Land of the Dead: Unrated Director's Cut [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen & Noor Razzak (6th October 2008).
The Film

It was a long wait. First, "Night of the Living Dead" (1968), a black & white masterpiece, and basically the film that introduced the modern flesh-eating zombies. Then, "Dawn of the Dead" 1978); to many the greatest zombie-film ever made. Lastly, "Day of the Dead" (1985); a very underrated, dark, and almost nihilistic film, which closed one era of the living dead for 20 years. The man behind these films is of course the director/writer George A. Romero, the big and gentle man, who has given some real horror-classics to the fans during his long career. Something happened during the 1990's though, when the 'golden era of gore' passed and horror-films weren't a household name anymore. Romero's dream to get the fourth film of his zombie-saga of the ground was shattered many times during the years, until a few almost ironic things happened, when the film industry moved to the 2000's. Suddenly horror-films were bankable again, and when British director Danny Boyle did his "28 Days Later..." (2002) involving zombies (yes, they weren't the actual living dead, but infected with virus) and Zack Snyder did his remake of Romero's own "Dawn of the Dead" (2004), it looked like zombies had again access to Hollywood. Throw in the horror-comedy "Shaun of the Dead" (2004) by director Edgar Wright, and you could say that the young filmmakers once influenced by Romero now did him a small favour by opening those doors again, and also let Romero in through the back door. So finally in 2005, Romero's "Land of the Dead" arrived, and it was really rare to read how all the fans wanted to support Romero by going to see his new film; a thing that rarely happens. Was it worth it? Let us find out.

The film starts with a small montage during the opening credits, where it is briefly explained how zombies are spread out everywhere, and the next victim could be your wife or your son. Things are not looking well. After that we meet Riley (Simon Baker) and his dumb, but handy right hand man Charlie (Robert Joy), who are observing the zombies walking in the old gas-station. In this scene we'll meet the 'lead zombie' Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), and also learn that the zombies have been evolved even more from the times of "Day of the Dead" and its most memorable zombie 'Bub'. Somehow they can even communicate at a primitive level now, and attack as a group (but, they don't run, since real zombies just don't run). When men get back, Cholo (John Leguizamo) arrives at the scene, in his usual cocky and wise-ass attitude, and it's clear that there is no real love between Riley and Cholo. There is some respect though, at least that's how I saw it. Their mission is to go deep into the town which is full of zombies, and get some supplies like food and medicine. With this they need help from the "Dead Reckoning" (the name of one of the working titles of the film at some point), the special armoured car full of guns and ammo. It's a deadly machine on wheels, but also makes them feel safer than they actually are. They have also learned that by constantly shooting some fireworks in the sky, zombies tend to stare at the sky, and during that time it's safer to collect supplies from the abandoned stores.

This is still a small issue in the big picture, since now the world, and life, has changed drastically. Outside are the zombies, and inside, surrounded by river from both sides and all the bridges being blocked up, is the isolated city called 'Fiddler's Green'. Just outside the city is a slum, where poor people live, dreaming of the better life in the city, a thing that probably never comes for them. All this is surrounded with an electric fence, and of course with soldiers. The man running the city is cold and greedy Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), and Cholo has been helping him for quite some time now, with his goal to get his own place from the city. When after their latest meeting Kaufman basically shatters Cholo's dreams, the furious Cholo is yearning for payback, which just might happen, since Cholo has a plan. In the meantime Riley has found some trouble on his own from the local bar, and during those events he saves the woman called Slack (Asia Argento). Both are being locked up, but after Kaufman hears about Cholo's plans, he might need some help from Riley.

"Land of the Dead" shows all the elements where Romero is at his best. A tight and intense screenplay, comments about society, black humour, and of course the masterfully executed scenes of zombies and gore. It's quite clear, that Kaufman and his 'city government' have been written with the Bush government in mind, and the basic idea of the city being protected with soldiers and fences, and where the rich people are divided from the poor has its resemblances of the modern day U.S. and their recent fears of terrorism (Kaufman even says the memorable line: "We don't negotiate with terrorists"). Class differences between the rich and the poor are of course a global problem, so in the end the finger is probably pointing in many directions. I'm still glad that these 'political hints' don't hide the real heart of the film, which is of course the living dead themselves. These zombies are now taken to almost perfection, thanks to probably the best special make-up effects company in the business at the moment, KNB Efx Group Inc., and one of its founders Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger. Like Nicotero has said all along starting from pre-production, he has now completed the 'full circle', since the film where he started his career in 1985 was "Day of the Dead", as an assistant to the other living legend, Tom Savini. The limitations from the earlier zombie-films by Romero are most parts not there anymore, and with the help of CGI in some more difficult shots, the zombies look now more real, with more character. They are now part of the actors. There are plenty of variations with the zombies (the thing that was lacking from the earlier films due to the budget restrictions), and a few new inventive 'zombie gags' also. A certain amount of gore and guts is needed when you have a zombie-film from Romero, and fans of that department won't be disappointed.

The issue where the film probably lacks the most is the (human) characters. All characters are quite one-dimensional and stereotyped. Riley is the righteous hero, who is trying to help his fellow man. He's not a risk taker. Cholo on the other hand is the gun-ho opportunist, willing to sacrifice his men to gain his own objectives. Charlie is a simple minded help for Riley, but fortunately his character is not all 'joke making side-kick', like in many other movies. Slack is a tough 'bitch', capable of handling herself. She has 'been around'. Kaufman is a rich man in a suit, and his only real motivation and love is money and power. There are a few other supporting characters in the film, and most memorable is probably Samoan called Pillsbury (Pedro Miguel Arce), with his cheesy one liners, and Chihuahua (Phil Fondacaro), the midget bar owner. All characters operate within a 'limited range', the issue that can be a let down for certain viewers, at least for the 'newcomers' to the zombie-genre. Especially Leguizamo has pretty much one face to play his role, and Hopper basically plays himself. These characters and some clearly intentional silly dialogue and acting can be the reason why some movie critics and occasional viewers didn't see past those issues and the gore, and labeled the film as 'another mindless horror-movie'. It's true that watching the earlier zombie-movies by Romero will help to get into the mood of the film, and be more open minded with it (since even when the film is not a direct sequel, it still comes from the same family). Black humour is something that has been a part of Romero's work before, and it can be found from this film also. It can be almost 'comical' in certain scenes, and to me "Land of the Dead" wasn't as dark as "Day Of The Dead" (and probably not as effective in certain ways). I also had a few mixed feelings of the leading zombie "Big Daddy", since some of his moves and expressions gave some unintentional smiles (don't get me wrong, the actor did a good job when you look at his performance as a whole). I'm sure there are also people who didn't fully like the idea that the zombies were so smart in this film, since it probably took some evilness away from them, since in "Land of the Dead" you treat them more like 'characters'.

The version on the Blu-ray is of the "Unrated Director's Cut", which includes at least one additional scene, and more red blood (in the 'R-rated' version, the blood was almost black) and guts here and there. I saw the 'R-rated' version in theatres, and it's hard to remember which shots were new or more bloody, but the new added scene is not something that makes the film any better in my opinion. The scene in question happens before Cholo meets Kaufman, and when he goes to the Kauffman's neighbor apartment, only finding himself at the middle of the family-zombie drama. Other than that, this opportunity of releasing "Unrated" version on disc is a blessing for the directors like Romero, and it probably took some pressure away from the actual production and he could delivered the 'R-rated' version more easily.

Even though the film is set in Pittsburgh (where Romero usually shoots his films), "Land of the Dead" has been shot in Ontario, Canada due to tax reasons. Cinematographer Miroslaw Baszak has done a great job, since the film happens mainly at night. Blue-green shades at night and deep shadows works great for the film, creating mood and atmosphere when zombies creep in the darkness. Blood is red as it should be, and with the help of CGI-images and good art direction, the locations feel real. Quite a memorable shot is when the zombies rise from the water, a real classic among the zombie-films. It was also nice to see a couple of homages towards "Dawn of the Dead", since 'machete zombie' is played by Savini himself, and there is a scene in the film (where the flashlight reveals bunch of zombies feasting) that has its resemblances to the gruesome basement scene in "Dawn of the Dead". These scenes might not be that special to the average viewer, but for the fans they're great to spot during the film.

Romero has succeeded in bringing his living dead to the 21st century. He has told his story in his own way, being open minded when creating the visual imagery. CGI-effects are there now to widen his artistic view, but the zombies are in most parts created by the best make-up effects artist in the business. They are real, and often hand made. Even when there are some 'political aspects' reflecting today's society, the film is still first and foremost horror entertainment, which is there to make you jump in your seat. It can be bloody and gory, but it's still great fun at the same time. "Land of the Dead" is not a masterpiece, nor the best work by Romero, but it's well made and an effective horror-film. 'Zombies, man, they creep me out'.

Video

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 2.40:1 this transfer uses the same high-definition 1080p 24/fps image used on the previous HD-DVD release and has been mastered in VC-1 compression. This edition is nicely sharp (although there are a few instances of shoftness), the image is well balanaced and colors look natural. There's no dirt or specks to be found, the print is very clean which is expected for such a recently released film. There's some grain which adds to the filmic look and texture of the print. Blacks have some minor noise but it's nothing distracting. Detail is very good, skin tones are spot on for the most part as well. Overall it's a fairly decent image.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, this lossless track is presented at 48kHz/24-bit as well as a Spanish DTS 5.1 track. The DTS-HD track is a beauty, the sound mix is deep, aggressive and exhibit excellent range from subtle ambient sounds and directional effects to intense action set pieces; the transitions are flawless and feel natural. Dialogue is clean and distortion free, the mix is complex with an immersive surround experince. Further to that the film's music adds another layer to the mix, it's a lively and powerful soundtrack that'll please fans of the film and those looking for a neat soundtrack to show off their system.
Optional subtitles are also included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Universal has released this film with an audio commentary, a series of featurettes, deleted scenes as well as U-control features such as picture-in-picture commentary and bookmarks feature. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

The disc kicks off with an audio commentary by writer/director George A. Romero, co-producer Peter Grunwald, and editor Michael Doherty. This is a laid back commentary, but a bit too laid back sometimes, since there are some gaps. Many stories from the track are also covered in the rest of the extras, but some interesting info and anecdotes are told. They talk about the MPAA (apparently MPAA didn't ask to cut the whole scenes, only that they would be shortened here and there), actors (Leguizamo liked to improvise his takes), locations (plenty of scenes were shot on location during the freezing cold nights), CGI-effects (they point out shots made with CGI), and of course zombies (make-up effects). An interesting bit also was that originally Romero wanted to make the zombies walk under water in one scene, but when that was done in "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" (2003), Romero didn't want to do the same. We also learn that first he wanted to add some material from his earlier zombie-films into the opening credits sequence, but since there were various legal problems, that idea was scrapped (he seems to be happy with the sequence that ended up in the film, done by an independent studio I believe). They were also planning to add a scene involving 'zombie rats', but that idea was also skipped this time around ('animal zombies' is an idea that Romero wants to revisit some day in the future, though). Romero is giving a lot of credit to his actors, Nicotero, and his second unit director, being really honest that he didn't have time to shoot all the scenes, since the time was running out near the end of the production (they did some re-shoots after the principal production). This is quite a basic audio commentary, but worth to listen.

"When Shaun Met George" featurette runs 13 minutes, and tells about the cameo of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, the creators of "Shaun of the Dead" (2004). Their short appearance as 'photo booth zombies' is a dream come true to these guys, and although the featurette is a bit too long, it has some funny parts. Romero truly is a nice guy, no question about that.

"Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene" featurette runs 3 minutes 19 seconds, and is another montage, this time comparing several shots before and after the CGI-effects. This featurette shows that CGI can be very useful tool to have, if you use it wisely.

"Bringing the Storyboards to Life" featurette runs 7 minutes 56 seconds, and compares the storyboards and the actual finished scenes. Sometimes storyboards are shown first, but sometimes both are shown together.

"The Remaining Bits" featurette runs 2 minutes 57 seconds, and includes 6 deleted scenes. Some parts of the scenes are silent, since the final sound mix is not done (Note: This section might include minor spoilers):

- Shot inside of the 'Dead Reckoning'.
- Prisoners are being released by the people from the slum.
- Male and female soldiers are kissing, when Big Daddy and other zombies march in. Both soldiers are being eaten by the zombies.
- People escaping from the city. City and slum people mixed up.
- Pillsbury stumps onto the fingers of one zombie in 'Dead Reckoning'.
- Extended scene in the market place in the slum, first time when Riley and Charlie arrive there in the movie.

"Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call" featurette runs 1 minute 5 seconds, and is probably just an inside joke by the producers of this disc. It includes some rough CGI-zombies dancing together, perhaps some very early test footage. Not sure the reason why it's included, but at least you can show one bit from this disc to your kids.

"Scenes of Carnage" featurette runs 1 minute 44 seconds, and is a montage of gore-scenes. Nice. And bloody.

There are also some U-Control features, these features require a profile 1.1 player, at this time I do not have access to this feature as my player is profile 1.0, however I was able to use elements from the original DVD review to provide information of the features used here. The features included are:

A picture-in-picture commentary, this feature plays out three additional featurettes while you watch the movie, these clips were previously included on DVD and HD-DVD editions as well and include: "Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead" which runs for 12 minutes 56 seconds and it includes interviews from the cast & crew, and behind-the-scenes material. Romero tells about his actors (Kaufman has some influences from Donald Rumsfeld, and Romero also tells how he has known Asia Argento early from her childhood through her father Dario), speaks about the long night-shoots, and goes a bit more inside of the scene where the zombie rise from the water. All quite standard PR-material, but interesting. The next clip in this feature is "A Day with the Living Dead" which runs for 7 minutes 34 seconds, and is basically a tour on the set with actor Leguizamo. This clip is hilarious, since Leguizamo (or should I say Cholo) does his introduction of the film in his own way, making jokes while talking to various people from make-up to catering (I laughed all the way through this one) and finally there's "Bringing the Dead to Life" which runs for 9 minutes 31 seconds, and focuses on the special make-up effects with the true artist Nicotero. I used to read magazines like "Fangoria" when I was younger (trying to find every bit of information about these people behind the monsters and make-up effects), so at least to me this clip was great fun. It also shows that there is plenty of stuff that you just can't do with CGI if you want them [the dead] to look as real as possible.

The disc also includes a feature called "My Scenes" which allows you to bookmark your favorite scenes of the film for easy access.

Overall

The Film: B Video: A- Audio: A+ Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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