Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Shaun of the Dead

Truly Great Films #8

You've got red on you...

In 1940, a British man named Harold Turpin sat at his kitchen table and designed the Sten Gun. 

At the time, Germany was overrunning Europe with their superior weapons - but in England, the materials and skilled labor needed to make machine guns were in very short supply.

Sten Mk. 2

The Sten Gun cost about three dollars to make, was mind-bogglingly simple, and - best of all? It friggin' worked.

The same could be said for British director Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead

A tiny budget, yes...but it works. 


Shaun has a problem. His girlfriend wants to break up with him, and that makes Shaun really sad.

Why doesn't she want to be with him anymore?

Because Shaun has no ambition, and she thinks he's a consummate underachiever. 

And she has a point.

He works in an appliance store, and spends his evenings drinking ale with Ed, his slacker best friend in a quaint bar called the Winchester.

I think that Shaun of the Dead is one of the best films of the last decade, and the critics agree...but this isn't reflected in box office receipts

This movie was shot on a tiny budget of 4 million dollars, and made 30 million in ticket sales. Now, that's a winner when you consider the profit. 

Then you look at the figures for Dawn of the Dead, also released in 2004. Dawn of the Dead made 102 million at the box office, so one of two things happened. 

Dawn of the Dead - another very good zombie film

A - the general public wasn't ready for a horror zombie comedy like Shaun of the Dead, or B - as I've stated before, the British have a somewhat wonky system for advertising films made in the UK. A lot of good ones have fallen through the cracks. 

Unleashed is such a film, and is detailed here.

Oh, and another example of box office receipts for 2004? Shrek 2 made nearly a billion dollars that year. That's billion with a 'B'. 

A billion smackers? That's some mad stacks of cheddar!

So the public was definitely out watching funny movies.

On to the film...

Shaun is played by Simon Pegg, and his best friend is played by his real best friend, Nick Frost. There is a reason the dynamic feels so real between them, because a lot of the elements of their on-screen relationship has roots in their actual lives. 

These two berks met at a Mexican restaurant while making R2-D2 noises. They sprayed each other with nerd musk, bonded instantly - and we have gotten a great comedy team as a result.

In Shaun of the Dead, we aren't privy to what has happened in North London, but Shaun wakes up from a drunken night out with Ed after his girlfriend Liz (the lovely Kate Ashfield) has dumped him. 

Shaun staggers to the local convenience store for coffee, not noticing the undead shuffling around him.

As Shaun and Ed realize that something is very wrong, we learn something about him. 

Shaun cares very much about Liz...and his mom. And that becomes his primary mission - to get them to safety.

The other thing we learn is that Shaun has a natural ability to deal with zombies. He is able to dispatch them quite well, even if his decision-making skills aren't really up to par. 

We also learn that Liz's friends, a stuck-up couple played to perfection by Lucy Davis and Dylan Moran - are real wankers. 

Shaun is stuck with them, though, if he wants to save Liz and go get his mom.

We learn, as well, that Shaun's mom remarried - to a guy he despises. His stepdad, played by Bill Nighy, has been infected by some teens that were "a bit bitey".

Now, the whole extent of Shaun's plan during the Zombie Invasion is to get his mom and friends to....the Winchester. 

Yep, the bar where he spends his evenings. 

Like I said, he doesn't have the best decision-making skills, but his companions have no better ideas...and really? What would you do in a zombie apocalypse?

I'm not going to tell you how that works out. 

Grab a loved one and watch Shaun of the Dead on a slow night when you're in the mood for some serious laughs.

One of the film's best bits - zombie acting lessons

Shaun of the Dead may have indeed started out as a parody - but it morphed into much, much more. Probably, this is due to the comedy timing and delivery of Pegg and Frost. 

These two guys are just naturally funny, and are very good together on screen. This movie was their first major endeavor, followed by Hot Fuzz and Paul

Shaun of the Dead, however, seems to hit it out of the park with tension and realism...just like The Crazies. (detailed here)

This film is very well paced and written, and even though it had a tiny budget, no shortcuts were taken. 

There was even a point where Pegg had to stop a take because the actors in zombie makeup were a little too realistic - and had scared him.

Shit just got real.

Seriously, though, there are times when a film is just damn good despite a small budget...and this is one of those times.

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