Dawn of the Dead is a 2004 horror remake of George A. Romero's 1978 film of the same name. The remake and original both depict a handful of human survivors living in a shopping mall surrounded by swarms of zombies, but the details differ significantly. Directed by Zack Snyder and his directorial debut, the film was produced by Strike Entertainment, released by Universal Studios and stars Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley and Jake Weber with cameos from original cast members Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger and Tom Savini. It was released in the United States on March 19, 2004 and in the United Kingdom on March 26, 2004.
After finishing a long shift as a nurse, Ana returns to her suburban neighborhood and her husband, Luis. Caught up in a scheduled date night, they miss an emergency news bulletin. The next morning, a neighborhood girl named Vivian enters their bedroom, looking mutilated. Luis approaches her to see what's wrong and she suddenly bites him on the neck. Ana locks Vivian out of the room and tries to tend to Luis who goes into shock, then dies. She attempts to call the hospital only to find that there is no connection; as she keeps trying to get somebody on the phone , Luis rises up, now infected with the same disease and immediately goes after Ana. She flees in her car and drives away, seeing chaos all around her neighborhood, but eventually crashes and passes out.
The intro scene rolls in, depicting riots and war in the major cities and the downfall of human civilization. Upon waking, Ana is confronted by Police Sergeant Kenneth Hall, electronics salesman Michael, petty criminal Andre and his pregnant wife, Luda and joins them, after they prove she is still alive. They break into a nearby mall and are attacked by a zombified security guard, who scratches Luda. Kenneth is also badly injured while wrestling with the zombie but Ana manages to subdue with his shotgun. They are then confronted by three living guards — C.J., Bart, and Terry — who make them surrender their weapons in exchange for refuge. They split into groups to secure the mall and then go to the roof where they see another survivor, Andy, who is stranded alone in his gun store across the zombie-infested parking lot.
The next day, a delivery truck carrying more survivors enters the lot, with zombies in close pursuit. C.J. and Bart wish to turn them away, but are overruled and disarmed. The newcomers include Norma, Steve Marcus, Tucker, Monica, Glen, Frank and his daughter, Nicole. Another woman is too ill to walk; she is wheeled inside via wheelbarrow only to die. As Ana drapes her with a cloth, however, the woman reanimates and charges after her - forcing Anna to fatally stab the zombified woman with a poker. Ana theorizes with the group that the disease is passed by bites from the infected individuals, as she had already seen it happen with Luis. Andre leaves to see Luda, who has kept her scratch hidden from the group. They realize that Frank has been bitten and is a potential threat. After some debating, Frank elects to be isolated and parts ways with his daughter before succumbing to his bite wound; he dies peacefully and is shot dead by Kenneth after reanimating.
Over time, Kenneth and Andy start a friendship by way of messages written on a whiteboard; romance also buds between Ana and Michael (ultimately, consummating the relationship offscreen), and Nicole and Terry. As time passes, the power goes out; Michael and Kenneth go to the parking garage to activate the emergency generator, taking C.J. and Bart with them. After the group find themselves started by a breach, which initially proves false when they are approached by an uninfected dog inside, Bart is suddenly jumped by a zombie and bitten; his screams draw the attention of oncoming zombies, who kill an overwhelmed Bart and force CJ to join Kenneth and Michael in taking refugee. While holding off the zombies, the trio douse the horde in gas before CJ uses his lighter to set them ablaze; burning the perusing zombies to death. Meanwhile, Luda — tied up by Andre —gives birth and dies. She reanimates as Norma checks on the couple, killing the zombified Luda. Andre snaps; they exchange gunfire and both are killed, with a dying Norma informing the arriving others of what happened before passing away. The group then discovers a zombified baby girl , whom Ana promptly executes.
The group decides to fight their way to the local marina, and travel on Steve's yacht to an island on Lake Michigan. They begin reinforcing two shuttle buses from the parking garage for their escape. However, they also need to pick up Andy, who is starving. They strap food and a walkie-talkie onto the dog, Chips, and lower him into the parking lot; the zombies have no interest in him. Chips gets into Andy's store safely, but a zombie follows through the dog door and bites Andy. Nicole, fond of Chips, crashes the delivery truck into the gun store, where she is trapped by a zombified Andy. Kenneth, Michael, Tucker, Terry, and C.J. reach the gun store via the sewers and rescue Nicole and Chips; with Kenneth killing Andy in the process. They grab ammunition and go back to the mall. Along the way, Tucker breaks his legs; C.J. attempts drag him to safety, but is forced to mercifully shoot Tucker dead when the pair are overwhelmed. Once inside, they are unable to lock the door due to Steve's negligence and are left with no choice but to evacuate from the mall.
Everyone boards the buses and navigate through the zombie infested city. While trying to dispatch a loan zombie that's clinging onto the bus, Glen loses control of a chainsaw and accidentally kills Monica; he also dies when the bus crashes due to blood splattering on the windshield following the chainsaw ordeal. Having survived, Steve abandons Kenneth and Terry just seconds before he is ambushed and killed by the same zombie that was clinging onto the bus. The others within the remaining bus pull over to pick up Kenneth and Terry before encountering the zombified Steve, who is killed by Ana. Dispatching the zombie that was clinging onto the bus, the group rush back to the remaining bus just as a horde of zombies arrive; with Ana narrowing making it after taking the time to retrieve Steve's keys for his boat at the marina. The group proceeds onto the marina where C.J. holds off the pursuing zombies after signaling the others to escape; he soon finds himself overwhelmed and ends up sacrificing himself by shooting a tanker in the bus, destroying it and killing himself alongside the zombies. As the survivors prepare to leave, Michael reveals to have been previously bitten and stays behind; dismissing Ana's pleas to help him when he makes it clear that his infection makes him a potential threat towards her and the others. The two bid farewell to each other as Ana departs on the yacht with Kenneth, Nicole, Terry, and Chips; while fleeing, she witnesses Michael committing suicide with a gunshot to his head.
Footage from a camcorder found on the boat begins with Steve's escapades before the outbreak and concludes with the group running out of supplies before finally arriving at an island, where they are ambushed by another swarm of zombies. The camcorder drops, recording dozens of zombies chasing them; leaving their fates unknown.
- Main article: Dawn of the Dead (2004) characters
|Sarah Polley||Ana Clark|
|Ving Rhames||Kenneth Hall|
|Ty Burrell||Steve Marcus|
The production used real amputees to portray zombies with missing limbs.
James Gunn is only partially responsible for the screenplay, despite receiving solo writing credit. After he left the project to concentrate on Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, both Michael Tolkin and Scott Frank were brought in for rewrites. In a commentary track on the Ultimate Edition DVD for the original Dawn, producer Richard P. Rubenstein explained that Tolkin further developed the characters, while Frank provided some of the bigger and upbeat action sequences.
The mall scenes of the film as well as the rooftop scenes were shot in the Thornhill Square Shopping Centre in Thornhill, Ontario and the rest of the scenes were shot in the Aileen-Willowbrook Neighborhood of Thornhill, Ontario. The set for Ana and Louis's bedroom was constructed in a backroom of the mall. The mall was defunct, which is the reason the production used it; the movie crew completely renovated the structure, and stocked it with fictitious stores after Starbucks Coffee and numerous other corporations refused to let their names be used  (two exceptions to this are Roots and Panasonic). Most of the mall was demolished shortly after the film was shot. The fictitious stores include a coffeeshop called Hallowed Grounds (a lyric from Johnny Cash's song "The Man Comes Around," which was used over the opening credits), and an upscale department store called Gaylen Ross (an in-joke reference to one of the stars of the original 1978 movie).
The first half of the film was shot almost entirely in chronological order, while the final sequences on the boat and island were shot much later and at a different location (Universal Studios Hollywood) than the rest of the movie, after preview audiences objected to the sudden ending of the original print.
Scenes cut from the film's original theatrical release were added back for the "Unrated Director's Cut" DVD edition. Along with gore effects removed to obtain an "R-rating", they include a clearer depiction of how the survivors originally break into the mall, and a short scene where the character of Glen "tortures" the imprisoned C.J. and Bart with his reminiscing about his homosexual coming-of-age. The DVD also offers, as a bonus feature, several more scenes which were not included in any version of the film.
The song that plays over the film's opening credits is "The Man Comes Around" by Johnny Cash. The track has suitably apocalyptic lyrics, contains mentions of Armageddon, numerous Bible references and quotes from the Book of Revelation 6:8. The film also featured "People Who Died" by The Jim Carroll Band, as well as both the original version of "Down with the Sickness" by Disturbed and the lounge, jazz-like version by Richard Cheese (the lounge version was played during the film, while the original version was played when the survivors met their morbid fate at the island). "Have a Nice Day" by Stereophonics was also used early in the film. The muzak playing in the mall when the survivors first arrive is Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" and as they flee to the buses it is Air Supply's "All Out of Love". Both muzak pieces, as well as others, were performed by Tree Adams.
Director Zack Snyder personally selected all the songs for the film's soundtrack.
In the UK, both this film and Shaun of the Dead were originally scheduled to be released the same week, but due to the similarity in the names of the two films and plot outline, UIP opted to push back Shaun's release by two weeks.
The film has received mixed to generally positive reactions from both moviegoers and critics. It holds a rating of 77% on Rotten Tomatoes and 58% on Metacritic. Roger Ebert said the film "works and it delivers just about what you expect when you buy your ticket" but felt that it "lacks the mordant humor of the Romero version" and the "plot flatlines compared to the 1978 version, which was trickier, wittier and smarter." George A. Romero is quoted as saying of the film, "It was better than I expected. ... The first 15, 20 minutes were terrific, but it sort of lost its reason for being. It was more of a video game. I'm not terrified of things running at me; it's like Space Invaders. There was nothing going on underneath."
The film grossed over $59 million at the box office, (over $102 million worldwide) and is currently one of the few zombie films to make over $100 million at international box-office. Its success also launched the career of director Zack Snyder.
Comparisons to the original
In the original film, the zombies moved very slowly and were most menacing when they collected in large groups. In the remake, however, the zombies are fast and agile, and are, on the whole, closer to the quick-moving, psychotically violent victims of the 'Rage' virus in the 2002 British horror film 28 Days Later and the zombies of 1985's The Return of the Living Dead than the traditional shambling Zombie archetype. Many admirers of the original, as well as Romero himself, protested this change, feeling that it limited the impact of the undead. This is somewhat borne out by the fact that the remake has almost no close up shots of zombies that last more than a second or two. Snyder mentions this in the commentary track of the remake's DVD, pointing out that they seem too human when the camera lingers upon them for longer.
In the original, as in Night of the Living Dead, all 'recently dead' are reanimated by an unidentified source. Zombie bites seem to somehow induce rapid death, and subsequent reanimation, even though death by any manner will result in reanimation of the dead as well. The cause is never fully elaborated upon, but news reports in the first film imply that the cause is radiation from a space probe to Venus that was destroyed and landed back on Earth. In the remake, it springs up worldwide overnight, and is definitely blood or saliva-borne, relying on zombie bites for transmission (like rabies). In the original, anyone who dies for any reason returns after several minutes (so long as their brain is intact). In the remake, only those infected return and after a period of less than a minute after death.
In the original, the zombie make-up was generally very simple and hokey. The remake emphasizes this aspect much more, giving the zombies a much more messy and frightening look. The blood in the original had a strong orange tint, giving it a fake and almost "cartoonish" look, which, according to Romero, was intended to give the film a "comic-book" feel. In contrast, the remake has many gruesome sequences of realistic violence and gore.
The original had a smaller cast than the remake, allowing more screen time for each character. Many fans and critics criticized the resulting loss of character development.
In the original version the story unfolds over several months, indicated by the advancing stages of Fran's pregnancy. In the remake the events transpire within approximately 1 month, as evidenced by the supplemental feature The Lost Tape: Andy's Terrifying Last Days Revealed, located on the DVD in the special features section.
Three actors from the original film have cameos in the remake, appearing on the TVs the survivors watch: Ken Foree, who played Peter from the original, plays an evangelist who asserts that God is punishing mankind; Scott H. Reiniger, who played Roger in the original, plays an army general telling everyone to stay at home for safety and Tom Savini, who did the special effects for many of Romero's movies and played the motorcycle gang member Blades in the original Dawn of the Dead, plays the Monroeville Sheriff explaining the only way to kill the zombies is to "shoot 'em in the head."
Additional references to Romero's original Living Dead movies include: During the opening scene of news footage, a brief clip shows a political figure from archive footage of actor Duane Jones who played Ben in the original Night of the Living Dead. This is a posthumous appearance as he died in July 22 1988. A store in the mall is named Gaylen Ross, the actress that played Fran in the original Dawn of the Dead. A sign for "Wooley's Diner" can be seen, a nod to the character of "Wooley" in the 1978 version. The character Tucker's name is a reference to Roy Tucker, one of the SWAT team members in the original. A truck from the BP corporation is seen, the same company as in the original. The WGON helicopter from the first film is seen flying into the frame in one early sequence. The film's tagline, "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth", is the same one from the first film, and is delivered in both films by actor Ken Foree. Both films have a similar line concerning the concept that zombies were returning to the mall out of instinct for repeating activities from their previous lives. The mall-dwellers' ultimate escape plan echoes a similar attempt by a group of ex-policemen at the start of the original Dawn, while the remake's opening sequences contain at least two references to the original Night of the Living Dead film: a car crashes into a gas station and explodes, and the female lead crashes her car into a tree.
- DVD Commentary by director Snyder and producer Newman
- DVD-only introduction by director Snyder
- Dawn of the Dead (2004) reviews Rotten Tomatoes
- Dawn of the Dead (2004) reviews Metacritic
- Review Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, March 19, 2004
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