There's always something to take home from the library, I told myself.
Since I didn't want to read anything last night, I decided to check out the multimedia section. I shuffled aimlessly and stiff-legged through the shelves, passing DVD after VHS after CD.
On one of the shelves, Land of the Dead rested.
I'd sworn off watching this film after reading a number of negative reviews. Yet, I love zombie films, so I eventually had to plop myself down in front of this one. I rented it from the library for one dollar. Almost one year after its release, I would actually set my eyes on the latest batch of Romero.
At home, I popped Land in the DVD player. Opening credits played a montage of radio reports. Romero's film played on the screen.
Until the gazebo opener, that is. At that point, the film pixelated, and it launched back to the opening credits. "The fuck?" I said, and I fast-forwarded to the gazebo. Another pixelation and skip to the opener happened. I resolved to try one more time. The third time wasn't the charm.
I popped out the disc. On the blank side, some strange pattern of chemical spotted the plastic. The spotting covered the entire readable area. So, I whipped out a lens-wipe. The spots would not come clean! Further examination revealed what was probably the end result of someone stepping on the disc on sandy concrete. The spotting was actually minor pock marks, with some scratching.
However, my hunger for this film, teased ever-so-slightly, had not been satiated in the slightest. Suddenly, I craved a better copy. I rolled out the car, and I drove up the way to the Blockbuster.
Inside, I walked to the New Release section. I couldn't find it among the "Ls." Then, I proceeded to Horror section. I passed Night of the Living Dead on the way. However, Land wasn't in Horror. I checked Action, since the clown-tools organized that section to include Science Fiction. Maybe Land was CGI-y enough to morph over to Schwarzeneggerland. Nope, no Land in Action. Drama? Land wasn't dramatic enough to be there, either. Comedy? Why not? It would have been funny to find Land there. A clerk walked by me, and I asked her if they had Land of the Dead.
She couldn't find it, so I followed her up to the front counter. She checked their computer.
"Sir, we don't have it."
The local Blockbusters had no copies of Halloween or Halloween 2, either. As of late, the Blockbusters operate like this. I shouldn't have been surprised, but considering that Land of the Dead was a 2005 release that grossed 20 million dollars . . . come on, they stocked more than one copy of the made-to-video release of The Green River Killer.
Urrrrrr . . . must . . . find . . . film.
Up the way, I rolled into the parking lot of a local chain called Family Video. In there, one begins a treasure hunt. Family Video, and every non-Blockbuster competitor, well, has to do a lot of things that the Blockbusters will not do. They'll stock a Porn section, and they'll carry a lot of weird shit. You can get Faces of Death at a Family Video. If you want UFO documentaries, the 'Unrated' version of your film, "real death" collections, the latest Vivid releases, or other non-standard films, then they're there . . . somewhere . . . in alphabetical order.
In a Family Video section which is basically a New-Yet-Not-So-New Releases, there were 6 copies of the unrated version of Land of the Dead.
This chain does rental database by phone number. To have an account, you need a phone. So, I gave them two phone numbers. They call a number to make sure they're not getting a fake. The clerk dialed my mother's house at 15 minutes to midnight. A bewildered 60-something-year-old answered the phone to hear "Is this Christopher sauce1977's residence?"
Later, my mother would tell me that she thought she was receiving a call from the police, like I'd been killed or something.
After finishing the account setup, I rented the film on their "new member" pricing of 50 cents.
My Sixth Sense told me that I was going to see dead people, but before I did that, I should look at the disc to see if it's playable.
The clerk looked me over in surprise as I explained to her that I'd already rented another DVD from a different place . . . one that had not worked. She allowed me to bring up the other copies of Land of the Dead to search for a disc without significant scratches. After 3 discs, the clerk opened a full screen version to find a pristine blank side. I profusely thanked her for her patience, and I went home with the scratch-free disc.
By this time, when I popped the new disc into my DVD player, I hoped for maybe one cool scene to justify going through this unintended quest.
George Romero is a legend of the horror genre. That's a good way to start.
Dennis Hopper brings a professional acting performance to any role. He could probably turn a Yucko the Clown role into Shakespeare. His portrayal of Kaufman worked well. John Leguizamo's Cholo also worked well. The rest of the 'living' actors and actresses were mediocre at their trade, and a combo with loosely-fleshed characters made for some considerable drop-off in comparison to Hopper and Leguizamo. The two-tone nature of the acting, as a whole, wasn't the best of all possible worlds, but it wasn't the end of the world.
Romero's screenplay works, but it's borderline cheese. I couldn't forgive him for the character named "Motown." I understand that he has this whole Pittsburgh thing going on, and Detroit and Pittsburgh are industrial towns, but cracker please, some white chick named "Motown" was too much. Add a big fat Samoan named "Pillsbury," and that's cheese whiz, folks. As for the actress and actor who played "Motown" and "Pillsbury," respectively, they were just fine. It was your roles, really.
As for the plot, Land of the Dead almost seems like a riff on Day of the Dead. By this time in the undefined Romero time-line, zombies are all over the place, and the remainder of the living have retreated into large cities for defense against the undead. In Day of the Dead, the remainder of the living congregated at a military complex.
Eugene Clark plays Big Daddy, a leader-zombie who rallies hundreds of undead to follow vehicles on a road back to one of the cities. However, the audience already witnessed the "thinking-zombie" in Day of the Dead. Sherman Howard played Bub, a Walkman-jamming zombie who was semi-friendly with the mad doctor who cared for him. To me, Land, for better or worse, ends up being too similar at times to Day. There's a scene where the living discover an undead feast in a warehouse. This also seems like an expanded version of a scene from Dawn of the Dead.
As for Big Daddy, decide for yourself if Romero created a whole new version of the magical negro.
I refuse to address Romero's insatiable need for social commentary. Night of the Living Dead was a winner for exploration of social dynamics. Romero stepped up a notch with his exploration in Dawn of the Dead. In Day of the Dead, the social commentary became a bit too preachy for me. In Land, the social commentary seems stuck in the mediocre caliber from Day.
Of all the Romero zombie films, this one seems to pack the most action at a rather even pace in comparison to the rest. If you're a fan of special effects, the zombies created by Greg Nicotero happen to be the best of the Romero bunch.
Many of the people who signed on the Romero project worked in terms of "labor of love." Hopper signed on in admiration of Romero's work. Ditto . . . everyone else. Asia Argento is Dario Argento's daughter, and she grew up on horror sets and around Romero. She played a supporting character. Tom Savini appears briefly. Pegg and Wright of Shaun of the Dead appear briefly.
Land of the Dead wasn't horrible, but it's not a film I'll seek in the future. It's worth having access just to witness the zombie action, so the $1.50 I paid in full was well-spent.