I am, by default, not only excited but glad when I hear of any new zombie flicks. I’m excited on a personal level, because I simply really love zombie movies, but I’m also happy as human, when I see that steps are being taken to alert and inform the general public of the imminent threat of a major zombie outbreak. Zombieland does so very explicitly by having the narrator point out his ‘rules for survival’. Now, I have certain qualms about the rules themselves, and even more on the morality of giving out inaccurate survival information on a widespread media outlet, but from the cinematographic point of view, I must say I was very pleased.
I understand there had been a moderate amount of hype around this movie before its release, and with big hype often comes big disappointment, even with very fine final products such as this. Fortunately, I was largely ignorant of the existence of Zombieland until a few days ago, and so could face the content unbiased and unprepared.
The plot is uneventful. It follows what I call a type-4* zombie storyline: a wandering loner meets some
survivors after a class 3** or greater outbreak. You’ve got your typical spectrum of characters, which interact in humorous and/or entertaining ways and tricking each other. You’ve got the breaking stuff montage, the walking down deserted streets montage, the “we’re having fun in a grocery store doing stuff you would like to do in your non-zombie-infested reality” montage, the works. A proven formula, upon which no modification is expected or desired by the audience. I will therefore limit my criticisms to those things which deviate favourably or unfavourably from the norm.
From the begining I noticed that there was a good deal of effort placed in the production of the movie. The opening credits are really awesome, among the nicest I’ve seen in the genre. There’s a great deal of attention placed upon visual effects and having stuff fly around. Music was fine, nothing extraordinary. What irked me about these great visuals you see in the first half is that they seem to forget about them halfway through the movie, and you notice their absence in parts where it would have made lots of sense to really put in a nice shot of a zombie flying through the air. The characters are more or less likeable, but not enough for you to actually worry about them. Dialogue is actually kinda okay through the larger part of the movie, but there’s a point where it gets totally ridiculous. That’s when Bill Murray as himself shows up. Oh yeah, Bill Murray as Bill Murray is a character. I imagine there’s lots of criticism to his appearance and the silliness that ensues, but I think his bit is of benefit to the plot quite fitting to the genre.
The zombies were meh. There’s practically no blood or gore in the film, so there goes a big section of the audience. You hardly ever see someone get eaten or even bitten. Make-up was sleazy and uncreative. The flashbacks are nice but few and, given the type of narration, many more could have been introduced. There is a part where the kid asks Murray if he has any regrets, to which he answers: “Garfield”. So he made a bad movie. Was it really necessary to point it out in that cheap manner with such poorly thought dialogue? It ruins the funny mood of the moment, and the film never recovers from that ghastly scene.
But the one thing that really kept this good movie from being a great movie was the plethora of factual inaccuracies that were presented as ‘survival rules’.
There were some nice details that I appreciated. For instance, they show a flaming zombie running around chasing a firefighter, perhaps helping dispel the rumour that fire is a good way to fight the infected (What’s worse than a zombie chasing after you? A zombie chasing after you on fire). I also appreciate his policy on checking the back of a car, being careful around bathrooms and not being a hero. There are, however, some details that could be misleading to the general public. For example, one of the main character’s rules is ‘Travel Light’, and he is shown strolling around a piece of airport luggage. How is he supposed to run if he’s carrying that around? That’s not traveling light at all! He should at least be using a backpack, not a stroller, and then only to carry food, water, weapons and shelter.
Also, the characters are shown traveling in a variety of vehicles: an SUV, an Escalade, a Hummer. How frequently must they stop at a dangerous gas station to pump up some fuel? Not to mention the fact that most roads would be severely congested and major cities would be completely blocked.
Don’t get me wrong, the movie is good on most of its facts and is what most experts would agree a close representation of what we can expect of an outbreak of that magnitude. I think watching this film could help some unprepared fellow humans survive the coming catastrophe. But if you are reaching out to such a large audience, why stop at being helpful when you can really make a big difference and educate millions?
Whatever the case, I should end my review on a positive note. The film is good reliable entertainment. Don’t expect nothing more from it than what it is -a typical zombie survival film- and you will be pleasantly surprised by its small entertaining details.
*Storyline types for zombie films are based on stereotypical plotlines.
Type-1 deals primarily with class 1 or 2 outbreaks, with a small group of survivors fighting on a single spot and running from the initial outbreak. See Night of the Living Dead (1968), Braindead or Dead Alive (1992), Rec (2007), Dance of the Dead (2008), Død Snø (2009).
Type-2 deals with a single survival story, which is small in scope and specific in details, but which has nevertheless inspired many stories and nightmares. It’s the Survivors in the Mall storyline, after a class 2 or 3 outbreak. See Dawn of the Dead (1978) or its remake (2004).
Type-3 deals with a medium-sized group of survivors barricaded and to a certain degree thriving under a class 3 or 4 outbreak. Day of the Dead (1995) Land of the Dead (2005) La Hora Fría (2006).
Type-4 deals starts with a single survivor after a class 3 or 4 outbreak, running from the infected, and traveling in search of a safe haven. See The Omega Man(kinda, 1971) 28 Days Later (2002) Zombieland(2009).
**Outbreaks are classified according to the number and distribution of infections.
Class 1 implies a small number of infected, which are localized in a small area and quickly controlled, typically in under 72 hours.
Class 2 implies a larger number of infected, perhaps an entire town or village. The infection is controlled to this small region, but the infected have effectively conquered a part of the planet.
Class 3 implies a much larger area and number of infected, perhaps a whole country or part of it. Whole nations are mobilized to keep the infection from their borders, and the planet is divided into safe zones and dead zones.
Class 4 implies a total domination of the planet by the infected, leaving only small pockets of survivors, or even no pockets at all, with just lone wanderers perhaps still free of the infection, but without hope of finding anything but corpses and ashes of what was once humanity.
More information on the different classes of outbreaks can be found it your Civilian Field Manual, which your local authorities ought to have given you. If you don’t have a Field Manual, you can get one here.