Dawn of the Dead (Snyder, 2004)

Here’s another case of a brilliant opening then a filmmaker succumbing to the blandness of modern day Hollywood horror. Director Zach Snyder’s debut film starts out with a bang, a tensely staged sequence following Sarah Polley’s Ana as she finishes her overextended rounds as a nurse and returns home for the night, all framed with glimpses of the apocalypse about to happen. After steamy lovemaking, she awakens to her husband being brutally attacked by the little girl from across the street, now a rampaging zombie. Her ensuing trek through the suburban wasteland is hell incarnate, panic, rage, and mob mentality ruling over the horrific processes. A digital long shot from above bases her personal situation within the greater doom occurring all around. As Ana meets the main characters who will share her plight in the mall, Snyder pulls out the book on cliched character and silly, extensive dialogue. Dawn of the Dead, much like 300, has astounding visuals but little to offer in terms of character. Both could have been stunning silent films, where character might have been flushed out through tension in the editing or score. Take out the words, add in a usable rock soundtrack and you have a distinct re-visioning of Romero’s 1978 masterpiece. But that would be a risk, and Snyder is obviously trying to impress the suits with his standard storytelling and marketability. I will give him credit for a cynical and brutal end credit sequence that almost exceeds his great beginning.

300 (Snyder, 2007)

I can see why the American public has responded so strongly to 300. It’s at times fun, often hypnotic, and completely easy to consume by anyone with ears and eyes. I can also see why the film critics of the world have crushed the film in the press. It’s often boring, brazenly arrogant and aggressive, and most of all, uninspired. Zach Snyder’s sophomore effort (his first feature was the impressive Dawn of the Dead remake) is visually stunning (but what isn’t these days in Hollywood), taking Frank Miller’s graphic novel source material and literally transporting it to high definition glory. But 300 as a story has little substance, no subtlety, and no desire to engage the audience with anything other than fake blood and sweaty torso’s (maybe that does it for some, who knows). It’s lack imagination is staggering considering all of the high gloss and fantastical elements housed within it’s narrative. Snyder zooms in and out of battle sequences as if he was a child on crack, attempting to study every drip of blood while making it look pretty in the process. Once again, I’ve got a deeply rooted problem with performers acting in front of a green screen, and Gerard Butler is the poster boy for terrible overacting to compensate for the lack of physical environment or inspiration. But really, this movie isn’t concerned with acting, or pacing, or themes, or allegories because the filmmakers and studio suits know the American public as a mass doesn’t care either. So we get video games posing as movies, and the result will always be disappointing to those searching for more depth in their entertainment. The rest of you, don’t worry, you’ll be getting your fill of violent, sexy, and flashy fare for a long time. 300 is not so much a film as it is an onslaught of pictures. Sometimes those pictures move slowly, sometimes quickly, but never without a heightened sense of manipulation. This type of hyper kinetic music video manipulation has seeped from the doldrums of MTV into our mainstream film culture. It’s a style where every five year old (yes, there was one in my screening) and other living soul can buy in for the right price, tag a long as countless are slaughtered, and check out without ever really getting emotionally involved. Par for the course these days.