Shaun of the Dead
(Reviewed September 23, 2004; re-reviewed April 4, 2007, by James Dawson)
Here is something you never will see another critic do: rewrite a published review two-and-a-half years later, after seeing the movie in question again and wondering what the hell he was thinking the first time around.
In September 2004, I must have been in an especially bad mood when I saw a pre-release screening of "Shaun of the Dead." Maybe the strangers sitting on either side of me were incredibly annoying or smelly. No, wait, that happens at every movie.
For whatever reason, I originally gave this "romzomcom" (the creators' term for "romantic zombie comedy") a grade of "B-." I complained that the direction was "a tad too low-key for the material," that star Simon Pegg was "kind of consistently bland as Shaun," and that Nick Frost played Shaun's housemate Ed "as such a dumb, obnoxious fuckup that I got tired of that character within seconds."
As I said earlier: WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?
When I watched the movie again on DVD this week, I thought Edgar Wright's direction was entertainingly zippy, Pegg was the perfect frustrated-and-endearingly-funny everyman, and Frost was obnoxious because he was SUPPOSED to be obnoxious.
At least I did have sense enough to end the review with this:
"I'm probably making 'Shaun of the Dead' sound worse than it is, because I did enjoy the writing enough to recommend it."
(Also, as regular Back Row Reviews readers can attest, the "B-" I gave it was the equivalent of a four-star rave from anyone else.)
I admit that part of my newly discovered affection for "Shaun of the Dead" could be due to what I think of as "Seinfeld Syndrome." I saw the pilot episode of "Seinfeld" when it first aired, wasn't impressed, and (believe it or not) never watched another episode of the series until its final season...at which point I fell in love with the show. Eventually, I caught up by seeing every episode from all nine seasons. By the time I caught the pilot again in reruns, I had such affection for the characters that the episode didn't seem nearly as bad as I remembered (although it is much more conventional and subdued than the manic, innovative genius of later seasons).
Similarly, this year's reteaming of Wright, Pegg and Frost on the terrific new comedy "Hot Fuzz"—my favorite movie of 2007 so far—was what made me want to give "Shaun of the Dead" a second look. Since the two movies have the same director (Wright), the same writers (Wright and Pegg), and the same stars (Pegg and Frost, with Bill Nighy doing small roles in both movies as well), how could it go wrong? Answer: It couldn't! I had all-new appreciation for "Shaun of the Dead" this time around, to the point where I had to—as they say in Congress— "revise and extend my previous remarks."
In the movie, Shaun is an underachieving Londoner with two housemates, a boring job, and a girlfriend (Kate Ashfield) who has just dumped him. When people start turning into flesh-eating zombies one morning, Shaun rounds up friends and family for a last stand at their favorite pub.
That's pretty much the entire plot, but the gimmick is that everything is played for ironic laughs instead of horror-movie screams. One of the funniest bits is when Shaun and Ed attempt to fend off a pair of zombies by frisbeeing vinyl records at their heads—but only after deliberating whether certain records deserve that fate. (A Stone Roses LP is spared, but Prince's "Batman" soundtrack gets tossed.)
The script is genuinely clever, as is Wright's frequent use of "crash-zoom" edits and sight-gag set-ups.
Also, viewers of the DVD get to hear two different commentary tracks, one by Wright and Pegg and the other by Pegg with cast members. Both are frequently interesting and very funny (as when Pegg accurately describes two characters as lookalikes for Britney Spears and "Harry Potter, the Cappucino Years").
It takes a big man to admit when he was wrong. And it takes an even bigger man to admit he was wrong, rewrite an old review, and give a movie the higher grade it deserved the first time around.
A very, very big man.
Back Row Reviews Grade: B+