Monday, 29 January 2007

Zombie Interlude

There was a bit of an undead fest on Channel 4 this weekend. We were treated to Star Trek: First Contact at Saturday tea-time. In case you're not a sad Trekkie this is the one where the cybernetic zombies known as the Borg go back in time in an attempt to assimilate the Earth. Luckily Picard and co follow them and soon put a stop to their evil machinations.

A lot of laughs were had later on in the evening with vampire flick Blade II , which was the funniest film I've seen in a long time. The action was over the top, the machismo utterly silly, and seeing Wesley Snipes getting kicked around by Luke Goss(!) is something I'll cherish for a long time. (Can anyone take Snipes seriously as an action hero after To Wong Foo?)

C4 served up Dawn of the Dead on Sunday night. Now, I freely admit I'm something of a wuss when it comes to zombie films. When I saw Day of the Dead at about the age of nine it terrified me. It was 11 years before I could bring myself to watch the original Dawn. It must have been the relentless shambling terror of a near indestructible enemy that struck fear deep into my delicate disposition. When I learned the remake (the version screened last night) featured zombies capable of running after you I thought there would be no way in hell I'd ever bring myself to watch it. Well, I did, and my what a bleak and miserable film it was. Whereas the original was loaded with satire and black comedy this was more of a conventional splatter horror with little in the way of social commentary and critique about it. Leaping acrobatic zombies might shit me up but I do like my make-believe to be a little bit plausible

Coincidentally I finished a novel on this very topic on Saturday. Having cooked up the spoof Zombie Survival Guide in 2004, Max Brooks came back last year with the super serious World War Z, a horror/sci-fi meditation on a post-zombie holocaust near future. Taking the standpoint of a globe-trotting journalist, the book mockuments a series of survivor stories - civilians, solidiers and politicians (bizarrely, Brooks claims Studs Terkel as an inspiration!). Unlike Romero's doom-laden tetralogy the living dead threaten but in the end fail to overwhelm humanity. After billions succumb and become the undead hordes, the US (of course) leads the way in developing strategies for dealing with 'zack', and slowly, brutally, the ghoulish menace is relentlessly whittled down to 'nuisance' levels.

In WWZ Brooks has thought about zombies from every possible angle. Not just in terms of how to fight them but has also had a stab at possible psychological and ecological impacts. Unlike Dawn zombies here are interested in all fresh meat, whether two-legged or four. The meditations on psychology are also quite intriguing for what is ultimately a pulpy novel. For instance alongside "normal" mental health issues related to the strains of war, he introduces 'quislings'; humans who've undergone a complete mental collapse and behave as if they were zombies themselves. Normal humans have trouble telling them apart but trust me, zack knows an easy lunch when it sees one.

There are a number of shortcomings. The characterisation is very ropey - it reads as if the same charcter is narrating different episodes of the war. When SFX reviewed it they gave it one star out of five for being tedious. As a long chain of very short slightly-samey vignettes it would be a chore to plough through in long sittings (I read it in snippets over a period of a couple of months). And last but not least the ridiculously common meme of redemption through recourse to the military permeates throughout. Though to be fair I doubt an appeal to class conscious zombies to turn their jaws on the real enemy would have much success.

6 comments:

Damon said...

I wish I'd known about First Contact. It's the one Trek film I haven't seen, so I'll have to hunt it out in the DVD sales....

Anna said...

Hah! We saw Blade II as well. Did you realise it was directed by the brilliant Guillermo Del Tores who directed Pan's Labyrinth? When I saw that I nearly fell out of my comfy chair. (Yes, socialists are allowed those, even if the "comrades" say different - they're not just reserved for the leadership.)

AN said...

I note that a film of "I am legend" is currently in production.

They have recently serialised it on BBC radio 7, and it reminded me just how disturbing and subversive it is.

Given that the book is more than 50 years old, it is suprisingly contemporary, somewhat resonant with the themes of solitude and memory in the novels of Paul Auster, or the apocolyptic vision of Cormac McCarthy's "the road"

Scott said...

The guy who did the simiulater's "Kevin" also released a game The Urban Dead

Hannah said...

Hey- not a sad Trekkie but a very cheerful one!

Phil said...

Lol Hannah, I'll let you off :P