The Odd Couple: “2012” and “Diary of the Dead”

April 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

By Lars Trodson 

Both Roland Emmerich and George A. Romero want to tell us a bedtime story, and that story is that the world is ending. Only Emmerich doesn’t really believe it, and Romero seems to believe in it all too much. 

As coincidence would have it, I rented “2012” and “Diary of the Dead” (from 2007) and watched them back to back. The movies had incongruous conclusions. Emmerich quite literally destroys the world — entire coasts go toppling into the water, mountain ranges become engulfed in water, huge tracts of land open up so wide these new gaping maws make the Grand Canyon look like a flesh wound. Only at the end of “2012” the sun rises and there is good will among the survivors. The dead are dead in both flesh and memory and it is time to move on with a smile on your face. 

In Romero’s modest but entertaining “Diary of the Dead” the world seems threatened by nothing more than a gaggle of impossibly slow moving imbeciles, and yet you really get the feeling — as Romero clearly intended — that the end has in fact arrived.  

In the Emmerich world the threat is cataclysmic yet conquerable. In Romero’s world the threat is on a much smaller scale but increasingly more difficult to overcome.  Romero has infused his movie with an incredible sense of defeatism. His main characters, college students who are out in the woods making an independent film — are less than heroic.

They’re confused, selfish, immature and only barely self-reliant. Intended or not, Romero is telling us that the human race has reduced itself down to the ninny-state, and we can’t even get out of the way of a zombie. We’re in such bad shape there’s little difference between the dead, the undead and the alive. This is bad stuff, indeed. 

In “2012”, the voice of impending doom comes in the form of the reassuringly goofy form of Woody Harrelson. Woody’s pirate radio personality Chuck has tracked the events leading up to his realization that the world is ending, and only a few have been chosen to live through it’s demise. He prophecizes the end and, just like the Tibetan monk living in solitude on the top of a great mountain, greets his own demise not with fear and grief but with resolution and even bliss. Good for them. 

Romero, on the other hand, is having none of that. His radio voice of doom — repeating the same “end of days” phrase that Harrelson says in “2012” — is only briefly heard at the end of a single scene, and the voice sounds cacklingly real, as though Romero had recorded some late-night whackjob and spliced in the audio track. There isn’t anything funny or reassuring about it. And any heroics that are found in the picture have a singularly narrow and specific purpose — to save oneself, not the world, even as you begin to doubt whether anything at all is worth saving — including yourself. 

Romero has apocalyptic visions all right, but they aren’t Mt. Everest underwater. It’s the teeming masses of bloggers and videographers out there who are creating their own truths about the events around us. As much as he may decry the corporate media, Romero doesn’t have a whole lot of respect for the weenies who hide behind a keyboard or a video camera to record an event they have little interest in getting involved in, either. It isn’t so much that heroism is out of date, Romero is saying, it may be that we just don’t know how to do it any more. What’s troubling here is that this is just as precious as Emmerich’s view of a new dawn created out of the sensibilities of an eHarmony commercial.  

Emmerich believes that to be a hero you have to save the world. Romero has the aging hipster notion that heroism is for suckers. 

We’re all going to get it in the end because we deserve it, don’t you know.   


From Torture Porn to Torturous Moron

July 11, 2007 § Leave a comment

By Mike Gillis

The late 1970s and early 1980s were the early and formative moviemaking years for me. But it wasn’t Martin Scorsese or Robert Altman or Woody Allen who first caught my attention. I was drawn to the likes of George Romero and David Cronenberg and a young Sam Raimi. I was also inspired by Tom Savini, who baptized special makeup effects in a well of gore. Those were bloody days, when splatter films littered the cinematic landscape.

I still have a soft spot for the well-crafted horror picture — see “The Descent,” for instance — and can still appreciate a clever effect when I see one. And although my tastes now run with the camp of “what you don’t show is worse than what you do — I can easily stomach the gore.

But as far as horror goes, there is very little that makes the grade these days. That includes the oeuvre of Eli Roth.

I can’t say all of Roth’s films are bad. I haven’t seen “Hostel – Part II.” I’m not interested.

Cabin Fever” was overrated, dull homage. It owes a debt to “The Evil Dead” and a forgiving audience. Is it funny? I guess, but who cares? It’s just a poorly crafted movie. “Hostel” is a bore.

What’s curious about the rise and fall of Eli Roth — and he is falling hard — is that he worked diligently to construct his own moviemaker mythology and people fell for it. Boy can he talk. Hundreds of interviews with Roth are scattered across the web, from the biggest publications to the most minuscule genre offerings. Almost every one of them features Roth talking about how he resurrected the genre, how his film is art, how he has saved horror.

I’ve noticed this: Almost to the critic, those who stand behind Roth gush to mention they have talked to director, sometimes regularly, and he’s a really nice guy. Some critics even choose to defend Roth without having seen his films, because … he’s a nice guy who worked hard.

So, is it cold of me to say, who cares?

I learned some time ago that a film isn’t any better because its director is a nice guy. Isn’t it about whether the movie can stand up on its own? There are very few directors who deserve to take sole credit for a film — a so-and-so film, a film by so-and-so — but so many do, as if the director is the picture.

New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell recently caught up with Roth in Interview Magazine. Mitchell made a point about exploitation’s particular style and characteristics, not without affection. Roth, however, wouldn’t have it. His films are art, he insisted, and the violence is an outlet for a country that fears terrorists are about to lop off the heads of Americans at every corner.


Roth has gone on in subsequent interviews to blame the poor box office receipts for “Hostel 2” on rampant piracy and moronic critics who reviewed a leaked work print. As others have pointed out, he has blamed everyone but himself.

Could it be the movie just isn’t good? Could it also be, as moviegoers seemed to indicate, the appetite for “torture porn” is already satiated? How many “Hostels” and “Saws” can people tolerate? Roth’s plea to fans to flock to the cinema for “Hostel – Part II’s” second week or the film would vanish forever seems to have gone unheeded.

Of course there will always be an audience for Grand Guignol. And fine films will continue to be made that fit squarely and successfully in that genre. The difference, of course, is they will survive on their own, without any prompting from behind the camera.

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