Judge Ryan Keefer would kill to drive a Dodge Dart in a mall filled with zombies, as long as it improves his gamertag score.
Our reviews of Dawn Of The Dead (published September 18th, 2000), Dawn Of The Dead (2004) (published October 25th, 2004), Dawn Of The Dead (2004) (Blu-Ray) (published September 29th, 2008), Dawn Of The Dead: Divimax Edition (published March 16th, 2004), Dawn Of The Dead (HD DVD) (published August 30th, 2007), and Dawn Of The Dead: Ultimate Edition (published December 13th, 2004) are also available.
"When there is no more room in hell…the dead will walk the earth."
Starz Home Entertainment (the studio that was formerly Anchor Bay) has decided to take a stand in the next generation video format war, coming out for Blu-ray, and making the blood and zombie faces nicely contrast against the blue cases rather than the HD DVD red. In the midst of said war, Starz has chosen some horror classics from the video vault to debut on the format. Is it smart to do the upgrade? (mmm, tasty brains…)
Facts of the Case
There isn't too much here, plot-wise, that you need to be aware of. Four people decide to seek shelter at an abandoned mall, a continuation of Romero's first film, Night of the Living Dead. I don't really know of an underlying moral tale in this film, aside from trying to make a life for yourself again, it really is about trying to get past the zombies and find some sort of freedom, wherever that may be. Special effects whiz Tom Savini gets to show off more of his work here, though not as much as in the third film, Day of the Dead, as he spends some time in front of the camera as the leader of a biker gang.
I dunno, I saw this film when I was 10 or 11, and it scared the beejeezus out of me, but since the days of CGI created, monsters, goblins, ogres and anything else you can think of, the charm of Dawn, as well as Day, has worn off in recent years. However, what I think of the film shouldn't diminish the impact it's had on the horror film genre, as countless films in the same mold have come out since then. For all of the goofy looking stuff you may laugh at here, Romero's work still resonates, 20 plus years after this release. What probably separates this film from the other undead works of George is that he manages to discuss a fairly telling message about consumer goods. Sure, it's got to be nice to drop into a mall and pick out whatever the hell you want without fear of judicial retribution, but is there fulfillment out of it? The one scene that I always seem to remember about this film is when one of the refugees is playing tennis on the roof of the mall. Everyone else has picked up something or things to make them feel comfortable, living the posh life, but humans can't help but feel complacent, particularly if there's no meaning or reason to what they're doing. Which is why I always love bringing my views to you, readers, for better or worse.
Technically the AVC MPEG-4 encoded 1.85:1 release doesn't look too shabby at all, considering it's almost been thirty years since the film came out. Close ups retain a sharpness and clarity and black levels are a little bit more constant than I was expecting, and overall I liked watching this in high def. The PCM soundtrack doesn't offer all that much to be quite honest, the Romero films are made for pennies on the dollar, so everything is mainly localized in the center channel without a lot of additional activity, but everything sounds OK.
There have been approximately 23 different releases of Dawn on DVD in the last couple of years, including this disc, you've got a Divimax version which struck a new transfer from remastered material, the four-disc Ultimate Edition shows this off, an extended cut and a European cut, but this Blu-ray disc just holds the same cut as the Divimax version, and pulls supplements from both. Sounds confusing? I'll try to break them down in the extras section. There is a commentary with Romero and his wife Chris, who served as assistant director on the film. Savini is here too, and the panel is moderated by Perry Martin. The group talks about a wide variety of things, aside from the usual stories about the production of the film. Savini and Romero share their thoughts on CG in the business, as well as Savini's affection for Lon Chaney films. Romero also shares his thoughts on filmmaking now, and the chances of future Dead films. It's a fairly friendly track. The highlight of the disc is a documentary entitled "The Dead Will Walk," featuring interviews with just about every participant in the production. Running a little over an hour, the cast and crew talk about their origins before appearing in this film, in front of or behind the camera. The smaller actors who have speaking roles get some time to talk about their moment in the sun, while everyone else talks about their time on the production and their impressions of what the characters were like. Savini gets some time to talk about some of the things he did for the makeup and effects too. There are some home movies on the set of the production from a couple of extras, narrated by the zombie extra in question, Robert Langer. It's interesting for kitsch's sake, but not a lot else. What was a little more fun is a present day tour of the mall with actor Ken Foree, a couple of cast members from the film, and a fairly large group of fans who walked the mall just before closing. It's funny because Foree seems to get confused on what was shot where, and the footage is fairly cool. Next is a commercial for the mall that was used as the location in the film. Since the commercial is pretty dated, it's kind of funny to look at. Two trailers and a total of 12 TV and radio spots (three TV and nine radio) complete things.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is an exhaustive four-disc ultimate edition currently available now. It has two additional cuts of the film and an excellent 90 minute documentary on it to go with the regular cut of the film. Logic would seem to dictate the inclusion of at least some, maybe all of these supplements on a second disc for all to enjoy, but that's the call of Starz, not my own.
While the Blu-ray incarnation of Dawn of the Dead is pretty good, I was a mite bit depressed that it didn't just pull everything from the Ultimate Edition here. If you're like me, and have a Blu-ray player but also own the Ultimate Edition, you're only buying for the picture upgrade, and it's not really worth it.
Starz is found guilty. Their effort to improve the film's look is noted, but additional work should be put in for the court to render future favorable verdicts.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Starz Home Entertainment
• Audio Commentary with Writer-Director George Romero, Assistant Director Chris Romero, Make-up Artist Tom Savini, and DVD Producer Perry Martin
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