Roger’s Diary of the Dead Review

Tonight I saw a preview screening of Diary of the Dead. What follows is a review containing very mild spoilers and a strong bitter taste.

This review was brought to you by Tylenol PM and two bites of a fried catfish filet that smelled and tasted like my fish tank when I’m too lazy to clean it. You know that Dallas BBQ place across from the AMC 25 on 42nd street? STAY AWAY.


Now on to the movie.

Those of you who have attended films with me know that I am an absolute stickler for noise discipline. If your popcorn is making too much noise I will fix that by pouring my drink over it. If your nose is whistling like Garrison Keillor’s, I will quickly pinch it off. Of course, I hold myself to the same rigorous standards.

So you will understand when I say that I disliked this movie so much that halfway through it I turned to my friend and whispered as softly as possible, “I really dislike this movie.”

Here are my two big issues with it:

#1 – GEORGE ROMERO HAS A MESSAGE FOR US.

George, nobody knows this better than we do: the first three Dead films had a lot to say about the times they were made in, about your social and political views, and about the human condition in the face of adversity.

However, in Land of the Dead, it was pretty apparent that you had a message for us and you felt that you had to point it out to us in dialogue. Now you have added the additional dimension of narration, so that if we’re not getting it in dialogue, the friendly offscreen voice will gently push us towards the mental goal posts that you’ve set up.

You really don’t have to do this for us, or for the newbies who came to experience a Romero film for the first time. It really gets in the way of the movie. And we got it back in 1979, “they’re us.” You don’t have to repeat yourself.

Introduce us to the characters, tell the story that you want to tell, and the theme will take care of itself. You’ve done this before, and I think you can do it again.

#2 – YOU NEED TO SHAKE UP MORE THAN JUST THE CAMERA.

Take someone who has never seen a movie like Julien Donkey Boy, or a TV show like The Shield, and the first thing they will notice is that the camera shakes. Cinema verite! You are there! I love it!

However, that’s not all you need to do to pull something like this off. Shaking the camera is just part of it. You need to tone down the sets. You need to make the dialogue flow more like real conversation. And you need to hire actors who can ratchet back their performances and just be themselves. Unfortunately, none of this happened.

The comparisons to Cloverfield are going to be inevitable. Movie geeks like us know that the two films were developed completely independently of one another, but it’s very hard to watch this movie without comparing them.

There are some things that I honestly loved about this movie: an unforgettable Amish character, a couple of novel ways to dispatch zombies, and a very funny gag involving a home movie found in a camera. There are some wonderful moments where Romero deliberately pokes fun at the film, himself, and the audience that generate some genuine laughs, it’s just that after you’re done laughing you’re unsure whether or not they belong in a movie like this.

The bottom line: If you had issues with Land of the Dead, you will have the same issues with this film, and probably a few new ones. Don’t take my word for it, though, definitely see it and judge for yourself, preferably on opening weekend. Uncle George could use a warm fuzzy, and you pretty much owe it to him for every time you saw the original Night of the Living Dead and he never got paid for it.

– Roger

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No Responses to “Roger’s Diary of the Dead Review”

  1. Eros Welker says:

    I have some friends who just saw this as well, two of which thought it was horrible and one (who loves everything) who liked it.  All of them agree with you about the message, that Romero is pushing a theme that’s like 40 years old and is less relevant than ever to the world we live in, and that it’s beaten over the heads of the audience.  At least, Land of the Dead had an original theme to it, even if there was some of the “the rich vs. the poor” mixed in there.

    Also, the three bits from their individual takes that scare me the most are:

    1. That it looks like it was filmed in a weekend.  I dug Land of the Dead.  It’s not a GREAT movie, but it was well made and had some interesting bits.  It also looked like it took effort.  It’s why I enjoyed Cloverfield, it wasn’t just running around with a handicam; it was with purpose (all you critics be damned!).  Maybe I’m wrong, I haven’t even seen the trailer so I shouldn’t just trust that blindly.

    2. The whole Myspace thing.  I get that he’s trying so desperately to reach out to this generation, being ancient, but it all sounds way too much for me.  I know it infuriated my friends that you’re watching people upload and download videos to MySpace.  Who does that?!  And who cares?

    3.  Where are the zombies?  Yes, there’s some cool gags, but there’s not a lot of zombie action, or at least, enough zombie action.

    Of course, I’ll see this, but I suspect on DVD.  Convince me otherwise!

  2. Roger says:

    Wasn’t the whole “rich vs. poor” thing done better in Romero’s original Day of the Dead script, though? (Check the DVD for a PDF of this, it’s a great read.)

    1) Agreed on this.

    2) I think the MySpace vs. YouTube thing was a practical one – it seems that they’re partnered with MySpace as a promotional tool. Is the distributor part of the whole NewsCorp conglomerate? If so, that would explain it. At the Q&A afterwards (I neglected to mention this), Romero said that he’s learned a lot about online video sites through his 17 year old son.

    3) The zombies do show up in greater numbers as the film goes on, so there is some sort of progression.

  3. Burnt says:

    THANKS FOR THE INVITE, Cocksucker!

  4. Roger says:

    I invited Bake and Eros, but I’ve never had your email address. So the blame lies with them. ;p

  5. Eros Welker says:

    I shouldn’t judge based on someone else’s review, but the MySpace thing was more than just that site vs. YouTube but more than it was just so ever-present in the film as a plot device.  Then again, it don’t matter.

    Oh what do I do? I think maybe I’ll just go see it blindly on a Sunday morning, before 12am to get my senior discount…

  6. Roger says:

    Diary of the Dead came out today on DVD.

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