PG Cooper: Remake Comparison: Dawn of the Dead 1978 and 2004

Posted: August 19, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Retrospectives

Taking a page out of HT Scuyler’s book, I’ve decided to do a remake comparison between two horror films. This is all done with Schuyler’s permission, of course. The films? George A. Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead and Zack Snyder’s 2004 film of the same title. Though this is a remake comparison, the structure will resemble my movie battles (for an example, see Rosemary’s Baby vs. Alien). Also, like my movie battles, expect spoilers. Both films follow a group of survivors in the midst of a zombie outbreak holding up in a shopping mall.

1. Best Survivors

Romero’s Dawn of the Dead follows four characters; a badass SWAT team member named Peter (Ken Foree), his younger ally and SWAT team member Roger (Scott Reiniger), a news woman Francine (Gaylen Ross), and her boyfriend/pilot Stephen (David Emge). All of these characters are likable and interesting, and you come to really care about them. Even Stephen, who I didn’t like at first, I ended up caring about. I also can’t overstate how awesome Ken Foree is. I mean damn that guy is cool. Snyder’s film inflates its list of survivors to about a dozen. With so many characters, most end up pretty one dimensional and overall don’t leave an impression. The benefit of having so many characters is that there’s plenty of zombie chow, but that in itself reveals a lot. It feels like Romero wanted to make genuine and real characters, where as Snyder and screenwriter James Gunn were content to make all the characters zombie fodder. To the remake’s credit, there are characters I like, but not to the extent I like the Romero characters.

Romero: 1

Snyder: 0

Best Zombies

This category isn’t quite as clean cut. The Romero version features the classic slow moving zombies that Romero made famous. There’s also the interesting implication that the zombies still have memories. They’re also blue, which is kind of weird, but I like it. Snyder’s zombies match the 21st century ideal of zombies; bloody, in your face, and fast. The Snyder zombies are likely more appealing to a modern audience, where as the Romero zombies may come off as dated. The thing is, I personally lean towards the Romero zombies. The Snyder zombies feel like the same we’ve seen in every zombie film since 28 Days Later…. There’s nothing special about them. The Romero zombies feel distinct and if I saw a still of one I’d know immediately where it’s from. Ultimately, Snyder’s zombies are generic, Romero’s have style.

Romero: 2

Snyder: 0

Best Setting

Both films take place during zombie outbreaks at shopping malls over the course of a few months. Both films take advantage of their settings visually, but only Romero’s takes advantage of the setting in an intellectual way. Romero set his film in a mall to make a statement about modern society where he compares shoppers to mindless drones, slumbering through the mall day after day without purpose. He was making a statement about the consumerism of the time, which is also completely relevant today. Bottom line, Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is set in a mall in order to satirize North American culture. Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is set in a mall because it be a cool place to kill a bunch of zombies.

Romero: 3

Snyder: 0

Best Tone

Comparing the tones of these films is interesting because both are going for very different feels. Romero’s version goes for a more spooky and haunting feel, while also having elements of satirical comedy. Snyder’s on the other hand is trying to be a more straightforward fun film. It still maintains scares, but the audience is expected to have a good time too. Both films succeed in their goals. Romero’s version succeeds succeeds thanks to some creepy visuals and music from Goblin, while also using lighter and more goofy music for the purpose of satire. The remake succeeds because it’s full of gore and big scares. It’s not as subtle in it’s horror, rather much more in your face. The film also benefits from awesome zombie kills and killing methods. I’m going to go with a tie in this category. It could be argued that the goals for tone in the Romero version are more ambitious, but I think that undermines what Snyder did with his version. Draw.

Romero: 3

Snyder: 0

Most Creative Idea

Zombie movies are a dime a dozen in this day and age. The only films in the genre that stand out are the ones that do something interesting, different, and/or new. It’s part of the reason 28 Days Later… is so fondly remembered. Romero’s film brings forth the idea that the zombies are not quite as mindless as they seem. It is suggested the reason the zombies still come to the mall may be from instinct or memory. Perhaps the zombies have some knowledge of their old life, they may even have feelings and thoughts. These ideas aren’t explored in very much depth, but they are there. These are also ideas Romero would look at in his next film in the series, Day of the Dead. Snyder’s film has a much more obvious creative idea; a zombie baby. At one point in the film, a pregnant woman is bitten by a zombie. As expected, she turns, but it’s interesting considering what the baby will be like. Unfortunately, the results are a bit disappointing. Instead of doing anything really creative or shocking, things play out more or less like you’d expect. The husband tells no one about his wife, she has the baby, it’s a zombie, and they kill it. I really wish they had done something more inventive than that. Not to mention the zombie baby in Peter Jackson’s 1992 film Dead Alive is much better. Ultimately, Snyder introduces a cool idea but does not do much with it. Romero on the other hand would introduce an interesting idea that can be applied to all zombie films universally.

Romero: 4

Snyder: 0

Best Story:

Both films have the same basic story, a bunch of survivors of a zombie apocalypse live in a mall for a while, and then they leave. The details differ, and the ending to the original has a more haunting ambiguity than the blunt horror found in the remake. So since both have such similar stories, which is better and how I can I possibly make that call? Well, the original story is far better and it’s pretty easy to determine why. With the remake, everything is face value; what you see is what you get. It’s a story about zombies, and there isn’t much more to it. Where as the original has a lot more going on between the lines. I’ve already mentioned the themes of consumerism, but there’s another theme that I find interesting. At a certain point in the film, the characters begin to adjust to their surroundings. They take up various hobbies around the mall and actually seem to enjoy themselves, despite the hell surrounding them. It’s an interesting observation that people will live in horrid conditions and awful scenarios so long as they are provided their basic comforts and privileges. It’s an interesting idea I haven’t seen explored too much in film, especially in specific genre pictures like a zombie film. When comparing the the stories of both it breaks down like this; George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is a zombie film about a group of people trying to survive whilst also dealing with themes of consumerism and apathy. Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is about zombies fucking shit up for a bunch of people. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the latter, but it pales in comparison to a story with true thematic depth.

Romero: 5

Snyder: 0

So there you have it, George A. Romero’s 1978 film wins in a landslide. Given the score, it may seem like I dislike Snyder’s version, but that isn’t the case at all. I actually enjoyed the Snyder film quite a bit and thought it was a lot of fun. It’s a perfectly acceptable, fun horror film. The thing is, Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is a classic. Roger Ebert even called it one of the greatest horror films of all time, an assessment I completely agree with. While I do think the original is significantly better, both films are good and are definitely worth watching. Now I turn the topic to you. Did the right Dawn of the Dead win, or am I completely wrong? Let me know in the comments!

“When there is no more room in hell the dead will walk the Earth.”

  1. le0pard13 says:

    Nailed it, Daniel. Yes, I too enjoy some aspects of Snyder’s film, However, what Romero accomplished with his ’78 just cannot be ignored or dismissed. Well done.

  2. r361n4 says:

    I think the only categories I’d disagree with you on would be the zombies category because for me, the slowness of the zombies makes it really difficult to understand why the survivors find it so difficult to kill them sometimes in the 1976 version and it made them feel sort of bumbling to me at times

    That and I think the “Most Creative Idea” segment is a little unfair since of course the remake isn’t going to be the most original, it’s a remake lol.

    Other than that I agree with your assesments, Not having seen the 1976 version until after I saw the 2004 version I didn’t like it quite as much because of the differences in filming styles (for example there were a lot of points in the ’76 version where the synth-music was waaayyy too heavy, but that’s a minor gripe)

    Good post, are you going to continue this with more?

  3. rochpikey says:

    I still love this idea. Romero’s easily trumps the remake.

    Not going to lie, after reading this I had a bunch of ideas for these kind of posts. One that I think would be great is “who would be a more annoying person to keep popping up in your life: Bob Wiley (Bill Murray) from What About Bob? VS Chip Douglas (Jim Carrey) from The Cable Guy”

  4. vinnieh says:

    I have to agree with your decision the first one is just great. Another great post, keep up the good work.

  5. The central issue was never in question the remake is junk the original is a true classic

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