PCR past banners Now in our fifth calendar year
PCR #210  (Vol. 5, No. 14)  This edition is for the week of March 29--April 4, 2004.

 by Mike Smith
"Dawn of the Dead" review....H.G. Wells "Things to Come" (1936) on OBC....Goodbye J.J.
 by Andy Lalino
Whitewolf Games....Wizards of the Coast
 by Joshua Montgomery
The Great Battle of "We the People of the US" and Free Speech
 by Dylan Jones
Dating Sims
 by Clayton Smith
Collecting in he New Millenium - Part 2: Sports Cards
 by Brandon Jones
Scooby Doo 2....WizKids/Hero Clix
 by John Lewis
We Must End This Now!...Going Ape....Passing On....Meet The Beatles, Part 11
 by Mike Smith
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Andy Lalino
Oddservations by Andy Lalino

Dawn of the Dead - Andy's Review

In what I believe will be a personal record, I submit for your approval the - what?- 5th review of "Dawn of the Dead" on CF. Let's see...Mike Smith started this, followed by Ed Tucker, John Lewis, and...hey? Where's Nole's take on it? (On the homepage, sir...FINALLY--N)

The more I think about the 'new' "Dawn of the Dead" after seeing it on opening weekend, the more I dislike it. It was certainly an out-of-the-ordinary selection to remake; even horror fans were surprised that filmmakers would be bold enough to tackle such a cherished movie, but I guess after a remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", anything is possible. "Jaws '05" anyone? I can see smoke coming out of Mike & Matt's ears.

Before I saw DOTD '04, I previewed the trailer online, which was impressive. I loved the concept of the little girl attacking what I thought were her 'rents, followed by the film's heroine, Ana (Sarah Polley), driving through her suburban neighborhood, which has nightmarishly morphed into a zombie feeding ground. I also loved the complementary graphics of the classic yellow sun falling amidst an orange sky ('Dawn' of the Dead). The "Night of the Living Dead" hands/arms on the window imagery was done well too. In a nutshell, the trailer got me very psyched to see the movie, and managed to fend off the ill feelings I had toward those who would dare attempt to cash in on Romero's classic.

Spoilers are contained herein, so if you haven't seen DOTD '04, read at your own risk.

In what may be an odd homage to "Night of the Living Dead", the action begins with practically no explanation of the zombie virus. I guess screenwriter James Gunn figures so many fanboys and the mainstream public alike are familiar enough with zombie lore, so why waste time with details?

At a bustling Milwaukee hospital, we are introduced to Ana, the heroine. Incidentally, "Dawn of the Dead" must be the best thing to happen to Milwaukee since "Happy Days". We see Ana working at the hospital, which begins taking in the first zombie cases, as a nurse; these facts later would have no significant relevance whatsoever, except for establishing Ana as the Queen of First Aid Kits.

Rewind to 1978 when Stephen King penned "The Stand" - Stu Redman was the first civilian to encounter a Captain Trips victim at an East Texas gas station; later on Redman was to prophetically be one of the saviors of mankind. "Dawn of the Dead" sets up Ana in this fashion (handled clumsier than Mick Garris' direction), but manages to do nothing with the character other than showing her bite of gauze with her fore teeth.

After a frustrating encounter with a doctor, the exhausted Ana returns home to her cookie-cutter neighborhood where her husband, who looks suspiciously like make-up artist Gary Tunnicliffe, welcomes her home. They say night-night, and fall asleep together. Awwww. In what turns out to be the best scene in the movie, they are awakened by a little girl who is staring at them through their bedroom doorway. The girl is not their daughter, but a neighbor's daughter named Victoria. Now, most people that I've talked with who have seen the movie think that the little girl is their daughter. Why not go there? I think it would have messed up Ana's psyche (who didn't seem overly distraught at her husband's turning) and been a worthy homage to "Night of the Living Dead", when Karen Cooper became zombified and killed her mother. Gunn possibly felt that relationship would have been too close to "Night", even though they're blatantly remaking a Romero film!

The girl, Victoria, turns out to be a fleshy-faced little zombie who maniacally takes a bite from Ana's husband. Ana manages to barricade the zombie-girl out of the room, and phones for help. DOTD becomes "28 Days Later" at this point, nearly mimicking the speed and symptoms of the zombies "turning". The husband attacks Ana, which forces her to take refuge in the bathroom, which features a great shot of her falling ass-first into a bathtub. Ana eventually escapes the house, and heads out to her neighborhood, which looks like a zombie apocalypse. Flesheaters attack her friends and neighbors. To survive, she hops in her car and speeds off, rejecting pleas of help from potential zombie candy. The scene ends in an aerial wide shot which features some hip CGI explosions and effects.

The action switches almost immediately to the "Crossroads Mall", where the bruised & battered Ana meets up with fellow survivors who decide to hole up for a while. DOTD shares some of the same tensions as the original once the mall action starts, but there are some innovative twists that have appeal, one being that the clan of survivors soon come face-to-face with territorial mall security guards (you know, the kind we made fun of back in the '70s). Both sides are armed and distrust one another, which makes for some tense moments between the two distrusting groups. Eventually, the guards are overtaken and put in their place.

A memorable highlight of the original (and "Night of the Living Dead" also) was the Emergency Broadcast System bulletins. The new "Dawn" (like that?) attempts to go there, but by the middle of the movie it falls flat. The bulletins were well-done during the kick-ass opening credit sequence (which blew me away), but even the presence of Ken Foree as a televangelist was less-than-memorable, as was Savini's and Reininger's cameos. They should have been given more screen time and had meatier roles. I'll never forget the EBS bulletin from the '79 film where the doctor with the eye patch suggested people "eat" the zombies! "Logical. We have to think logical!"

Some of the characters are good, others the filmmakers chose to completely ignore. Ving Rhames is okay as "Kenneth", a tough ex-marine who becomes the figurehead of the group. Ana proves to have a little chutzpah by standing up to C.J., head of the mall security guards (great performance by Michael Kelly) and his two toadies, but fails to live up to Gaylen Ross' character from the original. Perhaps the most appealing character is "Michael", played by Jake Weber, an ordinary guy who's transformed into a hero under terrifying circumstances. 'Ty Burrell' exists to bring in the urban dollars (it worked) and is the about-to-be proud papa of the most hideous newborn since "It's Alive!". The rest of the characters are practically throwaways. I was surprised to see Matt (Max Headroom) Frewer there amongst the cast in an insulting small role. My theory is director Zack Snyder cast him because he's a dead-ringer (ha, ha, ha!) for "Dead" alumni Scott Reiniger. Let me tell you, Frewer looks scary as hell with his skull-like head - all pale with sunken-in eyes! He was probably the scariest flesheater in the film.

Another interesting character is "Andy", owner of a gun shop across from the mall. Andy communicates with Kenneth in the most low-tech of ways - dry-erase markers and erasable chalkboards (used in conjunction with binoculars) on the roof. Out of all the character interactions, Andy and Kenneth's seem the most heartfelt. You'll notice most of the cast consists of names that are not household ones. I admire filmmakers who are willing to take chances without superstars. That's one of the things I love about horror; you don't need a Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts to get the damned mainstream lemmings to see the flick.

The second best scene in the movie (St. Petersburg Times film critic Steve Persall likens it to "Alien" and "It's Alive!" - maybe so) involves the birth of a zombie baby. The filmmakers actually let the camera linger on the zombie this time (the pregnant mother) instead of doing the "28 Days Later" shtick of jumpy camera movements, shutter effects and fast-motion actions. This made the zombie much scarier than catching glimpses of them running. With a more seasoned director, this scene could have become a classic, however it stands as an above average attempt with the potential for greatness. It would have been interesting if the baby was as deadly as one of the facehuggers in "Aliens". It would have presented a scenario where the survivors had to find it (before it finds them) in the nursery.

It was "Return of the Living Dead" (or possibly even "Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things") that introduced the concept of fast-moving zombies, not "28 Days Later" or "Resident Evil". They just took the fast-moving zombie concept and made it look more like MTV or a video game. IMO, ROTLD is the movie to be inspired by if one wants to emulate fast-moving zombies. Those zombies were quick, funny, and scary all at the same time. They didn't run around so hurriedly that one couldn't see them, like the warrior aliens in "Alien 3", which makes them much less frightening. The makers of DOTD would have served themselves better if they had watched ROTLD a few times during pre-production.

Hardly any filmmaker of late has been able to portray zombies, even fast-moving ones, as scary as the slow, shambling ones in "Night of the Living Dead". Sure, it's just greasepaint and shoe polish, but the faded skin, dark eyes and lips create a psychological nightmare few filmmakers have been able to capture since the '60s, which also included "The Last Man on Earth" and "Carnival of Souls", which in turn inspired "Night...".

The end of DOTD, which I won't give away, is a cross between the 1977 sci-fi film "Damnation Alley" and "Maximum Overdrive", with the survivors inexplicably desirous to leave the well-stocked mall (even though they were warned that the "Safety Zones" have been overtaken by zombies). The plan is to reinforce two shuttle busses and make it to an island (from the '78 movie: "Any island!"). What happens if they get a flat? Well, wouldn't you know, something worse than that happens and well, go see the movie for yourself (if I haven't ruined it already with numerous spoilers) to find out who lives and who becomes zombie turkey legs.

Sure, the '04 DOTD is worth a look, but do yourself a favor and buy/watch the original one more time. It will, if nothing else, remind you just how bloody brilliant the '70s were, sideburns & all.

H.G. Wells' "Things to Come" (1936) on OBC

Note: The following review was posted on the CF brand-spanking new message board, but what the hell; I'm re-publishing it here:

After drooling over production stills from this film featured in the book "The Pictorial History of Science-Fiction Films" by Jeff Rovin (1975, baby!!!), which I've had for nearly 30 years, I finally sat down and watched it after taping it off of Buffalo's "Off Beat Cinema". Not too long ago, I also watched Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" (off VHS), and was blown away by both films, which are similar in scope and look, although one was silent, the other talkie (TTC).

The 1930's was an amazing period in genre film history; most of the classic movie monsters we know and love today had their standards set in the '30s (Frankenstein, Werewolf of London, The Invisible Man, Dracula, White Zombie), although in some cases it was not the first time the screen debuted particular characters (Edison's 1910 "Frankenstein" and "Nosferatu" for example). The '30s were fairly impressive in the sci-fi arena as well, mostly due to "Things to Come" as a shining example of brilliant special effects married with mature storytelling reminiscent of "Metropolis". The 1930 film "Just Imagine"(which I have yet to see), featured stunning effects (from the clips/stills I've seen) that, according to Rovin, were influenced by "Metropolis" as well, and may have indeed influenced "Things to Come". It should also be noted that Chaplin's "Modern Times" was released the same year, and like "Metropolis"/"Things to Come", had similar views on how technology effects humanity, though "Things to Come" was more sympathetic in its view.

Briefly, "Things to Come" is about a world war that breaks out in the '30s, though the action is centered in England. The war turns so violent and lasts so long (into the '70s) that it transforms earth into a feudal, post-apocalyptic society that is decidedly low-tech. This begs the analysis - was "Things to Come" the first Post-Apocalyptic film ever made? On another area of earth, scientists have developed a peaceful society that seeks to bring an end to the fighting, unleashing "Wings Over the World": giant aeroplanes that circle the globe, defeating the warlords that have laid claim to various territories. Eventually, peace through technology spreads to the war-weary masses.

The film then fast-forwards into the 21st Century, where the futuristic city of "Everytown" is built. These scenes feature impressive special effects (matte paintings, models, and rear projection) that seemed ahead of its time, evident when compared to the sci-fi friendly '50s.

Eventually mankind sickens of technology and progress ("Oh God, will there ever be any rest?"), and in one of the best lines in the film that practically defines the human race, the character Cabal replies: "Rest enough for the individual man - too much, and too soon - and we call it death. But for mankind, no rest and no ending. He must go on, conquest beyond conquest".

The film concludes with civil unrest, similar to "Metropolis", focused on a giant "Space Gun" that symbolizes mankind's unquenchable lust for progress. The end of the film (no spoilers here) is a revelation.

    Some interesting facts about "Things to Come":
  • It was directed by William Cameron Menzies, who later on would helm the original "Invaders from Mars"
  • The screenplay was written by H.G. Wells himself, after going through many drafts in which the original ones proved to be too expensive to produce.
  • The film was prophetic; it nearly predicted WWII.
  • There is a scene in the film which features "Wings over the World", which are "flying wings" built by a society far ahead of the rest of the world technologically, which "rescue" the planet from a warlord-style governmental system. "Things to Come" influenced Paul McCartney to name his band "Wings", and the call their live album "Wings over the World".
  • Is "Things to Come" the first Post-Apocalyptic movie ever made? I scanned through a few film books and could not find an example of another one. What a way to kick off a sub-genre!

Jeff Rovin is reverential to "Things to Come" in his book, which I have cherished since my childhood (read so much over the years, its dust jacket is long gone), and features more stills from the movie than nearly any other sci-fi film he writes about, but keep in mind the book was first published in the great year of 1975, two years before "Star Wars" changed life as we know it.

As I previously wrote, I taped TTC from "Off Beat Cinema". I love the show, however the quality standard of the movies they broadcast is shockingly low, looking like a $1.99 VHS recorded in EP mode. TTC definitely deserves a viewing on DVD, preferably remastered.

Goodbye J.J.

Sad news from the days when MTV was actually worth watching - one of the network's original "V.J.'s" passed away on Wednesday, March 24. Mr. Jackson died of a heart attack.

"Oddservations" is ©2004 by Andy Lalino.  The Oddservations banner is a creation of Andy Lalino. All other graphics (unless otherwise noted, like the small poster of Satana) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.