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Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Matinee - Dawn Of The Dead

The world of retail is one that is constantly changing. What might have been deemed revolutionary five, ten, fifteen years ago can seem extremely outdated by today's standards. We see it all the time. With the invention of Netflix and various video-sharing sites, video stores have been deemed redundant, and are now closing up shop. With automatic bank machines and online banking becoming more popular, some bank branches have downsized their services and operating locations (much to the annoyance of some customers).

Even going to the mall to shop has changed in some aspect.

Yes, in larger communities, the enclosed shopping mall is still widely popular, and millions of people go into the thousands of shopping malls scattered all across North America to spend billions of dollars on everything from raspberry smoothies to raspberry coloured prom dresses.

In some smaller towns however, the life expectancy of the average shopping mall seems to be on borrowed time. With the popularity of big box stores, outdoor outlet malls, and even the expansion of department stores such as Target and Walmart into supercenters, shopping malls have had a barrage of competition thrown their way in recent years. Some malls rise up to the challenge, and manage to stay relevant by adding some bells and whistles to the building (i.e. indoor roller coasters, water parks, ice skating rinks, etc).

Then there are those malls that could be classified as dying, or dead.

You know the ones I mean. When you walk into a shopping mall that is open and find that there are more people outside on the street than inside the mall. A mall that has every other storefront either boarded up or closed up tight. The few stores that are open are either fast food places, a couple of jewelry stores, and perhaps a couple of specialty stores for a specific type of customer.

I would say that the shopping mall in my town is a dying mall, but it never used to be. At one point, our shopping mall used to always be filled with people, and whenever there was an empty storefront, it really stood out. But by the beginning of 2005, it became clear that our mall was not in good shape.

It all started when our Walmart relocated to a larger space in January 2005. Initially it wasn't going to be a complete loss, as the Walmart was actually going to be turned into three separate stores. But then a month later, the Independent Grocer supermarket shut its doors, and soon after, business at the mall began to drop. With two anchor stores vacating the premises in less than two months, the writing was on the wall. Certainly, our mall does have its busy stores, such as Shoppers Drug Mart, Coles bookstore, and during the holiday season, Sears can hold its own. But the last time I was at our mall, I counted thirteen empty storefronts. Our mall can comfortably hold at least fifty. Not a great number.

But at least our mall isn't considered to be a dead mall. Probably one of the most famous dead malls out there is the Dixie Square Mall, located in the state of Illinois. Although the mall closed up sometime during the 1970s, the mall was fixed up for movie scenes in the 1980 film 'The Blues Brothers'...only for it to be demolished while filming the car chase scene. It has remained empty ever since, and the Dixie Square Mall now sits in ruins.

And then there's the mall that features in a 1978 movie that could also qualify as dead. Literally.

The movie Dawn Of The Dead is actually part of the 'Living Dead' trilogy, written and directed by George A. Romero. The movie is the second one of the series, just after Night Of The Living Dead (1968), and Day Of The Dead (1985). And if you want my honest opinion, I find it to be the best of the three. The cream filling in the zombified Oreo cookie, if you will.

The original film was filmed throughout 1977 and 1978, and was first released in movie theaters on September 2, 1978. In March of 2004, the movie was remade by director Zack Snyder. While the characters and plots differ between both the 1978 and the 2004 versions of the movie, there are basic similarities between the two.

The main plot of the movie deals with an unknown virus that causes people to turn into flesh-eating zombies. The virus is transmitted through zombies biting healthy humans, who eventually succumb to their injuries and reanimate into zombies. The more severe the bite, the faster the people become zombies. Both films take place in a large American city (in the 1978 version, it is Philadelphia, the 2004 version, Milwaukee), where the zombies cause civilization to collapse at an alarming rate. A group of survivors meet up with each other and take refuge inside a shopping mall, barricading the entrances to hold off the zombies in the hopes that they will be rescued. When it becomes clear that help isn't coming, the plan then becomes a fight to stay alive in a zombie-filled world.

It's hard to say exactly which version is better. Normally, I hate remakes of movies, and I am definitely the type of guy who prefers the original to remakes. That said, I thought the 2004 film was a decent effort, and a great retelling of a classic film. I still prefer the original version better, but Zack Snyder did a great job with the remake. Even now, the film maintains somewhat of a cult fan favourite, and several events based on the movie are still in practice today, including Zombie Mall Walks.

Now, I imagine that there's lots of behind the scenes stories, and the inevitable comparisons that will be made in regards to both the original and the remake of Dawn Of The Dead, but in order to give this blog entry some padding, I think it would be cool to showcase some trivia facts about each version, and how some of the scenes came to be filmed. You'll also get an idea of how different both movies seem, but yet somehow have more similarities than you think.

Are you ready?

  • One major difference between the 1978 version and the 2004 version is the physical settings of the mall used during the filming. The 1978 version was filmed at the Monroeville Mall during the winter of 1977-1978. The mall is still in use today, and as of 2011 still has tourists and Dawn Of The Dead fans visiting it yearly. The 2004 remake was filmed at the Thornhill Square Shopping Center in Thornhill, Ontario, Canada. A mall that had been closed up prior to filming, the crew renovated the plaza during 2003 to transform it into the fictional Crossroads Mall for the film. The shopping center was demolished shortly after filming concluded.

  • The cast and crew of the 1978 version shot all of the mall footage between 11pm-7am each day. The reason being that the mall closed at eleven each night, and therefore was nice and quiet for filming. The reason filming had to end at seven in the morning was because that was the time when the automated music kicked on over the loudspeakers.

  • Filming for the 1978 version of the film was shut down for the Christmas season, as the film crew decided that it would be too much work for them to take apart the Christmas decorations that the Monroeville Mall had put up specifically for the1977 holiday season.
  • The idea for Dawn Of The Dead was born in 1974. George A. Romero was invited to come down to the Monroeville Mall by an acquaintance, Mark Mason, who worked for the Oxford Development Company. He took Romero on a extensive tour of the mall, which included hidden areas of the building inaccessible to customers. He had joked to Romero that in the event of a national disaster or an emergency, people could survive by hiding in the mall. That was all the inspiration that Romero needed to start his screenplay.

  • The special effects and make-up for the 1978 version were the mastermind of Tom Savini, who was one of three cast members that had parts in both versions of the film. (The other two were Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger).

  • In the 1978 version, there were only four main cast members. Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, David Emge, and Gaylen Ross. Compare that to the 2004 version, where there was no less than fourteen cast members featured.
  • The original ending of the 1978 version was a lot gorier than what was eventually shown. In the end of the movie, Ken Foree's character (Peter) shoots himself in the head, while Gaylen Ross' character (Francine) throws herself into a spinning propeller blade of a helicopter, killing her instantly. The ending was changed during production to a more hopeful one.

  • With the help of eight crew members, Tom Savini managed to 'zombify' an average of 250 people each weekend of production by painting their faces shades of blue and gray.

  • Some zombies in the 1978 version of the film were given more detailed zombie looks depending on the amount of screentime that they were given in the final cut. One zombie was nicknamed 'Sweater Zombie', played by Clayton Hill, whom one crew member remarked was the 'most convincing zombie of the bunch'. Sadly, Clayton Hill passed away in 2009.

  • Much of the reason why the 1978 film did so well was because it mixed humour with horror. Just check out this scene that airs shortly after Tom Savini's character and his biker gang invade the mall.

  • The 2004 version of Dawn Of The Dead was filmed mostly in Ontario, Canada. As a result of this, many of the cast members of this version were Canadian actors and actresses (Matt Frewer, Jayne Eastwood, Kim Poirier, Lindy Booth, Sarah Polley, etc)

  • Because the 1978 version was filmed in an actual mall that was open, none of the stores were fictional. Not so for the 2004 version. With the exception of Panasonic and Roots, the majority of the stores in the 2004 mall were fictional creations. These stores include Hallowed Grounds, Carousel, Case Hardware, and Reflex Sports).

  • Starbucks turned down the crew's request to put in a store on the mall set.

  • Look closely at the scene in which Ana (Sarah Polley) and group bring in the bitten obese lady. You may notice that there's a clothing store behind them that has the name Gaylen Ross. The store was named after one of the stars of the original film.

  • The film was one of Modern Family actor Ty Burrell's first well-known roles.

  • The number of survivors at the end of the 1978 version is two. In the 2004 version, four survive (well, five if you count Chips the dog).

  • In both films, the way the zombies get into the shopping mall varies. In the 1978 version, the zombies enter after the biker gang breaks in. In the 2004 version, the zombies get in after the group stages a rescue attempt to save Nicole (Lindy Booth) from the zombified owner of a gun shop across the mall's parking lot.

  • Both films show someone getting bitten by a zombie, dying, and reanimating as a zombie. In the 1978 version, the unlucky victim is Roger (Scott Reiniger), who gets bitten during the group's mission to block the entrances of the mall with trucks. In the 2004 version, we see quite a few people succumb to this fate. Steve (Ty Burrell), Luda (Inna Korobkina), Luda's newborn baby, Louis (Louis Ferreira), Frank (Matt Frewer), and an obese woman (Ermes Blarasin).

  • While the 1978 ending was changed so that one of the main characters did not commit suicide, the 2004 ending of the film DID show main character Michael (Jake Weber) doing just that, after getting bitten during the group's escape attempt from the Crossroads Mall.

  • The first half of the 2004 version was shot in chronological order.

  • The final scenes of the 2004 version was actually shot months after the original film was shot. The reason being that during a preview screening of the movie, the audience didn't like the original ending of the film (which was shown before the end credits).

  • While the zombies were bumbling and slow-moving in the original version, the 2004 version showed the zombies able to run as fast as a normal human. This was a change that many viewers seemed to protest, including George A. Romero himself.

  • The events of the original film span over a few months (you can tell because Francine, who reveals her pregnancy during the film, starts to show more by the last few scenes of the film). As far as Dawn Of The Dead goes, the action only seems to last for one month.

  • The beginning of the 2004 version of Dawn Of The Dead is set on May 8, 2004.

That's quite a lot to digest, isn't it?

Dawn Of The Dead is a rather interesting movie. On the surface, it appears to be no more different from any movie that has a horde of flesh-eating zombies waiting to make you their next meal. But I actually think that it's more of a clever social commentary piece. To me, it's actually a brilliant metaphor for capitalism. I mean, watching all of the zombified people stumbling through the mall, weaving their way from store to store in a dead stare and emotionless facial's really not all that much different from walking in the atriums and food courts of a shopping plaza during the Christmas season.

I'd almost wager a bet that the scene towards the end of the 2004 version where the group has to maneuver the mall shuttle buses through the parking lot filled with zombies is no different from trying to find your way through a Walmart parking lot on Black Friday or Boxing Day.

It really makes one think. Maybe that's exactly what George A. Romero was going for. Having people so blinded by material goods and possessions that they end up losing awareness of everything else around them. Kind of like the zombies were doing by trying to find fresh blood in both movies.

And in some cases, thanks to the invention of mobile phones, iPods, and handheld gaming systems, maybe we're kind of re-enacting our own live-action version of Dawn Of The Dead as I type this out.

Only without the blood. At least for now.

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