Friday, July 27, 2012

War of the Dead Never Emerges from the Fog of War: A Movie Review

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Director: Marko Mäkilaakso.

Writers Marko Mäkilaakso, and Barr B. Potter.

Cast: Andrew Tiernan, Mikko Leppilampi, Samuel Vauramo, Jouko Ahola, Mark Wingett, and Andreas Wilson.

War of the Dead was originally titled Stone's War. This film has undergone several other changes in its eight year production history. Production companies have come and gone along with primary cast members. James van der Beek was one actor who was attached to this picture only to be replaced by another.

War of the Dead released in the United Kingdom on DVD May 28th and this film has not overcome the many challenges of production. The film reviewed here is simply lackluster in story and character development. Only a few exciting film elements draw this title out of complete oblivion.

The film is set during World War II. Finnish and American forces are working together to destroy an underground German bunker. Beneath the ground, an anti-death research program is being developed. Their journey to the bunker is seemingly interrupted by a Russian assault. Soon, this company of soldiers is conveniently reduced to just a few. Then, the undead enter the picture and the bunker is confronted. This tale leaves little else to tell.

There are many problems with this film's tale. There is no character development. Each character could be swapped with another and the viewer would not notice a change. There is not enough backstory. Your history lesson involves a 30 second intertitle, which only delivers the bare necessities of the film's lingering conflict. Little is explained of the Finnish-Russian War or Winter War. A line of dialogue or two could have clued the viewer into the tension between these two countries and the early battle onscreen. Also, there are no sub-plots worth mentioning. War of the Dead is more action piece with the plot points lost in favour of more gunfire and explosions. The narrative of War of the Dead falls very flat.

Other elements are equally uninspiring. One of the most confusing elements of this film involves discerning warring parties. The Allies use German weapons like the MP-40, so it is difficult to tell who is fighting who. The Finnish and American forces also use the PPSH-41, which is a Russian built machine pistol. They use this equipment while fighting Russian forces. Who is who? Meanwhile, much of the fighting takes place at night and the characters' uniforms are dirty and drab. Viewers will have a tough time figuring out who is on one side and who is on the other. After awhile, this film fan grew tired of trying to figure out the difference between the many factions.

This film does show some highlights, however. The settings and vehicles look historically accurate. There was some attention given to costumes. They look as military uniforms of the time should. As well, the music is well done and certain key action sequences are amplified by the rousing score. Staying with the action sequences, the choreography during the fighting is performed well. The action is also full of energetic movement. Unfortunately, these positive film elements are not enough to overcome the many detriments in storytelling.

War of the Dead does not rise above mediocrity. The many problems in production likely sapped the film's momentum. All that is left are a few action sequences and some elaborate set design. This is not enough to draw viewers in nor hold their attention. War of the Dead threatens a sequel, but here is one vote for the undead staying dead in director Marko Mäkilaakso's sequel.

Overall: 6 out of 10 (good soundtrack, well choreographed action sequences, inane dialogue, no sub-plots, characters are shallow, settings are good, some confusing battle scenes).

*this film fan could hardly figure out who the protagonist is in this film.

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