Friday, May 23, 2008

Camera Obscura: 'Diary of the Dead'; Get A Life-Size Indiana Jones; And Laser Cats!

"When there is no more room in hell, the dead will create a MySpace page."

Let's talk about zombies.

Shambling undead humans who rise up from the grave to feast on human flesh were once the fevered imaginings of odd readers and bizarre writers and film-fans such as myself. Today, zombies are cultural icons. All across the globe, everyday folks will slap on some gory make-up and gather for Zombie Walks, and the movies about them and with them are everywhere, some very funny, some very scary and some very poorly made. The literary world reeks of rotting flesh and survival guides flourish to the point one may well wonder if some people know they are still creatures of the imagination.

The guru of zombies is George Romero and his most recent movie hit DVD this week, "Diary of the Dead". His dark fantasies have fired up imaginations for decades, movies that have skewered society with visceral glee. Students and teachers and film critics and cultural anthropologists pontificate on the Romero Zombie with frequent essays and doctoral thesis papers. In Romero's movies, the story is more than just a scary tale told in the dark - they are also stories about us all, about how we react and respond to disaster and destruction.

"Diary" continues such themes with a digital skewer. It's the YouTube Internet Zombie Age in his film, and more than any of his previous movies, this one pushes the undead into a vague fearful background and the foreground is full of cameras and people obsessed with them. The story begins with a narrator who says the following images were all captured via a variety of media sources, which the narrator is compelled to send out via the Internet. We then see a group of would-be low-budget horror movie filmmakers whose shoot is cut short when the radios begin crackling with reports of the rising undead. Quickly, the group gathers up and begins to flee, all of their actions being "documented" by an obsessed director named Jason.

Just as quickly, the viewer gets inundated with images within images, frames within frames. Our hardy survivors meet other survivors, but no matter what they do or where they go, they begin to die and transform into the undead. It is the camera and the cameraman (or woman) who remain the focus of the film. Though horrified and terrorized, the characters can't stop observing themselves as they are being destroyed. In one scene a character shoots a zombie and then passes the gun to someone else, saying "It's too easy to use". Moments later, after another attack, someone passes a camera off to someone else saying the same line "It's too easy to use."

Romero conceived of his idea to be an online movie only at first, and his MySpace page remains quite active. He hits all the aspects of the constant barrage of information, from cell phones to blogs to videogames , citizen journalism and surveillance cameras. And he notes too that even if the zombies devour every human, all those digitized details will remain long after all life is gone.

Does all of that information have any value? Towards the end of the movie, a comment is offered that all the billions of voices captured and sent around the world have no provided more truth or more illumination - instead it has deafened us, made us less sure of everything.

For the DVD release, 5 short amateur films submitted via MySpace are included in the extras and they're pretty good too - imaginative and spooky and funny takes on the zombie apocalypse. And I do have some complaints about the movie - mostly that Romero found some really bad actors, some of the worst in any of his movies. But "Diary" is more about the hardware, not the software, and the hardware wins out in the end.

One other aspect of all of Romero's zombie tales I truly like is that there is never a really clear explanation of a cause or a solution. How one might survive is considered, but if it's even worth surviving has always been his biggest question.



Also rising up from the long ago this weekend is Indiana Jones in "Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." If you just can't get enough Indy and crave more, then perhaps you can bid on a life-sized Indiana Jones to place in your own home. It's being offered on eBay, with bids starting at $50,000.

Another attempt at resurrection arrives from the director of not-very-good "Sahara", Breck Eisner. He's working on a new version of "Flash Gordon" and "Creature From The Black Lagoon." Keeping his career alive at this point is a notable feat.

A blogger worked some liveblogging for Quentin Tarantino's two-hour talk about his movies, which you can read here.

The movie "16 Candles" has just been re-enacted in 30 seconds by bunnies. The result is here.

See the latest on the new animated movie "Space Chimps and Patrick ", featuring the voices of Andy SambergWarburton. What I want to know is when will someone greenlight a feature movie of Samberg's SNL creation - "Laser Cats"??? I'll pay cash money in a heartbeat to see that!

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