Universal // 2004 // 110 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // August 30th, 2007
When there's no room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth.
Before he struck paydirt with his blue-screen comic book epic 300, director Zack Snyder took on the thankless job of remaking one of the most beloved horror films ever. And guess what? It kicked ass.
Ana (Sarah Polley) wakes up one morning and her life becomes a nightmare. An unknown contagion has infected the populace, turning ordinary people into raving, bloodthirsty, undead maniacs. Scrambling to escape her home, Ana makes a run for it, watching her neighborhood tear itself apart. Eventually she meets some other survivors, including bad-ass cop Kenneth (Ving Rhames, Con Air) and natural-leader Michael (Jake Weber). Together, they seek shelter with a handful eclectic uninfected in the local mall, and eventually make a desperate stand against the rampaging horde of flesh-eaters.
I really, really, really like this movie. Yes it lacks the social commentary of the original, but Holy Cow if this remake isn't hugely entertaining. It's a horror movie still, sure -- the chainsaws attest to that -- but I've always looked at Snyder's revision vision as more of a hard-assed action movie that happens to feature zombies than a straight horror film.
One of the major chances Snyder made to the mythos is to the zombies themselves. Instead of slow, lumbering brutes, shuffling to wherever their fleshly victims may be, the bastards in the remake are fast, vicious and pissed-off. You sacrifice the social satire by going away from the "zombie-like" zombies, but you gain a lot more tension and violence by upgrading to the high-octane ilk. These guys run, chomp, jump through the air and snarl like crazy and with their mouths flapping at 100 miles per hour, and the risk of zombie infection one bite can deliver, you've got the makings of some ruthless foes and Snyder uses them to their full potential. When zombies catch a glimpse of your heroes trying to fish survivors out of a truck they pivot and like hell. Gunfire ensues of course and it always seems that the good guys just barely escape with their lives. The film is tense, fast-moving and packed with action and gore.
And as an added bonus, it features characters that you might actually care about. Versus the disposable meat magnets found in most horror films, the crew in Dawn of the Dead is largely interesting and sympathetic. When the herd is inevitably thinned, there's a good chance you'll feel a pang of emotion. Standouts include Mekhi Phifer's Andre, a father protecting his unborn child, with some really f -- -- ed up results, CJ (Michael Kelly), a jackass security guard who turns into the bravest of the bunch and Weber's Michael. Weber brings his A game to this genre picture and gives the film a realistic centerpiece to act as a foil to the other characters. It's a great performance considering these flicks are usually all about the head shots over character development.
Not to say there aren't head shots. I think a new record has been set for most exploding craniums in a single feature film. Snyder is not one to shy away from the gore and his silver-screen debut is soaked in it. Head shots are supplemented by disemboweling, decapitations, chainsaw dismemberment, and croquet mallet head impalement. The final thirty minutes is a blood-soaked action extravaganza as the survivors put their final plan into action and the sinew is thrown around liberally. Gore, interesting characters, balls-out action, and a smidgen of social commentary add up to a hell of a ride.
The film's appearance on HD-DVD is welcome. The picture quality (2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, 1080p) is superb, vastly improved over the original DVD release. The makeup is so detailed now you can actually sense the flies hovering over the dead flesh. Even when Snyder shifts the film into overdrive for the final act, the transfer keeps up well, maintaining the clear detail. You can expect an equally smashing audio treatment, with both a TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix pushing the sound -- and there is much sound to push. An aggressive score, endless gunfire and enough screeches and screams to prompt the neighbors to call 911 will fill you room.
Extras make an encore from the DVD release, but they're still quite enjoyable: "The Lost Tape," a special produced short documenting Andy's final days in his gun store; "Special Report," a faux newscast about the infection, 12 minutes worth of deleted scenes with optional director's commentary; three behind-the-scenes features ("Anatomy of Exploding Heads," "Attack of the Living Dead," which looks at the film's memorable zombie kills and "Raising the Dead," a featurette on the zombie make-up); introduction by Zack Snyder; and finally, a lively commentary with Snyder and producer Eric Newman.
Zombies getting their heads blown off in HD -- what else is there to say?
Go forth and cannibalize.
Review content copyright © 2007 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Deleted Scenes
* Special Report: Zombie Invasion
* The Lost Tape; Andy's Last Days Revealed
* Anatomy of an Exploding Head
* Attack of the Living Dead
* Raising the Living Dead
* Director's Introduction