Sunday, March 09, 2008

"Shoot Me"

It's not often that I go to see a film on the day it's released, but on Friday I ended up doing just that for Diary of the Dead, the new George A. Romero zombie film. Sadly, it turns out to be largely an exercise in frustration.

The problem with Diary of the Dead is that Romero doesn't seem to know what sort of film it was supposed to be. Update of previous themes? Use of new technology? Interesting media-collage zombie film? Scream-style genre deconstruction? All of these are attempted, with the result that there isn't really a core to the film that emerges.

This is actually a great shame, because there are some interesting ideas in Diary of the Dead, but they aren't really executed properly. To some extent, this is a long-standing problem with Romero's films: watch the original Dawn of the Dead again, and you'll notice that it's too long and flabby, which is why Night of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead are much more cohesive pieces of work.

These days, however, even Romero's good points seem to be slipping. In Dawn of the Dead the social commentary was implied, while in Diary of the Dead you'll usually find one of the actors delivers it straight to the camera.

The most interesting elements here are the use of hand-held video cameras, and the (under-utilized) idea of creating a larger picture through pseudo-new media sources. As someone who made his name on shoestring-budgets, you'd think that Romero would be in his element with the opportunities for first-person perspectives, but it feels a little stagey. The hand-held camera idea was actually utilized much better in the micro-budget British effort The Zombie Diaries (2006), where it feels real: confusing and panic stricken (the film still isn't up to much, mind, mostly because of its reliance on masturbatory sadism for the horror element).

So, while there is some entertainment to be had here, there are also a lot of missed opportunities. The commentary on new media and the use of hand-held could have made this one of Romero's most interesting films, but as it is, the far more conventional Land of the Dead is much more successful.

Also of interest on this cinema visit was the trailer for the forthcoming superhero film Iron Man. The film itself might not have a strong theme of "See the primitive Muslim savages quail before American technological might!" but the trailer appears to have been put together with just that in mind.