romero’s vision of the undead by remaking 1978’s Dawn of the Dead. For zombie aficionados forged before the year 2000, it made sense to ape a terrified perspective that a classic would be re-appropriated by the Hollywood system. As it turns out, they could not have been more wrong.
Though the remake of Dawn of the Dead could never be mistaken for, or measure up to, the original classic, it is undoubtedly a logical next-step for the undead by being meaner, tougher, faster, and more violent than the original.
The strength of the new Dawn of the Dead lies in the opening; after some not-so-subtle hints, the dead begin to return to life and society begins to break down while we watch the survivors struggle with the complications of a new paradigm when the recently dead rise up to attack the living in a violent burst of cannibalistic obsession. With little recourse, the living attempt to hold up in a mall only to discover that any safe haven is not as safe as it may initially appear.
The spread of the infection as portrayed in the opening scenes is easily among the best in the genre; rather than rely on the tired trope of the undead as an absolute in a world several months or years beyond patient zero, the new Dawn of the Dead shows a world quickly falling apart as a small neighborhood stands in for the rest of society; children become infected as adults struggle to survive. Indeed, one of the most affecting shots of the film comes early on, where the protagonist, played by Sarah Polley, watches a woman fight for her life while being accosted by two zombies on a bus, kicking, screaming, and clawing for any chance to outlast an attack from which she will not recover.
The plot moves quickly toward the mall, where one group of fairly rational survivors meets some testosterone-fueled security guards eager to defend their fiefdom. For all intents and purposes, the character development and examination of behavior of humans forced into a life and death scenario ends here.
There can be no doubt that the new Dawn of the Dead is filled with its fair share of gory zombie kills and unabashedly transgressive human disintegrations, evidenced primarily in the scene wherein a more emotionally-driven contingent of survivors must deal with a stillborn baby who quickly returns without the faculties of its adult brethren. Even as a plan develops to avoid an attempt at outlasting death in a consumerist paradise, the new Dawn of the Dead fails to transcend its predecessor by having little metaphorical or moral ground to cover due to its genesis as a fast-paced action-horror film devised on the premise that violence and proper action should outweigh the larger sociological issues encountered in a newly formed world ruled by resurrected corpses.
However, it bears mentioning that the new Dawn of the Dead pays credence to the original in delightfully surprising ways; actors Ken Foree and Scott H. Reiniger appear in charming cameos alongside actor/special effects guru Tom Savini, and while Gaylen Ross appears only in name and David Emge is unfortunately absent, a WGON helicopter, BP trucks, and several immortalized lines of dialogue are flawless incorporated in the new story.
By eschewing the original film’s distinct attention to characterization and resultant emotional investment, the Dawn of the Dead remake requires distinctly less emotional investment than its seminal predecessor. However, with visceral shocks, a larger budget, and a distinct lack of tact, the new Dawn of the Dead emerges as a worthy and ultimately satisfying update of a horror classic.
A revolution of hi-def movies on blu-ray has made the Dawn of the Dead remake available in the best possible format for a relatively paltry sum, and when experiencing the best that zombie gore has to offer, it’s hard to avoid the temptations of the new Dawn of the Dead on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.