It’s fitting that Shout Factory would release “Land of the Dead” right around the same time as 2004’s version of “Dawn of the Dead.” After almost twenty years in development hell, and with the title “Dead Reckoning,” Romero was able to finally complete his planned fourth part of his dead series thanks to the success of “Dawn.” Even Romero admitted that he owed a lot of his ability to make “Land” thanks to the evident success of “Dawn.” While “Land of the Dead” feels incomplete and under developed, I give Romero a huge pass mainly because he was given so much hell while filming the long awaited sequel. Not only did he have to scale down his story yet again like he did with “Day of the Dead,” but he couldn’t film in Pittsburgh which he always did with his zombie epics.
He was also forced to cast actors with considerable name recognition in his lead roles. Furthermore there was news that he walked off the set after the studio cut his budget in half. While we don’t get the full vision of what Romero originally intended (it often feels like a lot of important character emphases was chopped out from earlier drafts of the film’s script), “Land of the Dead” still ends up being a stellar post-9/11 parable about class warfare, terrorism, and blind patriotism. Much of the latter is represented in the fact that the walking dead in “Land” can be distracted for a moment by lighting fireworks in the sky, which allows them to pause and gaze blankly for an instance. Set in the apocalypse where the war against the dead has been lost, a large pocket of humanity now lives in a ghetto known as Fiddler’s Green.
Protected by a large river and fences, the poor are forced to live in ghettos, scraping by for food and shelter. Meanwhile the head of the safe haven, Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), dwells in a high rise alongside many other wealthy individuals. Hero Riley (Simon Baker) leads a large group of scavengers that hunt for resources in the wasteland. After an unfortunate casualty among the group, Riley plans to leave Fiddler’s Green for good. Meanwhile his rival Cholo (A very cool John Leguizamo) is anxious to be let in to the high rise among the wealthy. When Kaufman goes back on his promise, Cholo steals the tank “Dead Reckoning” from the village and uses it as a bartering tool for Kaufman, threatening to destroy the city. Alongside other soldiers, Riley is hired to track down Cholo and take back “Dead Reckoning.”
As he travels to seize the war machine, no one is aware that a horde of vengeful relentless walking dead are approaching Fiddler’s Green led by Big Daddy, a zombie with the ability to adapt and learn. For what it’s worth the cast does a bang up job giving spirited performances, including Simon Baker, Asia Argento, and Robert Joy who portrays Charlie, one of the most memorable Romero heroes ever created. Romero is also able to create some very memorable gore and grue, which is especially emphasized in the far superior “Director’s Cut,” featured in the new Edition from Scream Factory. “Land of the Dead” is a very good horror film with a great vision and some fun ideas, and if Romero would have been allowed to go all out, it could have been the zombie epic that he always wanted.
The release from Scream Factory is a two disc deluxe edition. Disc One features the “Theatrical” version of the film. Among the features, there’s “Cholo’s Reckoning: An Interview with actor John Leguizamo,” an interesting sit down with actor and comedian Leguizamo who discusses his character in the film, and the current political climate. “Charlie’s Story” is an interview with notable character actor Robert Joy who plays the marksman Charlie. Joy has wonderful things to say about the late Romero, working with him on “The Dark Half,” and his expectations for Charlie. “The Pillsbury Factor” is an interview with actor Pedro Miguel Arce, who plays the underused giant soldier Pillsbury. Arce gives us a back story on how he became an actir, his preparation for the role, and his life after the movie.
There’s the fun “Four of the Apocalypse: An interview with actors Eugene Clark, Jennifer Baxter, Boyd Banks and Jasmin Geljo” which is an interview with the four more prominent zombies in the movie, and how they worked on their roles as well as their lives after the movie. “Dream of the Dead” garners commentary with Roy Frumkes and is an homage to Romero and Tom Savini. There’s Deleted Footage from “Dream of the Dead,” Deleted Scenes from the movie with no commentary, the original theatrical trailer, and a photo gallery.
Disc Two packs the “Unrated” version, which is undoubtedly the superior cut of “Land of the Dead.” The pacing is better, there’s much more grue, and it watches so much easier. There’s an audio commentary with the Zombie performance Matt Blazi, Glena Chao, Michael Felsher and Rob Mayr, all of whom provide a new commentary for the film. There’s a ported over audio commentary with the late great George A. Romero, who writes and directs the film. There’s also Peter Grunwald and editor Michael Doherty, all of whom join for a commentary. “Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead” is another making of but with more substance and a deeper look at the history of the film and zombie culture.
“Bringing The Dead To Life” is a technical look at making the zombies pop, “Scenes of Carnage” is a montage of the film’s most gruesome and gory scenes, and “Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene,” a look at scenes filmed in raw form and how they were manipulated or touched up with CGI. “Scream Test – CGI test” is a crude test with animated zombies, and there’s “Bringing the Storyboards to Life” a look at the film’s storyboards and their completed scenes on film. “A Day with the Living Dead hosted by John Leguizamo” sees co-star John Leguizamo adding humor to his time on the set, taking us on a tour, and his mock argument with a stunt zombie. Finally, there’s “When Shaun Met George,” a look at the creators of “Shaun of the Dead,” Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, and their experience meeting their horror hero, and working as zombie extras in the final film.