Universal // 2004 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // August 16th, 2007
A smash hit romantic comedy with zombies.
It's a week packed full of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg movies, so therefore it's a week of awesomeness.
Wright and Pegg's unique take on the zombie genre places a hapless, oblivious everyman named Shaun (Pegg, Hot Fuzz) in the middle of an undead apocalypse. With only his loser roommate Ed (Nick Frost) by his side, Shaun must navigate the blood-soaked mayhem to rescue his ex-girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) and his sweet-natured mum, eventually seeking solace in the only secure place he can think of: the pub.
The double-shot of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead on HD DVD, released the same week, is a potent one-two combination for Universal. These two films, courtesy of the same minds, stand tall as supremely entertaining genre-melds, works that successfully fuse riotous comedy with fast-moving scenes of action and horror.
Before there was Hot Fuzz (which I've gushed about ad nauseum), there was Shaun of the Dead (and, yeah, Spaced before that), a film I was a little late to the party with. But I'm sure glad I finally showed up. More hilarious than most other comedies and whole lot gorier than most other zombie films, Shaun delivers a shotgun-blast of highly original entertainment.
The glee starts with Wright and Pegg's script, a clever amalgam of parody, homage and sharp writing that pushes the film forward with hyper-speed pacing (made even more hyper with Wright's kinetic direction) right up to the inevitable zombie horde holocaust. What's most notable about how Pegg and Wright fashioned their story is the angle they took to tell it. By now we've all seen plenty of by-the-numbers lumbering-flesh-eaters storytelling, but this time we see that same kind of horrific apocalypse from the perspective an oblivious man. It's not until a third into the film that Shaun actually realizes there's a zombie outbreak happening, and for that time -- as all hell breaks loose around him -- much laughter is elicited from his clueless demeanor.
When he does finally catch on, the story shifts into another gear, more of a self-aware satire of the zombie genre. But like Hot Fuzz this isn't a cheap gag-a-second type of parody, but a smart, respectful treatment of the material that acts more as homage than anything. There's blood and creative zombie slaying and the suspense of a loved one who's been bitten and thus infected and a desperate last stand and head shots -- all conventions of the genre -- but Pegg and Wright have laced their antics with self-referential humor and fart jokes. It's all funny, and it works exceedingly well, and the addition of the romance between Shaun and Liz adds elements from another genre to the kettle. The result? A funny, gruesome, sometimes touching British import that deserves to be watched by...well, everybody. In fact, guys, I think there's a case to be made here to watch it with your not-overly-squeamish girlfriend.
The anticipated HD DVD is simultaneously great and disappointing. The video and picture quality are both cash money, 2.35:1 widescreen anamorphic (1080p, VC-1) and 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus, respectively. The HD transfer represents a significant upgrade over the standard DVD release, busting out pristine picture quality and strong color work. The sinew, especially, just bleeds through the screen. Much of the film takes place during the day, and the picture throughout is beautiful. The sound mix is a gem, too, throwing more zombie groans at you from all directions than you can handle.
The disappointment comes in when you look at the extras. There's a lot of stuff here, and it's pretty good, but nothing new for the high-def release. After the avalanches of exclusives Hot Fuzz on HD DVD threw at us, I was hoping for some similar love for its predecessor. As it is, here's the strong, but familiar lineup: outtakes and deleted scenes, the "Raw Meat" selection of featurettes, a zombie gallery, TV interviews, two commentary tracks, one with Pegg and Wright and the other with cast, the Zomb-o-Meter trivia track and the great plot holes segment. If you haven't seen them, these are good supplements, but some HD DVD-specific items would have been welcome.
Despite the sad lack of HD-exclusive extras, Shaun of the Dead still earns "must-own" status on Toshiba's format. A gorgeous picture and active sound mix bring this hilarious zomb-edy to undeath.
Not guilty. Pass the cricket bat.
Review content copyright © 2007 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (widescreen)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Writers Commentary
* Cast Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* "Raw Meat" Featurettes
* TV Promos
* Plot Holes
* Still Gallery
* Trivia Track