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Original vs Remake: Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead

This week’s Original vs Remake may cause some controversy so go easy on me...

Today I’m talking about the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.

I’ll start by admitting, I only watched the original 1978 version last week after realising I’d only ever seen the remake. It’s regarded as a classic, not to mention widely considered to be the best zombie movie ever made. I was expecting big things. I was however, disappointed.

You might say that because I’m more familiar with the remake I’m favouring it. Not so. I was fully prepared to write this post saying I that on finally watching the original I preferred it and can totally see why it’s so highly regarded. Alas I can’t do that. I know it’s an old, low budget film but I really struggled through it.

What didn’t I like about it?

I thought the acting was bad, all but one of the characters were unlikeable, the music was totally over the top (not to mention annoying), the make up affects were tacky, the editing was quick and sloppy, and the whole thing just felt like it was thrown together and like it wasn't really going anywhere for a long time.

I hated the character of Roger (Scott H. Reiniger) and I literally couldn’t wait for him to die. You’re supposed to root for the protagonists not wish them dead! I might even have let out a little cheer of joy when he finally got bit...

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the whole social commentary on consumerism thing, and for its time the movie was probably groundbreaking, however, in my opinion Night of the Living Dead which came out ten years earlier and which was also made on a small budget is a much better film. Both were written and directed by George A. Romero, the "Father of the Zombie Film".

In comparison, The Evil Dead (1981) had a budget of $350,000-$400,000 compared to Dawn of the Dead’s $1.5 million, and it too (in my opinion) is a much better film.

I don’t know, maybe after all the horror films I’ve seen over the years I’ve just become de-sensitised, still, I didn’t enjoy it.

The remake on the other hand...

I went to see the 2004 version at the cinema and remember being terrified! The projectionist must've decided that the movie would be scarier if the speakers were turned up as loud as they could go, and he wasn't wrong. It made everything so much scarier, especially the jumpy moments.

Written by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Suicide Squad) and directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen), the movie went in a slightly different direction to the original and was intended to be a "re-envisioning" of the original film rather than a "remake". It keeps the general premise of the 1978 version (a group of survivors taking shelter in a suburban shopping mall during a zombie outbreak), but it explores the characters better than the original did, as well as focussing more on the action and horror elements of the story.

Also, rather than revisiting the consumerism theme, this time around it's more a tale of redemption. Many of the characters in the movie feel they've failed in some way prior to the outbreak, thus seeing the events as a chance to move forward in a more positive direction.

One major deviation from Romero's film is the inclusion of "running zombies". No doubt inspired by Danny Boyle's brilliant 28 Days Later two years earlier, Snyder decided that running zombies (or infected - however you look at it) would pose more of a threat. This famously didn't go down too well with Romero who wasn't overwhelmed with the remake, saying in an interview:

"Zombies cannot run. I say this definitively as the godfather of zombies. Zombies cannot run.

So anyone who has a zombie running...don't listen to that person. Their ankles would snap. I mean what did they do, go and join a spa the moment they rose from the dead? Gimme a break. They're dead."

Regardless of what the "inventor of the modern zombie movie" thinks, I think running zombies are the best thing to have happened to the genre in years! They seem to have redefined what a zombie film is, at least for this generation.

Anyway, I digress...

The 2004 remake has some interesting and well written characters, the plot moves at a good pace and is easy to follow, it’s tense, scary, brutally violent, and to me is everything a zombie movie should be.

It also has two great songs in the soundtrack (Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine’s version of “Down with the Sickness” by Disturbed, and “The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash).

The movie also features cameos by three of the actors from the original movie which all remakes should in my opinion.

Final verdict: As highly regarded as the original is, I have to say on this occasion I think the remake is better.

I get that they’re very different films due to budget and the eras they were made etc, but I’ve seen the 2004 version several times and will no doubt watch it many more times in the future, the original on the other hand I doubt I’ll watch again. If you haven’t seen either, I’d recommend you watch Dawn of the Dead (2004) over Dawn of the Dead (1978), unless of course you're a purist.

What do you think? Which Dawn of the Dead do you prefer?

Let me know in the comments.

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