Dawn Of The Dead

Dawn Of The Dead (2004)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Featurettes

"When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth."

"Dawn of the Dead" is a remake of the original 1979 Romero classic in which a group of survivors barricade themselves in a urban shopping center so as to protect themselves from the living dead that increasingly continue to plague the earth. In George Romero’s original screenplay the dead have already taken over a serious portion of the world based upon prior events in "Night of the Living Dead." But in 1st time film director Zack Snyder’s version, the film begins with everything seeming fine. We begin in a local hospital where everyday patients are coming in with cases of being attacked by local pedestrians. What’s unknown to the hospital administration is that there is a lot more involved with what is going to develop shortly into the film.

Immediately the contrast between both the original 1979 version and the update is that even though they both predominately take place in a mall, it’s the context of what this represents and how it’s portrayed that changes the feel of the picture. Back in 1979, massive shopping centers were still relatively new to most people. Very few cities or medium sized towns even had them. But with the growing increase in consumerism, it became a very noticeable satirical stab at the individuals who often dedicate their lives to visiting these places on a regular basis. Now fast-forward to 2004 and consumerism dominates our everyday lives. Instead of focusing the film on this, Zack Snyder has used the location of a mall as just a place the protagonists of the film can find safety.

The other noticeable change is regarding the main characters. Romero introduced us to a small group of survivors that take advantage of the luxuries a mall can offer. Figuring that everything they need, and more, is at their disposal they decide to make the best of it and live in the mall. In this version the group of characters more than triples in size and instead we spend more time with the individual conflicts they have to deal with under these circumstances. Even though this is a remake, it really defers in almost everyway to the original.

That is not to say that this is a poor film. In fact I felt that this is one of the best zombie films to come out since the original. The visual polish is far superior to what we were used to seeing 20 years ago. The audio experience really helps bring the tension levels to a new high. And as far as the gore and special effects factor, this film is leaps above what even legendary make-up artist Tom Savini could do with the original. The unrated version, which is available along with a separately sold theatrical cut, has even more violence and character development so make sure you pick that one up instead.

Screenplay writer James Gunn and co-producer Richard P. Rubinstein, who produced the original, bring the same premise to the table. An unknown virus, spread through human bites, kills its victims and than shortly later resurrects them as flesh eating zombies. As each victim is attacked or eaten, the plague spreads. The only way to kill them is with a bullet to the head or to severe the head from the body. But instead of the slow lurching zombies we’re used to, we now get super fast zombies. Once they hear or see you they run at full tilt to get to you. Now instead of the numbing terror that with the increasing number of dead growing rapidly and eventually getting you one way or another "eating" at the back of your mind, now even with a small number their threat is a lot greater. The original concept is more accurate, but this new trend of zombies I really enjoy as well.

Like I mentioned, I really enjoyed this film when I saw it earlier this year. I’m a sucker for horror films and I love when a director and the studio that’s financing the picture actually get together and not water down the mature content for the younger audience. This is an R rated film from start to finish and unlike the many R rated films that are watered down today for a 14A rating or worse a PG-13, we actually get to see a horror film that has intense violence and mature subject matter. The opening of this film is memorable in the way that Renny Harlin’s "Cliffhanger" was. Instead of slowly building up to the action/suspense portions of the film, we’re immediately presented with a very tense, extremely fast paced opening that satisfies on every level. Before the opening credits occur we’re already pumped for more. This is the proper way to open a film of this sort. The acting is very strong and the script never loses track of where it needs to go. Just like Marcus Nispel, whose first directorial film gig was the awesome remake of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", Zack Snyder does a great job with the material and really shows that he has the right vision to shoot these type of pictures.

"Dawn of the Dead" is presented in its original 2.35:1 <$16x9,Anamorphic> <$PS,Widescreen> aspect. The first thing you’ll notice when watching this film is that everything looks over saturated. Don’t adjust your sets. This is how the film was shot. The film does have a lot of color, but it never really gives that realistic look we’re used to seeing in real life. Facial tones are often darker than usual, reds are incredibly rich and deep (especially all the blood throughout the film) and everything has a slight greenish hue. This is an exact mastering of the original film print so it’s correct. This is also to say that if your television is not properly setup you might find that the image is less than satisfactory. Some compression artifacts are present but are very minor and usually kept at bay most of the time. Some scenes exhibit a slight ringing around edges but again this is only in a few instances. Blacks are incredibly rich and never crush shadow details. Oddly enough, with any faults I found in the image, I clearly remember this film looking identical in the theater and in saying that, the image on this disc is very good.

Offering a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 audio track, Universal again disappoints in the fact that they did not include a <$DTS,DTS> secondary track. Both their recent release "Van Helsing" and "Dawn of the Dead" both are excellent sounding pictures that would of benefited from a DTS soundtrack – which exists. The Dolby track doesn’t disappoint though. Dialog is always crystal clear. Many of the times the entire soundstage including the rear effect channels are used to add reverb and echoing to the actors voice to give that sense of the dialog traveling throughout the large halls of the mall. Action sequences are loud, very loud in fact. When a group of zombies are attacking and various gunfire is going off it really shows off the dynamics of your audio setup. And for those that saw the film in the theater, you might remember the excellent selection of music that plays along with specific scenes. Most is spread across the front three channels and really blends well and seamlessly. There are also a few instances where your sub will get a workout. A very nice soundtrack that lives up to the chaos that takes place on screen.

According the packaging, "these bonus features are to die for!" I don’t know about that. They are unique but could have been much better. First off is "The Lost Tape: Andy’s Terrifying Last Days Revealed." This is one of two made for DVD short side films that involve characters or places in the film. In this feature we have a 15 minute home video of Andy, the man above the gun shop, as he films his daily journals about what is happening to his life and family from the beginning of the film until the later events in the movie. It does feature the actor that plays Andy in the film but otherwise it’s really poorly written, acted and directed. It’s worth watching but it’s not that memorable. The second side film is called "Special Report: We Interrupt This Program!" Just like the first film this is a newscast that is covering the events as they unfold across the globe. Interesting concept but it really reeks LOW BUDGET and again suffers from poor acting, directing and scripting.

The next batch of features are much more interesting. We get over 12 minutes of "Deleted Scenes" that were not edited back into even the longer unrated cut. With optional commentary describing why the scene was cut, none of the scenes would have benefited the film and in fact some of them were down right awful and I’m glad they were cut. "Raising The Dead" is a cool feature that focuses on the process that was involved taking the huge cast of extras and turning them into zombies. And following that is the even better is "Attack of the Living Dead," which explores the most memorable deaths (human and zombie) of the film and shows how each was made. I had no idea that old fat lady in the wheel-barrel was in fact a man. Excellent makeup. The last featurette is called "Splitting Headaches: Anatomy of Exploding Heads." As if it wasn’t self explanatory, this feature talks about the different methods in which they were able to shoot or blow up heads throughout the movie. A long-term business client of mine, and visual effect artist, Troy Rundle, is actually in this feature. It was very cool to finally see him in a documentary of a film he worked on. By the way, the film was shot locally in my hometown of Toronto. Which happens to also be the location of George A. Romero’s fourth part in his Zombie quadrilogy, which is finally materializing. Filming started on the 11th of this month.

And before you finish, make sure to check out the <$commentary,Audio Commentary> provided by director Zack Snyder and Produce Eric Newman. Interesting things such as the total lack of product sponsorship because the stores/brands weren’t sure they wanted to have their products in a film where blood could spray all over it. Roots Canada was one of the only stores that agreed to be shown in the mall. Roots rocks! Other interesting tidbits, is the Helicopter at the beginning of the film is the same helicopter from the original, only computer generated. Great commentary. And make sure to keep an eye out for actor cameos from the original showing up

I have been looking forward to this DVD most of the year. For some reason every film that came out around the same time as this or after has been on DVD for sometime. I guess Universal wanted to hold off to release this closer to Halloween. It’s a great flick to watch on the 31st. And again make sure to check out the Unrated edition. It adds quite a lot of noticeable scenes that were edited by the MPAA.