Thursday, November 25, 2010

Night Of The Living Dead Reanimated

Like the shambling corpses it portrayed Night Of The Living Dead has gone on to have a strange second life. Due to a copyright error so negligent that it’s damn near criminal, Night Of The Living Dead fell into the public domain almost immediately upon its release.

In other words anyone can use Night Of The Living Dead for just about anything.

The unprecedented ability to legally tamper with and incorporate such well known source material has meant that Night Of The Living Dead has found itself at the center of all sorts of interesting experiments, as well as a few genuine travesties (The infamous “30th Anniversary Edition"). A kind of Typhoid Mary for media in the digital age. A fact that I’m sure comes as cold comfort to Romero as he spends his nights weeping over all the lost residuals, that making one of the most influential films of all time would have otherwise earned him.

It seems that not a day goes by without Night Of The Living Dead being featured in some kind of mash-up, tribute, or experiment.

One of the most intriguing of these was Night Of The Living Dead Reanimated a project that took hundreds of artists’ work, through dozens of different media, to create a shot by shot reanimation of Night Of The Living Dead, using the film’s original audio track as its spine. It’s a bold, exciting and appealingly democratic idea and it is perhaps inevitably, only partially successful. Sadly for all its potential Night Of The Living Dead Reanimated must be consigned to the A for effort, C- for execution pile.

The problem seems clear in hindsight. Though plenty of people volunteered material for the film’s most iconic scenes (the film occasionally suffers from an overabundance of material. Cutting between interpretations so quickly that all coherence is lost), few provided material for the connective tissue between them. A lot of Night Of The Living Dead Reanimated, might simply be termed Night Of The Living Dead Unanimated with still pictures substituting for animation a far too large percentage of the time. Which stay resolutely static no matter how frantically the makers apply the “Ken Burns Effect”.
It seems as though the “curators” of the film could have posted a list of scenes they needed done, the reward being higher exposure… But let’s face it this is just Monday morning quarterbacking.

The styles range from ultra cartoony, to startlingly abstract and folk art strange. The mediums range from straight up animation, rotoscoping, stop motion and even sock puppets. The techniques range from fluid to down right abrasive. Truly problematic is the film’s over reliance on Machinima, (animation using videogame characters). It’s singularly unappealing here, stiff and uniform, when even the worst of the hand drawn stuff reveals real personality. Machima becomes the film’s crutch and Achilles heel.

It would be fair to call Night Of The Living Dead Reanimated a failed experiment but it remains a worthy one. It's an experiment that allows one to look at something viewed a dozen times before with fresh eyes again. And that makes it all worth it.

(On a side note. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and if you're reading this, then trust me you have my sincerest thanks.)

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