When I finally sat down to watch George A. Romero's recent zombie opus, Diary of the Dead, I had the momentary sensation I'd turned on an episode of quarterlife instead. Only this week's episode seemed suspiciously less dour.
Yes, the man who all but gave birth to the undead (creepy image, right?) has now brought his creations into the modern age. Once they've evolved to using weaponry, can myspace be far behind? These are the very current and legitimate questions Romero tends to comment on with his commentative social commentary. That's a lot of commenting you might say, but you obviously haven't been hanging around film students on an RV, videotaping the world's collapse by the walking dead, now have you?
Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead... all startlingly intelligent, gruesome films that serve as great reflections of their times, while still remaining relevant today. These film students speak overt politics about the war on terror, about skewed media perceptions, and the desire to have a voice of truth in the present flood of voices. That's all well and good, can't we all relate... But imagine what it would have been like if our favorite foursome had gone into Monroeville Mall back in 1978 and said, "the dead are gathering here as a representation of our absurd consumer culture. Why it's almost like we're not that different from the dead ourselves... I guess we should head home then?"
Romero's commentary has never been on the subtle side and it was always shaded between action sequences, tension and comedy, enough to make the package almost remarkably thoughtful and entertaining. Diary attempts this, but every action must be labeled. Blunt head trauma becomes blunt head trauma. The varying viewpoints and verbose characters don't make one think about truth or the current social climate, because one needn't think when there's a literate professor, a world-weary narrator, and five people shouting off camera.
How's the gore? Well it's decent, explicit, and works on the admirable low budget, but it's not the gut-munching slaughterhouse one might expect of a film meant to reflect the savage modern times. It's all a bit lifeless, ironically, and this is a movie with a pool of zombies! It's just not right. Romero's a gifted man, but he's already given so much to the undead community, can't he dabble elsewhere?
(Anyone else want to see this movie narrated by Daniel Stern, ala. The Wonder Years?)