Kasey, who I believe is some kind of expert on horror films, brings up some good points about the new Romero movie.
The problem with evaluating Land of the Dead is that it's hard not to compare it in overall impact to Dawn of the Dead, Romero's masterpiece, and it's just not on that level as a film. But it's also not trying to do the same things, and it does work in the overall spectrum of the series. It's closer to an extension of the third film, Day of the Dead, an overlooked movie that earned scorn from Romero fans for not doing the same things as first two films. Though arguably not the strongest, and certainly the least popular of the first three films, it addresses new issues. Set in a military encampment within a general zombie besiegement, where there is an intra-class power struggle between scientists and soldiers.
One of the things that make the series so compelling is that the films dramatize people struggling to survive in a situation where they are caught between equally unappealing groups competing for power. This is the situation that much of the population of the world actually find themselves in. Just ask Iraq's population if they prefer Saddam or the US. The films are about issues of class warfare explored in a setting of the general breakdown of the social contract.
Dawn of the Dead is largely a critique of consumerism. It's about the dissatisfactions of comfortable, isolated, consumerist American life. It has a lot of satire in it and it is funny, though viewers who lack a gallows humor might have trouble accessing this. Like Night of the Living Dead, it also has the pervasive feeling of another reality despite the low budget, and is highly unnerving, like a hyper-real nightmare. Neither the acting nor the writing in the movie are particular stellar, but they nevertheless contribute powerfully to the feeling of another reality despite a certain awkwardness. This feeling of being immersed in another world is gradually deepened by a plot process where much of the action in the film is comprised of the characters learning and managing mundane problem solving skills within the alternate reality: how do we get to the food and water? How do we keep out the zombies? How do we enjoy ourselves? What are the rules of the new reality? This process sucks you into the film. The overall directorial vision is just incredibly strong, and the film is smart, and extremely inventive. Day of the Dead also has this pervasive feeling, and is full of interesting twists, themes and issues, but the characters aren't quite fleshed out enough to have the overall impact the of Dawn of the Dead.
The first thing I has to adjust to in the new Land of the Dead is that it wasn't particularly scary. 28 Days Later, an excellent hodge-podge of the first three Romero movies, is much scarier, and for the same reason Dawn was -- social contract breakdown and power struggle among humans with lots of mundane problem solving to suck you into the reality. I'm fairly inured to horror movies, and the film genuinely disturbed my sleep.
So Land of the Dead is not so scary, what it is is exciting, fun and kind of uplifting. It's much closer to a dystopic action film fused with a zombie movie. It bears a lot of resemblance to George Miller's Road Warrior trilogy. John Leguizamo's outfit is designed to look almost exactly like Mel Gibson's in Mad Max, and there is a scene of zombie gladiators in a cage riffing directly off of Beyond Thunderdome. The action dimension of the film does work fairly well.
Unlike Kasey, I didn't read the scene involving the navel ring as sexualized. I read it within the context of it's moment in the film: a yuppie urban elite being devoured where they shop and show off. The navel ring is an emblem of the hip side of urban status display. The lesbian scene I'm a little less clear on, but I read it as showing that zombies don't discriminate: equal-opportunity cannibalism.
The strength of the film, though, is not in how it handles these variations of who gets eaten/killed and how, but in the fact that the zombies begin to develop self-consciousness. The real heroes are not the boy scoutish leader or the tough-guy turncoat who eventually redeems himself, but the zombies themselves who begin the process of developing class consciousness in the course of the film. The most compelling scene doesn't involve decapitation or picnicking on innards. It is a long static shot of the masses of zombies lining up at the river's edge realizing, with the help of their revolutionary leader Big Daddy, that they can cross the water by just dropping into it and walking underwater. What are they going to do, drown? They have nothing to lose. This is the nascent revolutionary power of an oppressed population being born on the other riverbank: the zombies' heads emerging from the black water.