My Thoughts on Remakes
I know I said in the next installment we’d be pushing beyond the works of George Romero but as the writer I reserve the right to change my mind at the drop of a hat. As I am writing this it’s the 4th of July and I am enjoying the traditional Hilden Horror Movie Marathon. But to be fair I’ll take every opportunity to enjoy some horror. So today I decided to watch both versions of Dawn of the Dead back to back.
I’m surprised I’d never done that before.
I’ve been vociferous on the point that the 1978 version of Dawn is my all-time favorite movie. I’ve talked about my Uncle Jerry showing me the movie many times so I won’t restate it here. It is fair to say that I’ve watched Dawn 1978 more than any other movie with the exception of the Original Night of the Living Dead.
When they announced the remake of my beloved Dawn of the Dead I wanted to cut a bitch and when I learned George Romero was having nothing to do with it I wanted to start punching the homeless!
I’d been worried when the 1990 version of Night of the Living Dead was announced. I’d been so worried that when it came to the theaters I waited a week to hear the reviews. Yes I know now all I need to do is watch Twitter to see if I should avoid a flick, I’m looking at you After Earth, but this was in 1990 and the internet was a thing for University nerds and DARPA scientists. The movie turned out to be good so in the end I was happy it’s been remade.
Do you know what happened between Night 1990 and Dawn 2004?
What happened was Star Wars Episode 1 The Phantom Menace.
Now before you roll your eyes and dismiss me as another anti-prequels-nut-job just wait. I do have a point and it’s not based in irrational hate. I actually like the Star Wars prequels, I don’t think they’re as good as the originals but I’ve enjoyed each of them. My problem is with Episode 1. It’s not with Jar-Jar, it’s not with Jake Lloyd, and it’s not with CGI Yoda either. My problem is that it is half a movie at best. Interesting threads were abandoned or not focused on enough and dumb shit was pushed to drive movie product tie-ins.
But the pod racer scene was really cool.
So what’s my point?
I was waiting with baited breath as the release of Episode 1 drew close. I recorded the premiere of the John Williams music video on a VCR (yep I’m old) and watched it a hundred times. I bought all of the prerelease toys. And I scoured the archaic and clunky 1999 internet for rumors and information. I saw it opening night and left the theater feeling like I’d been ruffied.
I don’t mean I felt like George Lucas raped me, took my kidney, and left me in a bathtub filled with ice and a note telling me to head to the hospital. I’m not one of those overreacting uber-fans. What I mean is that I went into that theater with my hopes ratcheted so high that it was probably impossible for me not to feel disappointed. In subsequent viewings I came to appreciate the flick and actually enjoy a few things in it quite a bit.
While Episode 1 was not a remake it did leave me gun shy when it came to movies and television I loved being tampered with. I know that’s a pretentious position to take and I should just be glad things are being made… but in the end I’m a cantankerous bastard.
At the end of the day I am a zombie zealot and despite those feelings I bought a ticket for opening day with my oldest daughter and my mother. Karen had the flu and I didn’t want to go by myself, I love zombies but half of the reason I love them is because they terrify me. Grumbling and ready to start throwing things at the screen in a moment’s notice I sat down to watch Dawn of the Dead 2004.
I really wanted to hate that movie. I swear I entered that theater prepared to storm out in righteous indignation screaming my hate at the poor stupid kids who worked the concessions stand and making sure they never trusted a bald fat man again. I would have marched up to the screen and pissed on it, my dongle wagging in the open as an army of flashlight wielding ushers dragged me out of the theater.
That didn’t happen though.
I fucking loved it.
Not only was it a rocking zombie flick It also scared the shit out of me. My wife, still sick but feeling a little better, watched amused as I was unable to sleep until sometime around dawn. Fuck me that was a damn good movie. When I bought it on DVD it was added to my zombie collection with all the reverence of a Romero film.
Before I compare and contrast Dawn 1978 and Dawn 2004 I want to provide you with a refresher. At heart I am a lazy man, my writing is punctuated by sprints of massive word counts separated by an hour of cat videos and porn. With that being said I think I will leave it to a creature wiser than I, Wikipedia, to give you the run downs on both of the movies. I’ve provided the appropriate link for people reading this in digital format and copy/pasted the text for those of you either reading the print version or are too lazy to click the link.
I’ll get back to you after the summaries.
Dawn of the Dead (also known internationally as Zombi) is a 1978 American horror film written and directed by George A. Romero. It was the second film made in Romero's Living Dead series, but contains no characters or settings from Night of the Living Dead, and shows in a larger scale the zombie plague's apocalyptic effects on society. In the film, a plague of unknown origin has caused the reanimation of the dead, who prey on human flesh, which subsequently causes mass hysteria. The cast features David, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger and Gaylen Ross as survivors of the outbreak who barricade themselves inside a suburban shopping.
Dawn of the Dead was filmed over approximately four months, from late 1977 to early 1978, in the Pennsylvania cities of Pittsburgh and Monroeville. Its primary filming location was the Monroeville Mall. The film was made on a relatively modest budget estimated at $650,000, and was a significant box office success for its time, grossing approximately $55 million worldwide. Since opening in theaters in 1978, and despite heavy gore content, reviews for the film have been nearly unanimously positive.
In addition to four official sequels, the film has spawned numerous parodies and pop culture references. A movie premiered in the United States on March 19, 2004. It was labeled a "re-imagining" of the original film's concept. In 2008, Dawn of the Dead was chosen by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, along with Night of the Living Dead.
The United States is devastated by an unknown phenomenon which reanimates recently deceased human beings as flesh-eating zombies. Despite the best efforts by the U.S. government and local authorities to control the situation, society is beginning to collapse and the remaining survivors are given to chaos. Some rural communities and the military have been effective in fighting the zombies in open country, but cities are helpless and largely overrun. Confusion reigns at the WGON television studio in Philadelphia by the plague's third week, where staff member Stephen Andrews and Francine Parker are planning to steal the station's traffic helicopter to escape the zombies. Meanwhile, police SWAT officer Roger DiMarco and his team raid an apartment building where the residents are defying the martial law of delivering their dead to National Guardsmen. Some residents fight back with handguns and rifles, and are slaughtered by both the overzealous SWAT team and their own reanimated dead. During the raid, Roger meets Peter Washington, part of another SWAT team, and they become friends. Roger tells Peter that his friend Stephen intends to take his network's helicopter, and suggests that Peter come with them. The matter is decided when they are informed of a group of zombies sheltered in the basement, which they execute with grim determination.
That night, Roger and Peter escape Philadelphia with Francine and Stephen in the helicopter. Following some close calls while stopping for fuel, the group comes across a shopping mall, which becomes their sanctuary. To make the mall safe for habitation, they block the entrances with trucks to keep the undead masses outside from building up enough cumulative force to break through; they also craft a wooden "false wall" to hide the access to their living space. During the cleanup operation, Roger becomes reckless and is bitten, dooming himself to the infection. After clearing the mall of zombies, the four enjoy a hedonistic lifestyle with all the resources available to them. As time goes by, however, they come to perceive themselves as imprisoned by the zombies, especially since Francine is four months pregnant. Peter offers to abort the child, but this is rejected. The men begin to consider leaving; Stephen, now seeing the mall as a kind of kingdom, opposes the plan, but teaches Francine how to operate the helicopter in case of emergency. Roger eventually succumbs to his wounds, reanimates, and is shot by Peter. All emergency broadcast transmissions eventually cease, suggesting that civilization as they know it has completely collapsed.
Their ironic salvation occurs when a gang of motorcyclists, having seen the helicopter during one of Francine's flying lessons, break into and start looting the mall, which allows hundreds of zombies inside. Stephen forces a gun battle with the bikers and is shot in the arm; he tries to escape through an elevator shaft, but is cornered by the undead and bitten several times. As some of the bikers, shot by Peter, were consumed by the zombies, the rest retreat with their stolen goods. A reanimated Stephen (apparently knowing enough to remember the false wall) breaks through it and leads the undead to Francine and Peter. As Stephen enters their hideout, Peter kills him while Francine escapes to the roof. Peter then locks himself in a room and contemplates suicide. When zombies burst into the room, he has a change of heart and fights his way up to the roof, where he joins Francine. The two then fly away in the partially fueled helicopter to an uncertain future.
According to the original screenplay, Peter and Francine were to kill themselves, Peter by shooting himself and Fran by driving her head into the spinning helicopter blades. The ending credits would run over a shot of the helicopter blades turning until the engine winds down, implying that Peter and Fran would not have gotten far if they had chosen to escape. During production it was decided to change the ending of the film.
Much of the lead-in to the two suicides remains in the film, as Francine leans out of the helicopter upon seeing the zombies approach and Peter puts a gun to his head, ready to shoot himself. An additional scene, showing a zombie having the top of its head cut off by the helicopter blades (thus foreshadowing Francine's suicide) was included early in the film. Romero has stated that the original ending was scrapped before being shot, although behind the scenes photos show the original version was at least tested. The head appliance made for Fran's suicide was instead used in the opening SWAT raid, made-up to resemble an African-American male and blown apart by a shotgun blast.
Done with the George version of Dawn?
Good deal, now take in the modern awesomeness that is the Zach Snyder iteration. Then we get to talk about what I like, love, and hate about the flicks.
Dawn of the Dead is a 2004 American horror film directed by Zack Snyder in his feature film directorial debut. A remake of George A. Romero's 1978 film of the same name, it is written by James Gunn and stars Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, and Jake Weber. The film depicts a handful of human survivors living in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin shopping mall surrounded by swarms of zombies. The movie was produced by Strike Entertainment in association with New Amsterdam Entertainment, released by Universal Pictures and includes cameos by original cast members Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, and Tom Savini.
After finishing a long shift as a nurse, Ana (Sarah Polley), returns to her suburban neighborhood and her husband, Luis. Caught up in a scheduled date night, they miss an emergency news bulletin. The next morning, a neighborhood child enters their bedroom and kills Luis who immediately reanimates as a zombie and attacks Ana. She flees in her car, but eventually crashes and passes out.
Upon waking, Ana joins with Police Sergeant Kenneth Hall (Ving Rhames), jack-of-all-trades Michael (Jake Weber), petty criminal Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his pregnant wife, Luda (Inna Korobkina). They break into a nearby mall and kill a zombified security guard, who bites Luda. They are also confronted by three living guards—C.J. (Michael Kelly), Bart (Michael Barry) and Terry (Kevin Zegers)—who make them surrender their weapons in exchange for refuge. They split into groups to secure the mall and then go to the roof where they see another survivor, Andy (Bruce Bohne), who is stranded alone in his gun store across the zombie-infested parking lot.
The next day, a delivery truck carrying more survivors enters the lot, with zombies in close pursuit. C.J. and Bart wish to turn them away but are overruled and disarmed. The newcomers include Norma (Jayne Eastwood), Steve Marcus (Ty Burrell), Tucker (Boyd Banks), Monica (Kim Poirier), Glen (R.D. Reid), Frank (Matt Frewer) and his daughter, Nicole (Lindy Booth). Another woman (Ermes Blarasin) is too ill to walk; she is wheeled inside via wheelbarrow only to die and reanimate. After she is killed, the group determines that the disease is passed by bites. Andre leaves to see Luda, who has kept her bite hidden from the group. They realize that Frank has been bitten and is a potential threat. After some debate, Frank elects to be isolated. When he dies and turns, Kenneth shoots him.
Another montage shows the survivors passing time in the mall. Kenneth and Andy start a friendship by way of messages written on a whiteboard. When the power goes out, C.J., Bart, Michael and Kenneth go to the parking garage to activate the emergency generator. They find a friendly dog but are attacked by zombies, who kill Bart. The remaining men douse the zombies with gasoline and set them ablaze.
Meanwhile, Luda—in the advanced stages of infection and tied up by Andre—goes into labor and dies. She reanimates and the baby is born. Norma checks on the couple and kills the zombified Luda. Andre snaps; they exchange gunfire and both are killed. The rest of the group arrives to find a zombie baby whom they kill immediately. The remaining survivors decide to fight their way to the local marina, and travel on Steve's yacht to an island on Lake Michigan. They begin reinforcing two shuttle buses from the parking garage for their escape.
Andy is dying of starvation, so the group straps a food and a walkie-talkie onto the dog, Chips, and lower him into the parking lot. Andy calls for Chips, who is of no interest to the zombies. One zombie gets in the store before Andy can close the door. Nicole, worried about Chips, takes the delivery truck and crashes into the gun store, where she is trapped by a zombified Andy. Kenneth, Michael, Tucker, Terry and C.J. go through the sewers to mount a rescue. They reach the gun store, saving Nicole by killing Andy. They grab supplies and go back to the mall; along the way, Tucker is killed. Once inside they are unable to lock the door, forcing an evacuation.
Everyone gets into the buses and they navigate through the city. Glen loses control of a chainsaw, accidentally killing himself and Monica; blood splatters on the windshield causing Kenneth to crash the bus. A zombie attacks Steve as he tries to escape. C.J. exits the first van to look for crash survivors with Kenneth and Terry. They encounter the undead Steve but Ana kills him. She retrieves his boat keys, and they take the remaining bus to the marina. C.J sacrifices himself so the rest of the group can escape. Michael reveals he was bitten and Ana watches him kill himself, leaving Ana, Kenneth, Nicole, Terry and Chips as the only survivors.
A montage of footage from a camcorder found on the boat begins with Steve's escapades before the outbreak, and concludes with the group running out of supplies before finally arriving at an island, where they are attacked by another swarm of zombies. The camcorder drops, recording dozens of zombies chasing them, leaving their fate unknown.
Dawn vs. Dawn… Dead Not Red
Reading those rundowns doesn’t do either film justice. They are remarkable films in the their own ways and while it’s clear Snyder took great pains to pay homage to the original, listen to the filmmaker commentary on the DVD he’s an über fan, he also crafted his own vision into something amazing and vibrant. But when comparing the films one is often better than the other although there are a few ties between them.
So here we go, I’m going to compare and contrast the aspects of the films where I believe there is a clear winner. I won’t be delving into the setting, storyline, or effects in truth I feel I’m too close to the material to do it properly. We will be looking at three criteria the heroes, the villains, and the endings.
In Dawn 1978 there are four heroes (Frannie, Peter, Roger, and Stephen). It’s a tighter and more intimate cast of speaking parts when compared to Dawn 2004 which has a main cast of nearly a dozen.
In ‘78 the group is tight knit and emotionally independent. They need one another and despite some initial friction, Stephen feeling like the SWAT officers thinks he’s an idiot and Frannie demanding her right to be treated as an equal and not as the “Den Mother”, they come together. The love and trust between them is clear.
In 2004 the cast in ensemble in nature and provide a surprising depth. There are several points of engaging conflict, between Kenneth and Andre and between CJ and the initial survivors being the most intense and complex, which gives us something more amazing than one would expect in a horror movie.
I can’t complain about either cast. They both work on different levels trying to compare and contrast them is unfair. I could run down the characters and never be able to decide which one has the better casting. For example Peter and Kenneth are the Supermen of the movies. They are strong, black, disciplined, and kick more ass than any five other characters. They are THE heroes if I am forced to put that label on one character in each movie.
(Side Note: I met Ken Foree, Peter in 1978, a few years ago at a convention. He is without a doubt one of the coolest people I’ve ever met).
That being said I can break this tie in one way.
In the final analysis it comes down to the women.
Gaylen Ross plays Frannie in 1978 and Sarah Polly plays Anna in 2004. Gaylen was a rookie actor who didn’t have a long career in front of the camera and Sarah has been acting her entire life. Both of them are excellent in their roles.
Frannie, is a single pregnant woman demanding respect from these men in a world gone mad. She demands that she never be left unarmed, that she be part of every planning session, that she be taught to fly the helicopter, and she refuses to marry Stephen because it wouldn’t be right. Gaylen pulls it all off without looking or sounding fake. She plays terror when the Hare-Krishna zombie invaded their refuge above the mall. And she plays sexy in a single scene in front of a makeup mirror while holding a revolver.
Anna, is a woman from a clearly different time. There is no need for her to demand her place amongst the survivors. Far from it, the Milwaukee nurse is the only person all of the varied personalities in the Mall trust and will listen too. She handles the initial terror of her husband being murdered in their bedroom by the neighbor girl and then him rising again and trying to eat her. She is brave, bold, strong, and beautiful.
Both bands of heroes are admirable but in the end I give the edge to Dawn 1978. The tie breaker is Fran. She is a complex and relatable character. Terrified for herself, her unborn child, and her friends she doesn’t knuckle under and allow the men to take the lead. It’s a damn shame Gaylen didn’t continue her acting career I think we would have been better for it.
Winner: Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Let’s talk about which movie had the best villains, and by villains I do not mean the zombies. To me the zombies are the setting, there is nothing inherently evil or malicious about them, they just wish to feed. Now when I say the villains I mean the human antagonists. If a movie was just zombies and zero human antagonism it would quickly become old and lose my attention. Neither of these movies do this, both have sufficient human conflict to add flavor and suspense.
But one does it better than the other.
In Dawn 1978 the main antagonists are a group of bikers who’ve been surviving the holocaust on the road. They’re introduced in the final third of the movie and make the final sequences an action packed thrill ride. The scenes between the bikers and the survivors are intense and filled with laughs and gore. The conflict is fun but it’s not great.
In the Dawn 2004 the main human vs. human conflict takes place between the initial survivors (Kenneth, Anna, André, Luda, and Michael) and the leader of the three surviving Mall security guards CJ. CJ’s deputies (Bart and Terry) are more or less involved in the conflict but in the end the friction is all about CJ.
Let me stick this out there… CJ is the best character in either movie.
Now before you start hurling things at me allow me to explain. When we first meet CJ he’s the stereotypical American good old boy. He claims he’s willing to kill the survivors if they don’t obey him, he has faith in America’s ability to handle the situation, and he does his best to mask his terror with a grating bravado.
It’s all a smokescreen.
You can see the relief on CJ’s face when his gun is taken from him. He never wanted to be in charge and had only stepped into the roll because he was afraid to follow anyone else. He’s actually a decent man in a bad place and once he’s released from the Mall’s security holding cell he’s more than happy to follow orders. In the end CJ is the hero of the piece, the smartassed Midwest redneck asshole who willingly sacrifices himself so his friends could get away.
Winner: Dawn of the Dead (2004)
It had to come down to the endings of the movies to decide this war of preferences. I could have bitched about how stupid the zombie baby was in Dawn 2004 and I could have lamented the drag in the middle of Dawn 1978. I could have talked about special effects and debated the merits of fast vs. slow zombies. (I’m considering a whole part of this series just on that sticky wicket) But really what matters most is how I feel about the final moments of each movie.
In Dawn 1978 we end with Peter and Frannie flying away into the rising sun of the dawn. It’s the perfect ending for the movie. After all of the terror and loss we are left on a positive note. If you read the synopsis above you know that originally Peter and Fran were to both commit suicide at the end but George changed it at the last minute.
A change which was for the better in my opinion.
Dawn 2004 ends with our survivors (Kenneth, Anna, Nicole, and Terry) heading off into the sunset on a boat after CJ and Michael sacrifice themselves for the greater good. I have to tell you that if the movie ended on that last shot I would call this one a draw. But I didn’t. Instead during the credits we get snippets of found footage showing the survivors crossing Lake Michigan and reaching an island which turns out to be overrun by the dead. The movies ends with the fates of the people we’d rooted for as a complete unknown.
I fucking hated that.
Winner: Dawn of the Dead 1978
So in the end I’d have to say that Dawn of the Dead 1978 edges out its newer iteration but it’s not a homerun. Both movies are awesome and I’m happy to watch either of them if they are on. I firmly believe that if it wasn’t for Dawn 2004 the current zombie renaissance never would have happened. But in the end Dawn 1978 was and is the better film.
Though 2004 had Andy the Sniper so… Yeah, it has that going for it.
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