Written by John Edward Betancourt
It's funny to think about the fact that it has only been ten years since George Romero returned to the world he created after a twenty year absence with Land of the Dead, because quite frankly, it still feels like yesterday every single time I pop this one into the Blu Ray player. The good news is, in the ten years it has been available to watch at home, it still stands up well in both the Romero mythos and as a horror film as a whole, but the first thing I noticed watching it for the first time in a while the other day, was how vastly different this one feels from the rest in the series. First off, it's a film loaded to the gills with big name actors, which is something that is a rarity for a Romero film and not to mention, it is the only Dead film to be backed by a studio and feature such an incredibly large budget, and no, Universal didn't screw it up, it's awesome.
It's also perhaps Romero's slickest film to date, with an incredible use of seamless special effects to design a world that is completely ruled by the living dead and honestly, without the special features showing me exactly what was done, I never would have noticed it. But, what matters most, is the story of course and that's where Land of the Dead continues to shine because of the rich social commentary present in a way that only Romero can do and well, the intricacy of it is something I'm finally starting to see after all this time.
Obviously, the post 9/11 allegory is front and center so there's little more that needs to be said about that. No, what I noticed for this go round was the sheer damage that this world was doing to the people that managed to survive the horrors of the end of the world. You see, there was always a bleakness to this film that I couldn't put my finger on, until this most recent viewing. It's something Romero only lightly touches on, and with good reason because the scope of the story covers so much more, but I found it fascinating to realize that the people of this zombie filled universe, are filled with fear from all sides. They fear Kaufman incurring his wrath upon them for being disobedient and of course they fear death and the living dead beyond their walls. Because of that, they will do whatever is asked of them for the opportunity at a hot meal and a soft bed.
Obviously, for American society that is something of an extreme, but the fear portion is not. We are still a fearful society with all the trauma we have faced in the last fourteen years and like the shell shocked people in Land we are content to let others handle the messes. Now we're not going to get into a "how we should band together" discussion here, this is simply observation and not the time nor place to figure all that out, especially when we still have it better than others and that's where Romero perhaps took his first global look commentary wise. I mean hey, look at how the Islamic State rules their seized land, leaving the people they oversee in fear of being punished for disobedience, so they do whatever is asked of them to eat a hot meal and sleep on a soft bed.
If anything, this new discovery for me gives the film a certain sense of desperation from its characters I had never noticed before, and it also explains why Cholo cracks the way that he does. It also makes the film that much more terrifying, because the only species that comes together as part of a natural evolution is the living dead while the living continue to fall to pieces. It makes Land of the Dead far bleaker and depressing than I remember it and in way makes that happy ending a little less hopeful.