Jul 16, 2019


Watching The Dead Lands brings two thoughts to mind:

One - It's time to revoke James Cameron's membership to the Credibility Club. After his mind boggling endorsement of the bad Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and the worse Terminator Genisys, along with The Dead Lands, it's become clear the man has spent way too much time huffing unobtainium.

Two - It's refreshing to discover that even A Really Long Time Ago, B.C., when people wore leather strings up their asses and got their hair did like Milli Vanilli, youths still made derogatory comments about their enemies' mothers. It's nice to see we've barely progressed as a society except for the fact that we now wear full-on ass-covering pants.

Well, sort of. 

The biggest elephant in the room as it pertains to The Dead Lands is the existence of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, which manages the impressive feat of not being that good while still being far better than The Dead Lands. Though Apocalypto takes place among an entirely different tribe on an entirely different continent, what that film presented, the same as what The Dead Lands presents, is a bad tribe being total dicks to a good tribe, and so a young man from the good tribe has to basically stand up for the good of his people, become a man, and kill people in violent ways. Along the way, half-naked tribesmen are mutilated, a couple jokes are made, and you revel at how long someone can run through the woods without breaking both ankles and getting eaten by an anaconda.

Somewhere within The Dead Lands resides a good idea, and that has entirely to do with the shaky "friendship" between Hongi and "The Warrior," a spitting image of the 1995 version of Mortal Kombat's Goro, but with the normal amount of arms. The idea of this man existing in the woods and reveling in the legendary stories exchanged about him and his so-called godlike powers and strength, only to meet him for real and see that he's a mostly human guy just kind of pissed off but really good at taking lives, makes for an interesting concept. The problem is not nearly enough is done with this, and the only real sense of characterization offered to him is that hey, he's just like us, in that his wife/girlfriend/cavemate is constantly breaking his balls.

It's honestly difficult to comment on the effectiveness of the performances, as 99.9995% of audiences watching it will have never before heard spoken Maori in their lives; it will essentially sound like gibberish - what you're watching is grown men wearing next to nothing doing fancy weapon spins, wagging their tongues, and "emoting" their dialogue in such a way that it sounds like everyone has been sipping way too heavily from the nectar of the gods. But at the same time, it's evident The Dead Lands was well intentioned, and likely a bitch to shoot. This isn't the type of film one makes over a series of weekends with friends. From learning uncommon languages, kneeling half-naked in pond water for hours on end, wearing thick layers of skin puddy, and sprinting through the woods in bare feet, it's clear that director Toa Fraser put a lot of effort into his film - not even James Cameron can say that anymore - but it's unfortunate that it didn't result in something just a little better, and with its own identity.

The visual presentation is the exact opposite of human shit smeared on a skull - it looks quite lovely. Extreme detail is captured in every shot, especially the intricate tribesman marks etched into nearly every face. The jungles of New Zealand are adeptly captured, with the opening smoke-filled chase sequence looking among one of the film's best. The image captures a lot of color from the entirely exterior-set story. 

If you’ve acquired a DVD or Blu-ray of this flick on a whim but decided at any point during play that the film just isn't doing anything for you, consider putting on the alternate English dubbing track. It's hysterical. From the flat, hollow, and tinny sounding audio recordings to the sneaking suspicion that one twenty-year-old voice-over actor was utilized to dub every character -- even trying on a "weathered old man" voice whenever speaking for an elder member of the tribe -- this track may provide a brief detour into a land of additionally amusing ineptitude.

Just because The Dead Lands utilizes a very unknown language, takes place somewhere between dinosaurs and Donald Trump's spawning, and throws around terms like "fate" and "the gods" and "honor," don't think you're going to be getting some kind of high-art masterpiece created to make film festival audiences tweet their tears. The Dead Lands is not that. Instead, it provides a somewhat pedestrian story with an intriguing/conflicting on-screen pair -- a half-naked-man buddy comedy with far less jokes -- and presents reasonable but wholly vapid entertainment. If you're really into tribe-on-tribe victimization and men shitting on skulls/licking shitty hands, then The Dead Lands is totally for you. If you're not, try watching Avatar again. Or something better.

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