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Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly, Mekhi Phifer
Rated R 101 minutes

The modern era's reigning "King of the Comic Book Adaptation" made his feature-length film debut with this ill-advised and wholly unnecessary remake of George Romero's 1978 masterpiece. And like his blockbuster comic book movies, Snyder manages to strip all the complexity and nuance from the source material, delivering a crowdpleasing, but superficial, action movie. The bones of the story are essentially the same: a mysterious plague infects society that causes the recently dead to return and devour the warm, juicy flesh of the living. Bloody chaos ensues, and a diverse group of survivors take refuge in a shopping mall.

That's pretty much where the similarity ends. Romero's zombies were dumb, stumbling, and imbecilic drones that you could run, walk, or bunny hop away from. Snyder's zombies, despite being in varying stages of decomposition, have tremendous cardiovascular capabilities. You won't be hoofing your way to safety with these ghouls around; they run and leap with the tenacity of an Olympic athlete. This change alone gives his version a completely different feel than the original. They aren't necessarily more frightening, but they are a lot more dangerous.

The other big difference is that this film doesn't have much to say; it's a popcorn movie through and through. When it's over, people will probably talk about the action in this scene or that scene, or a particular gore effect or two. What they won't be doing here, unlike Romero's original, is talk about what it all means. It was probably a wise decision to not get philosophical, but it makes the movie largely forgettable in the grand scheme of things.

It isn't a total waste of time, however. The saving grace here is the screenplay by James Gunn (SLITHER; GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY), which manages to give the characters enough depth and personality to make you root for their survival. Or their deaths, whatever the case may be. There's enough humor, thrills, and satisfying action scenes to somewhat make up for the loss of the more thought provoking elements of the Romero film. These zombies also look great, thanks to effects by David Anderson. Fun fact: David Anderson's wife, Heather Langenkamp (Nancy from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) helped out with some of the paint-and-prosthetic grunt work.

In the end, it's a fun action movie that delivers enough crowd-pleasing thrills to keep the haters at bay. It certainly doesn't add anything to the original movie, nor does it take anything away.

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