Monday, June 30, 2008

George A. Romero Month, Film 11

About the time that George A. Romero was preparing for his 180 fashion-world thriller Bruiser, there was a little known television series called Spaced running in Britain. It's director Edgar Wright and star Simon Pegg were massive George Romero fans (in one episode, Pegg stays up late playing Resident Evil 2 and has a Romero-style nightmare). Well, Bruiser, it turns out wouldn't be much of a forecast for Romero's future, but Spaced and it's creators had a big surprise in store for the creator of the living dead. When I saw the trailer for their debut feature film, and heard the music ripped right from Romero's Dawn of the Dead, I nearly wept with joy. When I saw the film, I was amazed at how unbelievably funny these unknown brits were, but even more astounded that they were willing be as dark as their hero was in Day of the Dead.

Shaun of the Dead
by Edgar Wright

Shaun's life is going nowhere. His best friend and roommate Ed is a big dumbass who will forever stunt his emotional growth; their third rommate wants him gone as he never pays, cleans, or does anything productive. His girlfriend recognizes this and seeing that he will never be an adult, breaks up with him. His mother and step-dad are a constant source of frustration, as is his job at a copy store. In fact it would take a very large change in his life for him to be worth much to anyone. What sort of change? Well, as I'm sure everyone who reads this knows, the change is the impending Zombie plague that starts up one morning.

After Shaun and Ed realize the score (the scenes where Shaun is introduced to the zombies on the streets are a combination of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and Day of the Dead) they begin prioritizing. Shaun, being the only one of the two with family or a life of any kind, takes the initiative, seeing not only a chance to save his loved ones, but to prove to all of them that he's more than the nothing they have, until now, rightly taken him for. So, armed with Cricket Bat and shovel, they leave to collect Shaun's girlfriend, her two roomates, his mom and stepdad and head to their favorite bar. Complications, big ones, ensue. As the man on tv says "It is vital to stay in your home, not try to reach any loved ones and avoid physical contact with the assailants."

As tributes go, this one is really only skin deep. There are borrowed music cues (the best music of Dawn of the Dead shows up in the beginning), very similar zombies, and that's really about it. Edgar Wright has on many occasions admitted his (and every other zombie filmmaker of the last 40 years) debt to Romero. Zombies as we know them, after all, are his creation. The behavior of his zombies are identical to those of Romeros. Also present from Romero's films, the fact that this film can be a big fucking bummer when it wants to be. This is a film where people have to alternately kill or watch die their parents, best friends, and lovers. I call that a big fucking bummer when for most of the film we've been asked to laugh our asses off (which is not hard). The first half of the film is a hoot, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, the writers, are geniuses on the level of Monty Python. Hot Fuzz, their take on the Bruckheimer action film, illustrates this pretty nicely. Their humour is both universal and uniquely British, like the Pythons. Present also are some pretty amazing acting talents. Dylan Moran of Black Books, that cute Lucy Davis from the original Office, Bill Nighy, and of course Pegg and Nick Frost. The humour is delightful, and ranges from british in jokes to unexpectedly effective puns and other simple tactics. I could have done without the gravity of the conclusion, but, I guess it isn't a zombie film without a scene of someone's guts being pulled out. It's also good to know that zombie films will always be a fresh subject to be mined, even while shit like House of the Dead and Vampires vs. Zombies continues to be produced day after day. Romero was pleased with Shaun (his quote is on the DVD cover, and he asked Wright and Pegg to be zombie extras in Land of the Dead), and so am I. I'm also pleased to know his influence has wrought some truly brilliant things over the years.

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