When a myterious virus turns people into mindless, flesh-eating zombies, a handful of survivors wage a desperate, last-stand battle to stay alive... and human.
"Danny, put another round in that woman over there! Look! She's a twitcher!"
- The County Sheriff
The original Dawn of the Dead
is George Romero’s Arc de Triomphe. It is universally recognized by critics as the defining achievement in zombie horror, and it and its predecessor, Night of the Living Dead
, secured Romero’s place in horror history as one of the genre’s most beloved icons. The witty social awareness of mall culture harpooned in the film and the critical examination of human nature that is present has impressed even the most hardened genre detractors. That said, I never really was a fan of the original film (*ducks*). Maybe I’m shallow, or maybe I’m too swayed by new Hollywood glitz and glamour effects. Either way, I just could not find what seemingly everyone else found in the film. For me, witty social commentary is no pay off for non-stop zombie mayhem. In the end, the original film just moved too slowly for my tastes.
Now, this isn’t to say that the elements of the original are completely terrible. For any film to be passed as legitimate, it must have some elements of character depth and give some sort of reason to fear for these characters. The audience must be attached to these victims and have some sort of excuse for the pit of fear growing in their stomachs. Perhaps, however, the original has too much of this. There comes a fine line (to me, anyway) where character development simply becomes padding and dull to sit through instead of performing its intended function. There must be action to keep our attention, which, in a zombie movie, means gory deaths and mutilations of the undead. Of course, there is no shortage of this in the original, but with a running time of over two hours, even this action becomes too few and far between.
But, last I checked, this is a review of the remake, not the original. Anyway, this remake, which runs at a sufficient hour and forty minutes, reached my expectations that I had for the original. I don’t mean that it’s simply 100 minutes of pure zombie liquefaction and carnage (though Dead Alive
is a treat of its own). The many elements that made the original film a classic are still present here (save for the aforementioned social satire, which is all but abandoned in this film) and is condensed down and combined with more adventure and more daring. It is, for me, the perfect modern day zombie film (though my personal favorite will always remain Fulci’s Zombie
One intriguing aspect of the film is that the now famous plot of the original ‒ a group of people fortified inside a deserted shopping mall ‒ is still present, but beyond that, the story is unrecognizable. Now, of course, remakes should show some creative leeway that separates it from the original (we all know what a disaster the shot-by-shot remake of Psycho
was), but even so, there are usually story elements that are recognizable from both films. In this, the only connecting feature is the location. No characters are repeated, no scenes duplicated. It is truly Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead
, similar to how Stanley Kubrick separated himself from Stephen King with The Shining
. A distinct group of protagonists is still present (a threesome rather than a foursome), yet they’re unrelated to the original characters, and each character is wonderfully developed between scenes of fighting the undead. A new glimpse is caught of each character throughout the first two thirds of the film, further building on the likable personalities already established.
The other major aspect that really makes this film is its ability to create such a convincing reality onscreen. If one was to imagine an apocalypse, it would be complete chaos, destruction, and general disarray as everyman fights for their lives, and this is wonderfully depicted in Dawn of the Dead
. This is supported by the new, fast zombies present here, which are more graphic and more realistic than Romero’s blue and bumbling bad guys. This presents a unique situation: previously, the slow and stupid zombies waded around aimlessly, not providing much threat (nor did they look the part of something fearsome). The fact that the protagonists in the first film were brought to their demise leads me to believe that they were idiots. These new foes not only look like graphic, walking murder victims, they’re fast and constantly moving, which means no matter how safe a barricade the mall may seem to be, the undead outside will eventually find their way into the safe house.
Of course, there are also the antagonists within the mall itself. The larger group in this film leads to more internal conflict between the healthy humans inside, slightly mirroring the final conflict in the original film, though not nearly on such a grandiose scale and they ultimately fight for a common, cooperative goal. Even so, these personalities conflicting with our heroes manage to make themselves likable, if not for sympathy of their situation, but also because of a dark humor accentuated throughout, highlighted by the excellent montage featuring Richard Cheese’s lounge score of “Down with the Sickness”. Said sequence perfectly summarizes the entire film: a combination of witty, black humor with wonderful characters and endless despair.
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- Actors Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger and Tom Savini all appeared in the original 1978 version of this film, but playing different characters. Ken Foree delivers the tagline he delivered as "Peter" from the 1978 version of Dawn of the Dead; "When there's no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth."
- An extra on the DVD release for this film, "We interrupt this program", a fake newscast depicting the start and spread of the zombie infection, contains some characters whose dialog consists of lines from the original Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead.
- According to "the lost tape", which contains gun shop owner Andy's personal video diary (accessible as a bonus feature on the director's cut DVD), the main characters arrive at the mall early in the movie on May the 9th. Therefore, the movie opens a day earlier on May the 8th (Andy mentions that attacks on citizens by the undead had already started on the 7th). Andy makes his last entry just before he turns into one of the undead on June the 6th, and the movie ends on that same day (not including the footage during the end credits). This places the events of Dawn of the Dead in a space of just 29 days--and it begins and ends at dawn.
- According to the director, Zack Snyder, on the DVD commentary he states that Scott Frank and Michael Tolkin both did uncredited rewrites on the script.
- Starbucks Coffee refused to be featured in the film.
- Director Zack Snyder personally chose most of the music used in the film. His choices included "The Man Comes Around" by Johnny Cash, and Richard Cheese's cover of Disturbed's "Down With the Sickness". Snyder was the only person who thought these songs should be in the film, as most of the producers were against it.
- The scene between Sarah Polley (Ana), Mekhi Phifer (Andre), Jayne Eastwood (Norma), and Kim Poirier (Monica) at the Hallowed Grounds Café was re-written in order to include actress Kim Poirier to give her more screen time since director Zack Snyder and producer Eric Newman enjoyed her performance so much. However, her character's name is never once mentioned throughout the entire film. Also most unfortunate, a lot of her dialog scenes were trimmed or eliminated from the film, such as the dinner scene.
- Members of Rue-Morgue Magazine, a Canadian-based publication had cameos as zombies in the film.
- The WGON traffic copter makes an appearance. The WGON traffic copter was the main transportation for the survivor in the original Dawn of the Dead.
- One of the invoices in "Andy's Gun Works" is made out to Nicholas Gazda who is the first assistant art director of this movie.
- Some of the trucks outside the mall are from the same company, B.P. Trucking, that loaned them to the production of the original 1978 film.
- One of the clothing stores in the mall is named "Gaylen Ross". Gaylen Ross played the part of Fran in the original Dawn of the Dead.
- The name of Ving Rhames' character, Kenneth, is an obvious nod to actor Ken Foree, who played a very similar role in the original Dawn of the Dead.
- A UK MTV Host, Alex Zane, is featured during the zombies' rampage through the mall. After interviewing Zack Snyder he was invited to be in the film, thus as we see the zombies running past the camera once they've entered the mall, he is clad in a bright white checkered shirt.
- Ana's bedroom was actually built at the mall, in the back of a department store.
- The first scene in the basement finishes when Michael burns the zombies with fuel from the gas station and CJ's lighter. This is a reference to a similar scene in George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead.
- Sarah Polley was first choice to play Ana.
- For the scene where Ana stitches Kenneth's wounds, the director hired a real nurse for the close-ups. She misunderstood the director's directions to go deeper and inadvertently punctured Ving Rhames' skin and stitched the prosthesis to his arm. He didn't say anything until after the scene was done filming and the director thought the blood was merely "a really good effect".
- The commercial on the TV when it switches to the "special report" near the beginning of the film is a commercial for a Subaru WRX that Zack Snyder directed.
- The cause of the dead returning to life is not completely explained in the film. On the back of the DVD box, it is said to be a virus.
- In an aerial scene in the first 10 minutes when Ana is driving down a highway, a truck can be seen crashing into a gas station/diner. This is a reference to Night of the Living Dead, as Ben mentions he was listening to a radio in a truck in a diner parking lot when a truck crashed into the gas pumps.
- The movie trailer shows Andre checking the mall entrance when several zombies attack the outer doors. This scene was replaced in the film with a subdued version showing only one frail-looking zombie pouncing on the glass door. However, the clip used in the theatrical trailer is available for viewing on the DVD and has director commentary explaining why he changed the scene.
- The word "zombie" is never used.
- Shot in chronological order.
- The "video" shots shown in the final credits were not shot in Toronto. This ending was added after filming was complete and was shot at Catalina Island, California.
- One of the most gruesome "zombies" (the bloated woman killed with a fireplace poker) was actually played by a man.
- Director Zack Snyder makes a cameo as a member of a commando unit (with shades holding an assault weapon) in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. This scene can be seen during the opening credits montage of video/news clips of zombie attacks.
- Zack Snyder's directorial debut.
- While they are stocking up on ammunition in the gun store, the music from the gun store in the original film can be heard playing very lightly in the background.
- An exchange between Kim Poirier (Monica) and Lindy Booth (Nicole) about Nicole playing with the dog more than she is helping was eliminated from the film in order to avoid making Kim Poirier's character sound "too bitchy."
- The music playing in the mall when the survivors first arrive is a variation of Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy".
- Former MTV/MTV2 VJ Iann Robinson has an uncredited cameo as a zombie. When first entering the mall, the group is charged by an Asian man-turned-zombie. The large zombie behind the Asian man is played by Robinson.
- The ending of the movie continues throughout the credits by a series of brief video clips.
- This is the first movie to broadcast the first ten minutes uncut on network TV, five days before its nationwide release. The showing was broadcast on the USA network, and on Channel 4 in the UK with a special introduction by film critic (and major horror fan) Mark Kermode.
- The movie premiere was hosted at the Beverly Centre Mall in Los Angeles, with cast and crew in attendance.
- Title designer Kyle Cooper used actual human blood when designing the film's opening and closing credit sequences.
- The two zombies with missing limbs (the jogger missing an arm and the legless zombie in the parking garage) were both played by actual amputees. The same thing was done for one of the first zombies seen in the original Dawn of the Dead.
- Some of the video clips in the opening credits were actual stock news footage, such as the scene of a truck driving into a crowd of people.
- When developing the script, the producers had Diane Lane in mind to play Ana.
- Make-up designer David Leroy Anderson scoured forensic books and crime scene photos for ideas on how best to convey death and decay.
- Different colors of blood were used for zombies in different stages of decomposition: red for the recently dead, a browner version for the ones that have been dead for a few weeks; and a blacker, oilier version for the ones that have been dead for a considerable period of time.
- The production had a blood cart on set all day due to the excessive amounts of fake blood being used.
- As many as 50 make-up artists would be working on transforming actors into zombies for the days that required crowd scenes.
- By the end of production, 3000 zombie make-up effects had been created.
- The mall in the original 1978 version was a fully operating shopping mall that was completely original, with no made up stores, and it wasn't scheduled to be torn down.
- This was due to be released in the UK in the same week as the similar Shaun of the Dead. UIP elected to push back the latter's release date for 2 weeks.
- A veteran of largely independent films, Sarah Polley was surprised at how physical her role turned out to be. She said she had never run so much in any of her previous movies.
- The name Wooley's Diner comes from the name of the SWAT team leader in the original film.
- Universal significantly slashed the film's budget after the failure of House of the Dead, fearing there was no public appetite for zombie movies.
- A lot of the actors playing zombies were carrying remotes in their hand to discharge a blood cannon placed on their back. This would activate an explosion of blood behind them, to simulate the effect of a gunshot to the head.
- Some of the camera crew would wear plastic sheeting during the filming of some of the more gorier scenes, due to the amount of fake blood flying around.
- With an opening weekend take of $26.7 million, Dawn of the Dead recouped its $28 million budget in its first 3 days of release.
- Zack Snyder said that the reason his zombies run at full speed is because he wanted to avoid the inherent comic impression given by slow, shuffling undead.
- When Ving Rhames heard of a remake of Dawn of the Dead was in production, he tracked down producers to be in the film.
- Although he had strong reservations about some elements, George A. Romero professed to be surprisingly impressed with the film.
- 40 minutes shorter than George A. Romero's original director's cut.
- Ving Rhames was always first choice for the part of Kenneth.