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Conal Cochran gives us the rundown on George Romero's DEAD RECKONING Script!

Hey folks, Harry here with a script review of George Romero's screenplay for the 4th of the Zombie movies entitled DEAD RECKONING. Now beware of spoilers here, as Conal Cochran does dish alot of the innards of this opus onto your paper plate. Frankly it sounds interesting for a first draft. We'll see how this one evolves. Could be pretty cool. Here ya go.....

Hello there, you know the schtick....long time reader, first time writer. You can call me Conal Cochran. Never really had anything new to add. Usually beaten to the punch by one of your many minions. However, I’ve yet to read much on your website about the long gestating 4th living dead flick, Dead Reckoning, other than the fact that it’s called Dead Reckoning. So when a copy of this script landed in my lap recently, bearing that wonderful “by George A Romero” credit, I thought it might be worth dropping you a letter to let you know just how the script is.

But before that, I feel I must pull what’s become known as a “Harry”, meaning I have to explain in advance where I’m coming from on this one. You see, to understand my critiques of the script as well as the praise, you’ll need to understand that I’m a fiend for this series. I saw countless films as a child, but no viewings are as explicit in my memory as the first time I saw Night. That film is to either blame or thank for the person I am. And Dawn is what pretty much sealed the deal. It’s a landmark in horror cinema….or hell, just make the cinema period. It did the impossible and illogical – it improved upon perfection – and I don’t have to list its many virtues to those here. If you’ve seen that movie, you know why was, is and shall be the best.

And as for Day........ehhh, you know, a baseball player who bats two out of three is pretty great. We’ll leave it at that.

Which brings us to the interestingly-titled Dead Reckoning. You’ll discover why it’s titled that when you see the movie (typed with crossed fingers)…..or hell, probably in just a few paragraphs. It’s the first time in the series the title refers to something specific, something actual. Not just symbolic things like night and day. It refers to a bad-ass, death on sixteen….

Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. How about a quick rundown of the scenario. I’m not going to pick apart the plot. Just going to give you the set-up and the scenario, because –after all – isn’t that what this series is about?

If you’ve read any interview with George A. in recent years, you probably knew the next zombie opus was going to be about our acceptance of the problem, and for the most part, that’s the case here. George kept talking about how he wanted to show how we ignore the problem by (I think he kept referring to zombies rotting in the street and people just stepping over them). While there’s nothing that literal in the script, we as a society, have definitely come to grips with this. We’re not trying to stop with it. We’re trying to deal with it, and in the case of this script, we deal with it with places such as Providence. Providence is the first thing mentioned in the script, and it’s definitely not the New England city. In an unnamed state, Providence is a massive apartment complex/mall/other-buildings totally cut off from what lays out there (and you know what that is). However, not in an island sense. In an electrical-fences, armored-guards kind of way. All bridges into Providence and either guarded or blocked off by fences set to char-broil. Again, all this is in the name of acceptance. These people aren’t looking to fight the problem. They’re looking to block it out. One of these people is our protagonist – Riley – and in keeping with George’s trend of having black men as his focus, Riley is…………..well, you do the math. Riley is a no-nonsense but likable kid of guy. Not too bad-ass. Not too comical. Just seems jaded to life, like everybody else at this point. Riley is involved with a woman, Denise, who’s the daughter of Kaufman, the man who is the makeshift mayor of Providence. Kaufman doesn’t approve of his daughter’s relationship with Riley (and it should be noted, not really for racial reasons) and when a zombie devours one of Providence’s wealthiest patrons, Riley is framed. He spends time in jail (even though the whole city is basically a big jail) until things take a turn for the worse – Dead Reckoning gets loose. Since the world is basically in a state of anarchy, guerilla groups will invariably rise up, and Riley – until just a few days prior – belong to one of them. He broke of from the group, mainly because of its crazed leader Cholo, and since he was the main voice of reason, this wayward, uber dangerous guerilla group is left to wander the streets in the extremely bad-ass Dead Reckoning. And you know what? I couldn’t phrase it any better than George himself. Let the man himself describe the zombie-age means of transportation. Straight from the script………..

The vehicle is in three sections, pulled by a diesel can unit with the name “Dead Reckoning” painted on its engine housing. The “cars” have steel reinforced skins. Two fourteen-inch cannon barrels protude from the cab-unit. Machine guns are mounted on both sides of the middle car, and on three sides, including the rear, of the caboose. Thirty-six rhino skinned tires, protected by tank treads, enable the vehicle, longer than the length of four city buses, to travel, without rails, over land. Hell, over just about anything. This is the ultimate monster truck.

Even if it hadn’t earned the moniker of this script, you can still tell George wants to place this front and center in the story. This, of course, is a good thing. Handled well, a vehicle like this could be cinematic eye-candy (think the vehicle Ripley drives in Aliens). There’s little that can stop Dead Reckoning, which is either a good thing or a bad thing. With a level-headed person like Riley at the helm, it can clean the streets of the “Walkers” (as George likes to call them in the script). However, with somebody like Cholo in charge ever since Riley had the falling out, it’s a bigger threat than the zombies it plows over. Cholo is insane to the core and he’s roaming the streets in this vehicle. Kaufman knows this, and that’s why he springs Riley from jail. He offers him a deal – stop Dead Reckoning, and you’ll have your freedom. Riley accepts, and this leads to the final act in the movie – a battle in the streets of the isolated, fenced in city against both the living dead and Dead Reckoning.

So there you have it, the long-winded scenario for Dead Reckoning. And now for my take on it, and to do so, I’ll have to break this up into two reviews: 1) the scripts that exists, and 2) the scripts that I – as a rabid fan – think should have been. As for the scripts that exists now, taken on its own terms, it’s a solid piece, mainly because of the script’s namesake. Dead Reckoning is a great idea, and seems like a natural evolution in the way people deal with this whole undead-thing. It has subtext and, as usual, social implications, but mainly it would be great to see this tank/bus rolling through the streets of the undead, plowing into the walkers and doing just as much damage as they do. The idea of the city itself, turning itself basically into an island, also seems like a logical way people would be dealing with this now almost forty years later. And within this city, there’s the usual class-ism. The rich are still rich inside Providence, the poor still poor. There are fun little bits where the wealthy elite hatch schemes to achieve world domination during these times (heck, decades) of upheaval. Riley himself is a fun character, who balances the line between the-hell-with-the-world antics of Snake Plissken and a more caring type like Indiana Jones. There are bits of Dawn in here (the mall), bits of Day (the military), but sadly, not much of Night. And as previously mentioned, acceptance is the name of the game here, and for the first time, people are thinking of how to get the government up and running again. And, oh yeah, as usual, there are great little details here that make these movies – you know what I’m talking about. In this case, it’s the way the guerillas in Dead Reckoning (the truck, not the movie) dispatch of the zombies sometimes. These are the cool details in these flicks that I love. They’ll launch some fireworks in the air, and this stops the zombies dead in there tracks. They stare at the colors in the sky – every last one of them – and then it’s killing time. The people inside Dead Reckoning then blow them to pieces while they’re entranced by the skies above.

And now, from that – probably the best aspect of the script – I’ll take you to the problems. If you refer back to the summary, you might notice the word "zombie" isn’t in there all that often. The reason for that is as follows – the zombies factor more into the set-up of the story than the story itself. Put another way, they explain why these people are living in an isolated city with tank/buses roaming the streets, but as for the story itself and the plot that unfolds, they don’t factor in all that much. That’s not to say they’re not there. They definitely are….maybe just not enough for my tastes. George is to be commended for never serving us fluff. His films, and in particular the dead trilogy, have weight and depth to them, and that’s because of the issues he takes on and the human element that made Dawn especially so great. Here, there might be a bit too much. Once the set-up is explained, you could almost remove the zombie element. Yeah, I know, the other films had plenty of human vs. human interplay, and in fact that’s what made them great. Here, there needs to be a little mix-up. That’s not to say he should make this a brainless zombie-fest a la Resident Evil. Just bring them to the forefront a bit more.

So, as it stands, it’s a solid-enough read when taken on its own terms. However, one cannot help but start to think of the script that could/should have been. Yes, I know, there’s a danger in doing this. One shouldn’t apply their expectations/notions on the man who provided more than enough for the cinematic world. I admit, it’s foolish and wrong. But that said, I can’t help but do it. This is a series I’ve been waiting to see carried on for years now. I’ve been twisting it about in my mind, playing different scenarios out, and I can only imagine George has been doing the same. And that’s why I’m so surprised he told the story that he did. Mind you, it’s a fun one – nothing exceptional but a solid double. But it seems a bit small. This may be hard to get across, but barring some miracle, this will be the last living dead movie we’ll ever see (and we’ll be lucky to see this one). That being true, I was expecting something a bit more epic, a bit more apocalyptic, a bit more…..I don’t know. This series deserves to be tied up on a grand note. I want to get the feeling afterwards that the world is going to be OK. Better yet, I want to know the we are severely !$#%&*!$!’ed and will never get out of it. There was one point in the script where I thought it was going to go in the area of mass-destruction, and I must admit, I thought it was going to be fun. I liked the people on the pages, don’t get me wrong, but just the thought of nothing but zombies was an intriguing one. Go out with a bang. Something of this sort. Show us everything is OK. Or show us this is it, game over, zombies win. I guess I was a bit let down to simply see the perfectly acceptable resolution. Again, maybe I shouldn’t fault George, but it just seemed a bit small. I was hoping/expecting the series to go out with one grand gesture, which might be a foolish thing. George is telling the same kind of story as before, which is perfectly fine. Humans vs. human vs. zombies vs. humans. This is all well and good. There’s just that nagging, foolish desire for something a bit grander. Or if not grand, how about small but perfect. I’d also love to see a quiet, poetic ending; a symbolic ending where George takes us back to where it began. He takes us back to the house from the original night. I can just picture him taking us back there in a quiet manner. Don’t really bring the story into this house. Just show it to us, it’s a simple shot that would mean the world. My favorite part of Halloween is the closing montage of all the places Michael has been. Something like that here would have sent us out with goosebumps.

But as I said, there’s a real danger in placing your expectations on others. On its own, this is a fun script that would probably come to life on the screen. One must remember that none of these movies had great scripts necessarily. They came alive in the execution. Night was probably flat as can be on the page. It’s the way he shot the movie that makes is the masterpiece that it is. Same for Dawn (although, to be honest, the script is pretty damn clever). These two are blessed with George A.’s gifted direction, and look what happens when his mojo is gone. Day of the Dead may be fun and all and I’m sure there will be some talk-backers who proclaim its merits, but to me it’s easily the least of the three (and understatement if there was ever one). On page, it may have been great. It’s all in the execution. I wish them the best if this gets off the ground. If it’s great, it’s the comeback of all comebacks. If it’s not, hell, George A. is still batting 2-4. And that’s still ain’t too bad.

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