Saturday, October 28, 2006

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

wr. James Gunn

This is a review of the plot of the DotD remake. I'm quite interested in the structure because for me it moves from working to not working back to working. And it does so in a way that's similar to Trainspotting; it's fascinating when focusing on the characters responding to their situation, but feels less intelligent & more stereotypical whenever it introduces 'plot' hooks that don't come from the characters.

By the 10 minute mark, we've established Sarah Polley's nurse as the main character and that the world is falling apart. By 35 minutes, our core cast has been established and they're in a tough situation (prisoners of the mall's security guards).

The Midpoint comes at the 50 minute mark when the characters discover that being bitten turns you into a zombie. This forces the core cast to make decisions (like will they kill bitten people, or say if they've been bitten). Up till now, I've enjoyed the movie - I like the characters, they've acted smart at every turn, and they've had to respond to the pressures of the situation.

Now the movie skips forward somewhere between a week and a few months.

The movie starts to fail at about the 55 minute mark, once a routine of safe daily life in the mall has been established. In order to put the characters into zombie jeopardy the script has to manufacture situations. In this case, the generator goes out, forcing some of the team to go fix it. While that seems arbitrary, there's a zombie pregnancy going on at about 70 minutes that I can get behind but it's not utilised to create more zombie menace (the two people killed in the ensuing gun fight don't turn, for instance).

At 75 minutes, the nurse says "I don't want to die here." She wants them to leave the mall. This sets up the plot for the rest of the film.
Logically, it's a reasonable position. Eventually the food will run out. But I haven't been emotionally convinced as to why they have to leave. Just as an example, I haven't seen any 'deterioration' in their quality of life at the mall.

But after a quick inversion of the Andy situation at the 80 minute mark (which manufactures a crisis of needing to rescue Nicole and leave the mall ahead of schedule), I buy into the action movie chaos that follows as they escape. It's good dumb fun. However, the finale and aftermath are a return to the subtler, nastier horror that I liked in the film's opening third.

***

Luke, ideas this gave me for Game of the Dead:

- give the players incentives for taking risks & reward characters who do.
- maybe PCs have immunity from getting bitten (like hit points, but let's call it 'Life')
To succeed at anything costs you point(s) of Life. To get life back, you have to create a fuck up (like the zombies breach a layer of security, or you put someone in danger, or similar 'why are you acting like an idiot?' moments for characters in zombie films).
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