Brad Pitt’s $200 million dollar zombie extravaganza World War Z just opened, and despite the reported problems producer Pitt had getting the film made, including extensive rewrites and shooting of several additional scenes after test screenings, the reviews indicate it’s not the total disaster that everyone expected. Not sure if I’ll drag myself to the theater to see this one, since it’ll probably be on Blu-Ray as early as this September or October. I’d rather watch it at home where I can laugh out loud without incurring the wrath of Brad Pitt fans.
But in the meantime, just the other night I encountered a little gem of a zombie flick that I hadn’t seen before, which may now be my favorite Z film of all time. Shaun of the Dead was made in London in 2004 by director Edgar Wright and co-writer Simon Pegg, who also stars. I confess my ignorance of these two guys but IMDB tells me that they are the creators of a British television series called “Spaced,” which apparently was a big hit over there across the Pond.
In Shaun of the Dead, Pegg plays a clueless slacker who sells TV sets in an appliance store. His main problems are his girl friend, who dumps him when he forgets to make a dinner reservation, his mother who married a second husband that Shaun can’t stand, and his life-long buddy and roommate Ed, played by Nick Frost, who would rather spend his day playing video games and drinking beer. These guys are sort of like the British version of characters played in the U.S. by Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, except that they’re funny.
The story starts normally enough. We see Shaun getting up in the morning, stopping at the grocery for some breakfast food, walking back home, eating breakfast and then taking the bus to work. And the way its shot, just about everybody in the background of this everyday world already looks like zombies. They’re not, yet, but they might as well be, as they go about their lives in a rote, half-asleep stupor. The only thing missing from these scenes is the ubiquitous presence of cell phones, which hadn’t yet in 2004 become the mad craze it is today.
Well, anyway, the point of these early scenes is made clear when the next day, after everyone has been turned into zombies (the reason for the zombie plague is hurriedly explained at the end), when Shaun, who’s basically oblivious anyway, starts out his morning, going to the grocery, etc., he doesn’t even notice the difference. Instead of watching the news on TV as he’s having breakfast he switches to sports channels, and it isn’t aware of anything amiss.
Eventually zombie reality intrudes on Shaun’s consciousness and therefrom the usual zombie move plot complications are paraded out and mocked with absurd twists and turns that are mostly hilarious, although a few go on a bit too long to maintain plausibility. Eventually Shaun and his kooky band of friends decide the best place to hide is their local pub (where else?), which is where the final standoff takes place.
I’d rank this one three stars if I had a ranking system. Let’s put it this way if you liked Zombie Land, you’ll like this. Films like Shaun of the Dead prove you can make a really good film for a lot less than $200 million. The budget for Shaun of the Dead was only $13 million. Look for it on cable or Netflix.