Well, Zombie-Meister George Romero's latest entry from his undead fantasy didn't receive the brightest of accolades, his second direct-to-video effort falling short, it would seem, of a lot of fan expectations.
While I admit it's not MY favorite of his either (although I DID enjoy the film), I temper that with what I hope is an accurate understanding of something I picked up watching the special features.
In an interview contained on the disc, Romero mentions that he would like to create a "mythos" (using "The Lord of the Rings" as an example to illustrate what he means) of his "Zombiverse" (MY term, not his...yeah, I know it sucks). Some may argue he HAS, in many respects, with his original trilogy, but HE seemed to think he wanted something more cohesive, more epic in scale...
If this is really what is in the maestro's mind, perhaps this entry into the series is laying groundwork for future releases, much as George LUCAS had to do with the first of the "Star Wars" prequels...a lot of people didn't like it, either (I did), but I wonder if they really thought about just how much backstory he had to lay down in just one chapter.
Indeed, perhaps Romero had this in mind all along when he re-booted his franchise (aren't you glad I didn't say "Zombiverse" again?) with "Diary of the Dead"...maybe we fans are going to be in flesh-munching heaven over the next few years as George serves us up an interlocked series of movies that form a fabric unlike any done before in the genre of fear.
Anyway, grandiose postulation aside, I wanted to give any of you interested MY take on "Survival of the Dead", so here goes:
Fans of Romero get what they expect: The zombies are not the real threat, PEOPLE are. The shambling undead are there as a catalyst for what transpires between the breathing characters in the flick, in this case a "Hatfield and McCoy" family feud scenario, taking place on a small island (with the added bonus of the rogue National Guardsman from "Diary" caught up in the game). The main conflict raises the question of are the undead STILL who they were; can they be cured? Or are they just soulless shells now, better to put the body down and celebrate the memory of who they WERE?
Heady stuff, on the one hand, but for Romero...well, I'm surprised it took him six films to get to it.
I was honestly impressed with the acting...the characters were believable, although some of the situations stretched my suspension of disbelief considerably...moreso than the obvious, of course. All of the principal cast were well-played, each offering something different to the overall flow of the story, as we the viewer make up our own minds, along with the Guardsmen, just whose side we will take. Most impressive to me (and this is owed to both the writing AND the acting) is you see characters strugging with themselves; a basically good, compassionate man struggles to convince himself he's emotionless and selfish; two men of questionable moral fiber fight to convince themselves of their perspective "rightness", even playing up "God's will"...a hefty emotional sum, not absent from Romero's previous films, but showcased in a still subdued but more obvious manner.
Now lest I get you all thinking this is "The Notebook" with zombies, rest assured, there's plenty o' gut-munchin' and torso tearing to be had here...some of it viscerally excellent, but some...well, that brings me to why it only gets a three-and-a-half-star rating from me...
...my primary issue was the preponderance of digital effects. I realize that CGI is more economical, both monetarily and in terms of time, and in an independent film such as this will typically be the prime focus, but being a fan of what has gone before it just seems ludicrous in a Romero flick, at least in several scenes. Maybe I'm being picky, but after Savini's work in "Dawn" and "Day", the digitized blood and gore in certain scenes just looks gaudy and amateurish.
A final note: there is one interesting departure from the "accepted" rules of zombies in this film (although not really from Romero's work) that those of you that watch this will see in the latter half of the film, and I'm interested as to whether or not that will play a part (and what part that may BE) in future films (hoping ferverently, of course, that there will BE more).
All in all, for Romero fans, it's a definite purchase; you get all that you know and love from George. For those that are more current in their zombie affections, you should at least give it a rent...it's not a bad film at all, but it may fall a little flat on those that are looking for "the next big zombie film" from this one...but I DO believe that if you love the genre, you'll find something here you enjoy.
...and George, should you happen to read this...we fans are waiting, at least SOMEwhat patiently:)