Judge Patrick Naugle is vacant, with a bit of sadness. Like a drunk who lost a bet.
A romantic comedy.
Writer/director Edgar Wright and writer/actor Simon Pegg broke new ground (with a cricket bat) when they unleashed the British horror/comedy Shaun of the Dead around the globe. A smash hit of epic proportions, Shaun of the Dead became the most beloved movie ever made. Thus far, it has raked in over $3 billion in sales and has easily surpassed Titanic as the most popular movie of all time. It is a movie that inspires—countless viewers have found a new way of living after seeing its message of struggle, hope and survival.
All right, none of that is true—the movie's really just a gory zombie movie with lots of goofy laughs. But in my mind it's the greatest movie ever made.
Facts of the Case
Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a man with little aspiration: he's content to just sit in the local pub, drink beer with his buddies and play video games on the couch. His girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashford), is finally fed up with his lazy attitude and indifference toward their relationship. Liz breaks up with Shaun, which puts him into a deep funk he is unable to pull himself out of, even with the help of his obnoxious roommate Ed (Nick Frost).
In the midst of Shaun's frustrations comes another problem: His town is suddenly overrun by the shuffling, moaning undead. At first Shaun doesn't even notice the zombies lingering around the streets—he's too hung-over to be bothered by flesh-devouring monsters. But it soon becomes apparent that the undead pose a dangerous threat to Simon and Ed's way of life (i.e., drinking and playing video games). With his trusty cricket bat in hand, Shaun and Ed head off to collect Liz, Shaun's mother (Penelope Wilton) and stepfather (Bill Nighy), and a few other survivors before they become unwitting meals for the living dead!
Believe the hype: Shaun of the Dead is one of the funniest, goriest, greatest movies of the year. And guess what? It gets better the second time around.
I was very, very excited to see Shaun of the Dead when it was released theatrically this past fall. I can vividly remember sitting at home, watching the trailer on my computer, and getting all giddy about the prospect of what looked like a combination of the Emmy-winning TV show The Office and George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead. How could you go wrong with Brits cracking jokes while being chased by the drooling undead?
The fact is that this movie could have gone wrong in a hundred different ways. Horror movies are hard to make. So are comedies. Even tougher to successfully create is a horror/comedy hybrid (or, "Hormody," if you like)—fine examples of this genre are few and far between. I can count on my fingers the number of good ones: Dan O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead, the Kevin Bacon B-movie throwback Tremors, the great Killer Klowns from Outer Space…and maybe a few others I'm forgetting. Otherwise, this is not a mixed genre that filmmakers should tread through lightly. Luckily, Pegg and Wright understood that to make a successful horror/comedy you have to A.) respect both genres equally and B.) have fun along the way.
The reason that Shaun of the Dead works so well is because never once do the zombies become a joke. Unlike something like The Return of the Living Dead Part II (not a bad film, but not a particularly good one, either), Shaun of the Dead doesn't make its living dead a joke—throughout the whole film they are a true threat to the protagonists.
Likewise, the comedy in the film is sharp and clever; one of the film' s funniest bits involves the rag tag group trying to "act" like zombies. Pegg and Wright have made sure that there is a delicate balance between the two genres—the comedy is funny when it needs to be, and the horror is gruesome and scary. In fact, the film features some of the grossest scenes I've seen on film lately—at one point a character is literally ripped open and torn apart by zombies. While the comedy aspects may draw in some viewers, those with weak stomachs will most definitely want to stay away from Shaun of the Dead.
Acting wise, Shaun of the Dead sports good performances by its key players. Shaun (Pegg) is a likable lay-about who is content at his mediocre job, sitting around with his best friend drinking and playing video games, and dating a woman who is slowly realizing that the relationship is not going anywhere. Nick Frost plays Ed, a best friend that everyone can relate to (there's always that one friend who indifferently screws everything up no matter what the situation). The rest of the supporting cast—including The Office alum Lucy Davis and Dylan Moran (Notting Hill) as Shaun's girlfriend's roommates, and Bill Nighy (Underworld) as Shaun's cadaverous stepfather—all fill their roles aptly.
Shaun of the Dead is funny, scary, gory, exciting and—most of all—different. In essence, it's exactly why I go to the movies. I commend Pegg, Wright, and the rest of the crew who were able to bring Shaun of the Dead to the big screen. And here's something you don't hear me say often: I hope there's a sequel in the works.
Shaun of the Dead is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Universal has done a great job at making sure this transfer looks bright, clear, and very crisp. The colors are all well rendered while the black levels are solid and dark. The image sometimes sports a soft look (which actually tends to work to the film's advantage), but overall this picture is in very good shape.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, French, and Spanish. I was very impressed with this 5.1 mix, all things considered. While I was anticipating this to be a somewhat aggressive sound mix, I was happy to hear it was a full blast zombie carnage mix. There are plenty of moments when the living dead moan, groan, and shuffle into both the front and rear speakers—this 5.1 track is a real treat. Also included on this disc are English and French subtitles.
Fans of the film will be happy to hear that this disc holds a fair amount of extra features. Starting off the disc are two separate commentary tracks: one with writer/director Edgar Wright and co-writer/star Simon Pegg, and a second with cast members Pegg, Lucy Davis, Nick Frost, Dylan Moran, and Kate Ashford. Both of these commentary tracks are a lot of fun—it's obvious that Pegg, Wright, and the cast had a lot of fun writing and making this film. The filmmakers discuss their inspirations for the film (would you believe George A. Romero is one of them?), the production, casting choices, make-up effects, and other tasty morsels about the film. The cast commentary is a lot of fun, if less interested in facts than just having a good old time.
Under the menu "Raw Meat" there is seven-minute "Simon Pegg's Video Diary" (which shows Frost getting an injection in his rear); some casting tapes featuring Lucy Davis, Kate Ashford, and a few other cast members; "Edgar & Simon's Flipchart" (you need to see it to believe it); a special effects comparison and some make-up tests; and a short EPK featurette.
Next up are some TV bits from the film—these shorts (including a game show with zombies, the band Coldplay promoting the concert "Zombaid," and a talk show with zombies and lovers) were used in the final cut of the film. Also included are some outtakes, plot hole summaries, and 15 deleted scenes (presented non-anamorphic) with optional commentary.
Finally, there are some poster designs, a photo gallery, a comic strip, and a trailer for the film.
Shaun of the Dead is a hoot and three quarters. This is one of the most fun films of the year, and while some may put off by the gore…well, tough titty. Ya can't make a zombie movie without getting the blood flowin', good people! Universal has done a fine job at giving fans a nice transfer, good sound mix and ample extra features.
Needless to say, Shaun of the Dead is to die for!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Writer/Director Edgar Wright and Co-Writer/Star Simon Pegg
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