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While there’s plenty subtle and nuanced bits to pick from the interviews with Zack and Deb Snyder and Dave Bautista, some of you are probably looking for the down-and-dirty goods on ARMY OF THE DEAD. Well, look no further. While on set, we witnessed the scene of Bautista shooting up zombie’s from atop gambling tables and talked to a number of cast and crew amidst dead zombie prop bodies in a war-torn room at The Showboat in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Below is a round-up of all the pertinent, interesting and cool info we wrangled from all aspects of the production.
For those concerned about spoilers, I’d call this spoiler-lite, but be advised regardless, especially if you’re trying to go in dark (which would beg the question of why you’re reading this to begin with, really). Rest assured, however, that no details of charater deaths (honestly, I have no idea who lives or dies, let alone how they may or may not meet their demise), so if that’s your main concern, then you’re in the clear. There is some info about the types of zombies, the overall plot and some other character specifics, as well as creative and production tidbits. I’d wager it’s a safe amount of info for those wanting to know more, but not too much.
- Army of the Dead takes place six years after a zombie apocalypse kicked off, which began at the famed and secretive military installation Area 51 in Nevada.
- Military experiment gone wrong or something otherworldly? Unknown, but the zombie outbreak begins in Area 51 and spreads to Vegas, where it’s contained, and a wall is built around it to keep the zombies inside.
- The wall itself is made of shipping containers, which was the most expedient way to trap the zombies inside.
- There are two types of zombies in the film: traditional “shamblers” which are your regular, slow-moving menace, and “alphas” which are the evolved zombies that can move fast and communicate with one another.
- The leader and smartest/most-evolved of the zombies is Zeus, who rides a zombie horse and carries a staff. Zeus is the zombie that initially escaped from Area 51 and starts the apocalypse. If you are bitten by him, you become an “alpha”. If you’re bitten by a zombie other than him then you become a “shambler” as it gets weaker as it passes on. However, Zeus quickly begins to build his own “Army” of alphas while trapped inside Vegas.
- Deb Snyder says that Zeus and his army are simply trying to live as a species in their “kingdom” that has become the walled-up city of Vegas.
- In terms of how the zombies communicate, the filmmakers liken it to a kind of wolfpack-like mentality or elevated consciousness that’s not quite human, but definitely not mindless.
- Expect to see zombie animals, as already shown in the trailers, including one of Sigfried and Roy’s tigers zombified, as well as horses, which the zombies will ride.
- Snyder leaned heavily into the Vegas imagery, from zombie Elvis’ to their Zombie Queen, which is a Cirque du Soleil performer that’s become a zombie, as well as other aspects, such as strippers, Chippendale’s dancers and everything else you could imagine or expect from a Vegas-set film
- Outside the walls of Vegas are refugee camps, which serve as a transition center for the infected and/or disenfranchised. The government uses these camps as places to send anyone who speaks out against them as well, so it serves two purposes.
- Zack Snyder developed the original script for Army of the Dead 10 years ago for a first-time director, but it was never made. Snyder dusted it off and rewrote it with Shay Hatten to direct himself, with much of it changing from them to now.
- When the government decides that they’re going to nuke Vegas to rid the world of the zombie problem once and for all, a casino owner named Hunter Bly (Hiroyuki Sanada) approaches Scott (Dave Bautista) to help extricate all of his abandoned money from his casino.
- Interior casino scenes were shot at the Showboat Hotel in Atlantic City, NJ, which was relatively empty at the time of filming. An entire floor was recreated, complete with slot machines, dead bodies and plenty of space to conduct action sequences.
- The ruined Las Vegas exterior landscape scenes were filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico and the VFX team worked from full digital scans they did of the actual Vegas in Nevada. The weather was particularly temperamenta in New Mexico, and storms would often swell up and stall production. If lighting was spotted within six miles of the production, they would have to shut down until they were sure it was done.
- Snyder says that the movie is inspired by films like Escape From New York, Aliens and Robocop
- Snyder wanted to subvert the many zombie tropes that existed and made an effort to have traditional scenes or moments finish differently than what was expected.
- Snyder wanted to have evolved zombies in the film so that the audience would have some kind of sympathy for them as being semi-conscious beings, rather than a mindless “shambler” that you often feel is being done a favor when killed.
- The heart of the film is the relationship between Dave Bautista’s character and his estranged daughter, played by Ella Purnell, who tricks her way into going on the movie’s main mission, where Bautista will attempt to make amends for abandoning her early on.
- Although still an advocate for motion picture film, Snyder shot Army of the Dead on digital, doing the cinematography himself for the first time on a feature.
- Snyder used a Red Monstro digital camera in filming Army of the Dead and wanted to focus on using natural light, which fit well with the capabilities of the camera. He also experimented with a host of different lenses, including some old Canon Dream Lenses that were produced in Japan in the 70s, each with their own imperfections that enhance the visual quality.
- Much like his version of Justice League being made to fit on an IMAX screen with a specific aspect ratio, Army of the Dead was shot to fill the screen for home viewing, so don’t expect any black bars (top, bottom or on the sides) at all when it debuts.
- Snyder calls the experience of making the film refreshing and inspiring, citing the difference between making a smaller-budgeted zombie film as compared to a big-budget superhero movie, as he was able to get more up close and personal with the process, having felt removed from it on the larger scale films he’d done in the past.
- The relationship with Netflix has been amazing for Snyder, who calls it collaborative and supportive, with Netflix being incredibly passionate and comfortable with the movie he proposed to them.
- The film only had two weeks left of filming while we were on set, having been filming since June of 2019.
- It was really important to have a global cast for the film, according to Deb Snyder, as the majority of the Netflix audience is international, and it simply made sense “in the fabric of our lives.”
- Dave Bautista says that the only reason he wanted to work on this film was to work with Zack Snyder and, as an extra bonus, be able to watch him work and steal his tricks of the trade to use in his own directing endeavors down the line.
- Dave Bautista plays Scott Ward, a veteran zombie fighter and member of the Los Vengeance citizen-soldier group that helped contain the zombie outbreak initially.
- At some point (either earlier or later in the film) Los Vengeance rocks a modded-out truck that looks like a military-style food truck, complete with armor, up-guns, barbed wire and more with “Los Vengeance” painted on it.
- When we find the members of Los Vengeance in present day, they are all working various jobs, so prepare for a fun sequence of rounding up the crew, a staple of the heist genre
- After the zombie outbreak is contained, Bautista’s Scott goes to work as a short-order cook, but his dream is to work independently, specifically by owning his own food truck.
- The “ticking clock” aspect of the film kicks in when the president decides to move the nuclear detonation to the 4th of July, which is when the group is on the ground in Vegas. So, they are then on a countdown to get in and get out before being obliterated.
- Theo Rossi will play a villain in the film and describes it as an opportunity to go “off the chain” in his performance. Rossi also says that Snyder is taking the zombie genre and making something that’s both “Snyder” but also very different from what we’ve seen before in the genre.
- Nora Arnezedar plays Lily AKA The Coyote, who brings refugees into Vegas to help them find money to buy their way out of the camp.
- Chris D’Elia was originally cast and filmed his role as Peters but was recast after his sexual allegations came to light with Tig Notaro. Notaro plays the recast Peters, who was the helicopter pilot that goes along on the mission to repair the helicopters on top of Bly Casino and fly the team out.
- Samantha Win, who has worked with Snyder before as a stunt performer on films like Suckerpunch, is playing Chambers, a martial artist (onscreen and in real-life) who will have a big action sequence to highlight her abilities in the film.
- Ana de la Reguera will play one of the founding members of Los Vengeance and serve as the unrequited love to Dave Bautista’s Scott Ward. She is also the mechanic of the group and owns her own body shop.
Army of the Dead blasts onto Netflix on May 21st, 2021.