Directed By: Zack Snyder
Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer
Tag line: "When the undead rise, civilization will fall"
Trivia: Most of the zombie makeup was modeled after actual forensic photos
For me, George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead isn't just one of the best horror movies ever made, it's one of the greatest films, period, a rare motion picture that actually improves with age. So it might come as a surprise to learn that, even though I adore the original, I'm quite a fan of Zack Snyder's 2004 remake as well.
This time out, the setting is Wisconsin. Ana (Sarah Polley), a nurse, awakens one morning to find herself in the midst of a living nightmare: the recently deceased have started to walk again, and are making a main course out of the living. Barely escaping with her life, Ana teams up with Kenneth (Ving Rhames), a cop, and, together with a trio of survivors they meet along the way, heads to a local shopping mall for safety. Once there, the five are attacked by a couple of hungry zombies, then taken into custody by an over-zealous security guard (Michael Kelly). All the while, the living dead are surrounding the mall, ensuring nobody inside will be leaving anytime soon.
Snyder's Dawn of the Dead shares a handful of similarities with its predecessor. Aside from the premise of hiding out in a shopping mall, there's a series of cameos sure to bring a smile to the face of any zombie fan. Make-up artist Tom Savini, who worked closely with Romero to develop the look of the creatures in the '78 version, here plays a sheriff charged with hunting down the walking dead, and Ken Foree, who was the cop way back when, is a televangelist preaching of the end of days. But there are several notable differences between the films as well, chief among them being the overall number of survivors. Where Romero chose a scant four to shack up in his suburban Pennsylvania mall, Snyder kicks things off with five (along with Ana and Kenneth, there's Jake Weber's Michael, a natural leader, and Mekhi Pfifer's Andre, a former criminal trying to turn his life around by caring for his pregnant girlfriend, Luda, played by Inna Korobkina). The total soon grows to eight when the mall security guards, led by Michael Kelly's TJ, enter the picture, but we're still not done. After a day or two, a whole truckload of survivors crash the party, including the arrogant Steve (Ty Burrell), the luscious Monica (Kim Poirier), and one or two others who prove a danger to them all. Then there's Andy (Bruce Bohne), the owner of the gun shop across the street. Stuck living on his roof, the group communicates with Andy by way of a message board, and, after impressing them with his marksmanship, he quickly becomes part of their extended family (in what's certainly the film's funniest scene, Kenneth, Steve and a few others challenge Andy to pick off celebrity look-alikes from the crowd of zombies gathered below).
But the biggest difference between this Dawn of the Dead and Romero's is the dead themselves. On the slow side in the '78 original, Snyder's zombies are a lot quicker on their feet. Some genre purists refuse to accept that the recently dead would have the stamina to sprint after a potential victim (there's even a blog out there titled Zombies Don't Run). Regardless of whether its feasible or not, let me tell you, the first time one of Dawn of the Dead's creatures took off running, it scared the holy Bejesus out of me!