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Script Review: Zombieland

Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

In this review, Big Ross takes a look back at the zombie movie genre and tries to decide where the new script for Zombieland fits in the filmography of the living dead.

There’s something about zombies. They’ve shared a place in the movie monster pantheon for decades since the standard was set by George Romero in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead. Zombies were the result of an unspecified plague that reanimated the recently deceased. They shuffled along slowly but resolutely, driven by a single-minded need to consume human flesh, and they were fucking terrifying. NOTLD was hugely popular and naturally spawned a series of sequels and knock-offs, but by the mid-1980’s zombies seemed doomed to stalk direct-to-DVD section of the local Blockbuster, they’re potential to scare seemingly exhausted.

However, in the last decade movies such as Resident Evil, Dawn of the Dead (the remake), and in particular, 28 Days Later can be credited with the reanimation (pun intended) of zombies in film, and in part this is due to their turning the zombie genre on its head.

Enter Zombie 2.0 – vibrant, ordinary people infected with a biological agent (usually the result of well-intentioned science gone awry) and changed (often in mere moments) into mindless, ultra-violent ghouls with the palate of Hannibal Lecter and the speed of an NFL wide receiver. Check out this new breed of zombie in action in the video below:

I guess pro-athletes and aging action stars aren’t the only ones using performance enhancers these days.

This resurgence of the zombie has seen a hoard of new movies in the genre: two sequels in the Resident Evil franchise, 28 Weeks Later, I Am Legend, and a return of George Romero to the genre he pioneered with new films Land of the Dead and the upcoming Diary of the Dead, just to name a few. So where will Zombieland, due out in 2009, fit in all this? Will it offer any original contributions, or is going to be nothing more than a retread of what’s come before? After sitting down with the script for Zombieland, I’ve decided to give you the answer to those questions (and a review) by way of comparing it to some notable entries in the zombie film canon.

Image Zombieland vs. I Am Legend

How they’re similar – With the exception of sharing a post-apocalyptic setting where most of the world’s population is dead or zombified (and really, isn’t this true of most in the genre?), there’s little in common between these two.

How they’re different –
The most notable difference are the protagonists. While Robert Neville is a brilliant scientist who’s obsessed with single-handedly finding a cure for the zombie-plague, Zombieland’s protagonist is more of an everyman character and a self-proclaimed coward, who wants nothing more than to live to see the next sunrise. And the one after that. And the one after that.

Edge – Although it was certainly impressive to watch Will Smith’s character do all those pull-ups, have the scientific know-how to set up his own lab in his basement, and conduct that painstaking scientific research, all while hunting deer for fresh meat and zombies for fresh test subjects, not to mention growing his own crops and sending broadcasts to potential survivors, I found Zombieland’s protagonist more realistic and more sympathetic, a guy I could more readily identify with.

Image Zombieland vs. 28 Days Later

How they’re similar – There’s actually very little that’s similar between these two. Setting, tone, plot – they’re very different in almost every way, except maybe in the speed of the zombies.

How they’re different – Let’s talk about those zombies a bit more. Yes, in both they are fast, feral, and merciless, but in 28 Days Later the victims of the appropriately named rage virus become the very embodiment of that human emotion. On the other hand, the denizens of Zombieland are portrayed with more of a personality, often described as grinning before a kill, as if they are taking some kind of sick enjoyment out of the bloody affair.

Edge – 28 Days Later did more for establishing the new breed of zombie than any other film. It replaced the slow, impending doom of Romero’s walking dead with a hyper, pants-messing terror I’d imagine is felt by the gazelle just before being felled by the lion. By comparison, Zombieland’s ghouls don’t pack quite the same punch.

Image Zombieland vs. Shaun of the Dead

How they’re similar – Maybe it makes sense that Zombieland isn’t as scary as 28 Days Later, since while reading the script I found Zombieland to be most similar, especially in tone, to this cult hit and parody/homage to the zombie movie genre.

How they’re different – While I get the impression that the writers of this script were going for a light, at times comedic tone in Zombieland, they more often than not missed the mark and had me wishing for the more effective wit and humor of Simon Peg and Edgar Wright.

Edge – The makers of Epic Movie, Remember the Spartans, and their ilk should be forced to watch Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz a la A Clockwork Orange until they learn how to make a proper parody or are driven mad and locked up in an asylum – whichever comes first. It’s not that I’m lumping Zombieland in with those other pathetic excuses for films, it’s just that when the bar is set so high, it’s hard to compete.

Of course, it doesn’t help when the writers include a penultimate action sequence in a Hollywood Hills mansion centered on a no-holds-barred battle with (I’m not making this up) a zombified, dancing Patrick Swayze, replete with a recreation of the “potter’s wheel” scene in Ghost, “the lift” scene from the end of Dirty Dancing, and plenty of one-liners from Swayze’s film resume, all set to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Take a minute to let that sink in.

Makes me wonder if Swayze will actually agree to appear in this movie; I know he’s got to be hard-up for work, but this hard-up?

Image Zombieland vs. Night of the Living Dead

How they’re similar – They both have zombies…and people trying to keep the zombies from eating them.

How they’re different – Was I being sarcastic? A little. Yes both focus more on the plight to survive rather than some grandiose plan to save the world, but NOTLD centers on a group of strangers taking refuge in a house and trying to survive the night, while Zombieland follows four different characters that cross paths on the road between Los Angeles, CA and Flagstaff, AR. Think this distinction trivial? Read on.

Edge – Some might say nothing really happens in NOTLD. Survivors barricade themselves in house. Zombies attack house. Survivors try to avoid becoming main course at zombie-only dinner club. I suppose, in a way, they would be right, but they would also be very wrong. That claustrophobic, cabin-fever-inducing setting is perfect for the story of terror Romero has crafted. And it meshes beautifully with his style of zombie – slow, prodding, witless. This kind of story doesn’t work so well with the Zombie 2.0 – fast, cunning, and tireless, survivors in films like 28 Days Later and here in Zombieland have to keep moving or else risk being overwhelmed and feasted upon. My point here (and I do have one) is that while it may seem that nothing happens in NOTLD (but a whole lot is bubbling beneath the surface), not much actually happens in Zombieland. Or perhaps more accurately, the same things keep happening over and over. Let me give you the super-abridged version:

Team A is traveling from LA to Flagstaff. Team B is traveling from Flagstaff to LA. Teams A & B meet, wherein B tricks A and steals A’s vehicle. A gives chase in new vehicle, catches B, only to be outsmarted again and have their new vehicle stolen by B. Team A takes refuge in Patrick Swayze’s house, which I’ve already covered. Team A learns Team B is in trouble, and because the protagonist (part of Team A) likes a girl in Team B, A goes to the rescue of B, only to (once again) result in B stealing A’s new vehicle, which Team B intends to use to get to Disneyland. Lot’s of zombie encounters throughout.

Roll credits.

Final Verdict – After collating all the pertinent data and putting it through a number of mathematical models, I’ve come up with a scientific scale of measurement wherein Romero’s classic gets 5 out of a possible 5 flesh-eating zombies, 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead (for very different reasons) both get 4 out of 5 flesh-eating zombies, I Am Legend receives a respectable 3 out of 5, and Resident Evil is bestowed a paltry 1. By that scale, Zombieland is the recipient of 2.5 flesh-eating zombies. In other words, it isn’t necessarily bad, and actually has some entertainment value, but I don’t think it will be as fondly (or fearfully) remembered by movie-goers in the years to come.