Universal // 2004 // 110 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // October 25th, 2004
"When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth."
In 1978, George A. Romero made what many believe to be the definitive zombie movie for all time: Dawn of the Dead. Twenty-six years later, Universal decided that Romero's original vision needed a new update. Hence, newcomer director Zack Snyder's upgraded version cleverly titled Dawn of the Dead. Starring Sarah Polley (Go), tough guy Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction), Jake Weber (The Cell), and Mekhi Phifer (Soul Food), Dawn of the Dead rises once more to eat the living on DVD care of Universal Home Entertainment.
The world is once again falling apart as the dead awaken from their eternal slumber to feast upon the living in this updated version of Romero's Dawn of the Dead.
As Wisconsin native Ana (Polley) awakens from a restful night's sleep, she finds her daughter and husband have been turned into rampaging zombies from hell. Just barely escaping her home and fleeing for the nearest shelter (and no doubt pissed she didn't even get a cup of joe to start her day), Ana runs into Kenneth (Rhames), a local cop with a bad attitude. Ana and Kenneth then meet up with Michael (Weber) and Andre (Phifer), two survivors from a band of citizens trying to stay alive.
The four flee to a local indoor shopping mall where they barricade themselves inside, along with a few other ragtag humans trying to stay alive through what appears to be the approaching apocalypse. Squabbles commence among the humans (because it wouldn't be the end of the world without someone bitching and complaining, now would it?) as the zombies slowly begin to surround the mall (slowly may not be the correct word -- these zombies must be wearing Air Jordans, because they're lightening fast). Now the group must band together to figure out a way out of the building and into safety before they become the undead's next super sized meal deal!
A lot of people didn't like the idea of updating Romero's classic 1978 Dawn of the Dead because...well, I guess they felt it was like trying to repaint the Mona Lisa with feces and urine -- very, very disrespectful. Why mess with something when it's not broken, right? Normally I'd have to agree with those angry fans. Did we really need a remake of Romero's original Night of the Living Dead back in 1990? When you have a movie as good, gory, and socially relevant as the original Dawn of the Dead, how in the heck can you hope to improve upon it with a remake?
2004's Dawn of the Dead is not better than the original film, but it is good and that counts for something. I commend the movie on that fact alone -- by all accounts, the new Dawn of the Dead should have blown monkey chunks the size of Baltimore. Most all remakes are D.O.A., and I expected Dawn of the Dead to be no exception. Yet director Zack Snyder (working from a screenplay by James Gunn, writer of the awful Scooby-Doo and its equally bad sequel) infuses the material with wit, fun, and above all else a solid pace for man vs. monster that doesn't slow up until the final horrifying frame.
If you're a fan of horror movies, I think you're going to get a kick out of this new Dawn of the Dead. If you're not a horror fan...well, what the hell are you doing reading a movie review with the words "dawn" and "dead" in the title?
Romero's basic premise remains: survivors are locked up inside of a residential mall to fend of the legions of the dead while trying not to kill each other in the process. Although much of Romero's social commentary/satire has been excised (the film focuses more on trying to get the survivors out than their interactions at the mall), this is a slam-bang, go-for-broke flick that is equal parts grisly horror and action adventure. Action fans looking for cars crashing through buildings, buses equipped with chainsaws barreling down the highway, or lots of guns going off won't be disappointed. Likewise, horror buffs will thrill to heads exploding, torsos ripped in half, and lots of oozy, gooey blood flowing through the streets of Wisconsin like milky red cheese curds.
The characters in this film aren't as clearly defined as the original, but that's because there are a lot more of them. In the original film, it was only four people trying to make it through the night. In Snyder's version, there are more than a dozen characters, some of them more periphery than others. Polley, Rhames, Weber, and Phifer have the meatiest roles, while a few secondary characters almost steal the movie away from them. The most interesting is Steve, played with brash, sarcastic gusto by Ty Burrell (whose previous films include Evolution and Black Hawk Down). Snarling his lines with yuppie indifference, Burrell commands attention (and laughs) anytime he pops up on the screen. The rest of the cast play their parts accordingly -- there's the horny girl, the doomed father, the chain-smoking old lady, et cetera. Though no one else really stands out, everyone knows never to play this material too seriously (and really, how serious can you get when you've got half crazed zombies with rotting appendages trying to eat your brains from your head?).
There are scares to be found here, as well as some well-executed laughs and even a bit of drama as the film comes to a close. Oh yeah, and a lotta exploding zombie heads. Dawn of the Dead will never replace Romero's original vision, but I don't think that was the intention anyhow -- this new update is meant to be a thrill ride filled with fun and horror. On that level, it works like a charm.
Dawn of the Dead is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Universal has done a great job on this transfer -- it looks great. The colors and black levels are all well rendered, even when they've been tampered with to give the film a very dark, ominous tone. There are some areas where the film stock looks slightly grainy, though this seems to be more of an artistic choice than a transfer problem. On that end, it gives the film a scarier, more documentary-like feel to it. Overall fans should be pleased with how nice this transfer looks.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, French, and Spanish. I am very pleased with how good this sound mix is. There are a lot of areas where the back speakers as well as the front are engaged -- gunshots, groaning zombies, and the screams of their victims filled my sound system. Chilling! The film hardly ever slows down when it comes to 5.1 surrounds -- there's something to be found here at all times, even when it's just nerve-rattling ambient noise. All aspects of the mix are free of any distortion or hiss. Also included on this disc are English and French subtitles.
Universal has included some gory special features for your horror hounds, starting with an uncut version of the film. This means a longer run time (by about 10 minutes) and more gruesome carnage. I have to admit that the film feels slightly more fleshed out (pun intended) because of the additions.
Under the special features menu there is a commentary track by Zack Snyder and producer Eric Newman discussing what it was like "re-imagining" Romero's original vision, casting choices, screenplay cuts, how the effects were accomplished, and other tidbits about the film. It's not the most exciting track ever recorded, though you can tell that Snyder is enthusiastic about his feature film debut.
A litany of featurettes are included. "The Lost Tape: Andy's Terrifying Last Days Revealed" is a short staged video of Andy (the gun shop guy) and his last days battling the zombies. "Special Report: We Interrupt This Program" is a 20-minute faux newscast that features more footage of Tom Savini as the sheriff, as well as actors portraying newscasters on location, a few zombies, and poor acting (sorry guys, but this still looks pretty fake). "Raising the Dead" is a very short look at the make up used on the actors portraying the zombies. "Attack of the Living Dead" is a look at six of the main zombies from the film and how their special effects were achieved. "Splitting Headaches: Anatomy of Exploding Heads" is exactly how it sounds: a look at how the effects guys got all those zombie heads to blow up realistically.
Finally, there are some deleted scenes from the film with optional commentary by director Snyder and producer Newman, as well as some previews for other coming attractions from Universal Home Entertainment and DVD-ROM content.
This new Dawn of the Dead is definitely worth checking out if you're a zombie lover like myself. Go in expecting something a bit different than (and slightly inferior to) George Romero's original flick and I think you'll have a lot of fun. Universal has done a fine job on this new "Unrated Director's Cut" of the film -- the video, audio, and extra features are all worth the price of around twenty bucks.
More brains! More zombies! More gore! Dawn of the Dead is free to go kill, maim, and create general havoc among horror buffs everywhere!
Review content copyright © 2004 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2004 Nominee
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Commentary Track With Director Zack Snyder and Producer Eric Newman
* Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Director Zack Snyder and Producer Eric Newman
* "The Lost Tape: Andy's Terrifying Last Days Revealed" Featurette
* "Special Report: We Interrupt This Program" Featurette
* "Raising the Dead" Featurette
* "Splitting Headaches: Anatomy of Exploding Heads" Featurette
* "Attack of the Living Dead" Featurette
* Official Site