Dawn of the Dead [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Anchor Bay Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Andy James & Noor Razzak (3rd December 2008).
The Film

"Dawn of the Dead" is one of the classics of modern cinema. A benchmark in the horror film genre. It contains more subtext than its genre trappings would first have you believe. To my mind, it simply hasn’t been bettered – not even by Romero himself. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s "Shaun of the Dead" (2004), as heavily inspired by "Dawn" as it is (even down to a ‘tooling-up’ montage), comes close. But it still owes fealty to the King of the Zombie films: "Dawn of the Dead."

A sequel to George A. Romero’s own "Night of the Living Dead" (1968), it begins right in the middle of it all – the zombie apocalypse is happening and we find ourselves in a TV newsroom as they scramble to stay on the air (and to keep people watching). The insanity of the whole situation is already getting to some: crew are yelling at one another and storming out, a cop storming a tenement loses it and starts blasting away indiscriminately. Within this morass of confusion we’re introduced to our ‘heroes’: Fran (Gaylen Ross) who is a TV executive; Stephen (David Emge), her helicopter pilot boyfriend; Roger (Scott H. Reiniger), Steven’s SWAT friend and Peter (Ken Foree), a cop in Roger’s SWAT unit. As the four of them flee in Stephen’s chopper, it’s the little touches that Romero puts in to the fall of society that really chill: lights slowly going out in a high-rise, zombie kids at a gas station and rednecks out zombie hunting, treating armageddon like a joke. Arriving at a suburban shopping mall to refuel, they decide to land and set up camp. The hordes of the living dead are still outside, and there are also looters to worry about...

But hey, within all this doom and gloom Romero finds time for some fun! As the zombies shuffle and pratfall about the mall, jingly-jangly muzak plays. And why have the zombies come to the mall? Why, it’s “some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.” And despite Romero’s obvious criticism of American consumerism, it’s hard not to fantasise about having the run of the mall yourself.

Not only is the horror and hilarity balanced nicely, the underlying tension of the enterprise is handled masterfully. "Dawn of the Dead" is essentially a siege film – and as with the best of the genre, the threat is not only outside, it can come from within as well. Most notably, of course, when one (or some) of your small band of survivors becomes a zombie... But even before that, we begin to see some of our heroes succumbing to the pressure, each in different ways.

Frankly, I could just keep going on about this. The small touches – like a zombie quietly sitting down and staring at Fran before Romero cuts to the aftermath of the zombie cleansing. The social commentary – the semblance of normal life they create, only for ennui to set in. Its obvious Dawn’s influence stretches far and wide: from inspiring the multitude of current straight-to-DVD zombie films, the 2004 Zack Snyder remake (debate on that film’s merits we’ll leave to another time), to the British band Gorillaz (who use samples from not just this film, but "Day of the Dead" (1985) as well). Really, if you’re into horror films, genre films or just film in general you will have already seen this. If you haven’t, it really should be on your list to see. Like, at the top. It’s funny, exciting, the gore is excellent (the make-up is a more than a little iffy though) and it’s friggin’ Romero’s Dawn of the Friggin’ Dead already!

This disc features the “U.S. Theatrical Cut” of the film which runs for 127 minutes. The version that Romero prefers the most (so this is the true "Director´s Cut" of the film). This shorter version has tighter editing and pace, and some of the music by Goblin. This is the version, that was released to theaters in 1979 in the United States.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 and mastered in high-definition 1080p 24/fps this image was created using AVC MPEG-4 compression. The film is now 30-years-old and for a catalog release the image is pretty damn good. There are some faults as it's not entirely perfect but for its age it's surprising how well it holds up. For the most part the image is sharp, although there are a few soft spots littered throughout the film, the image looks a bit flat but colors hold up, blacks seem decently bold although some noise can be seen amid them and detail manages to hold up solidly. Skin tones look good and the print is generally clean. The image does have some excessive grain in some parts and contrast issues here and there. But as I said before, for a 30-year-old film it looks good, and is a step up from the DVD release.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included in English uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/16-Bit/4.6Mbps as well as tracks in English Dolby Digital 5.1 and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (which appears to be the original soundtrack). For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its PCM track. Like many 5.1 mixes of older films they are created from the original elements and up-mixed. The problem with this is that you'll never fully achieve a truly 5.1 sound track, there's depth issues and the range is decidedly limited. The dialogue is clear and so is the music, but it feels hollow and lacking in punch. I was disappointed with the bass channel as well which felt flat. Overall it's not a good track, I expect this track to be intense and immersive but I got neither.
Optional subtitles are included in English only.

Extras

Anchor Bay have included a few extras on this disc, there's an audio commentary, a documentary, a couple of featurettes, and a bunch of promotional clips like a commercial, a series of trailers, TV spots and radio spots along with a trivia track. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a feature-length audio commentary with the film's writer/director George A. Romero, special make-up effects artist Tom Savini, assistant director Christine Romero, and moderator Perry Martin. As far as commentaries, this is one of the most enjoyable tracks I've ever listened to. For fans of zombie films and or Romero this is a must, as he delves into the making of the film and also comments on the various challenges that he faced making this film, particularly in dealing with studios, financing and also talks about the cast. Assistant director and wife of George also chimes in on a few topics but it's essentially her husband that keeps the focus. Savini is also fun to listen to as he comments on the special effects and the impact these early films had on his career in the industry.

One of the best features from the massive DVD that was released a couple of years ago is the incredible documentary "The Dead Will Walk" which runs for 74 minutes 54 seconds and features a cavalcade of interviews with key cast and crew and those that admire the film and the filmmaker, including Claudio Argento, Dario Argento, Pat Buba, Tony Buba, Zilla Clinton, David Crawford, David Early, David Emge, Ken Foree, Michael Gornick, John Harrison, Clayton Hill, Sharon Ceccatti-Hill, Jim Krut, Leonard Lies, Scott H. Reiniger, Christine Romero, George A. Romero, Gaylen Ross, Tom Savini and Claudio Simonetti. This feature is a retrospective look back at the film, as the participants comment on it, their roles on the production and share memories and anecdotes among other things. It's an expansion on the commentary and as these people try and tell of their experiences working on the film and with Romero himself.

Next is "On-set home movies" featurette, because this is vintage super8 footage there is no audio so there is narration by zombie extra Robert Langer and runs for 13 minutes 26 seconds. This is cool footage taken during the film's production and shows the challenges posed in some of the film's zombie effects.

"Monroeville Mall tour" featurette runs for 11 minutes 28 seconds, which is basically as the title suggest and was done recently at the mall in which the film was shot at, and is only marginally interesting.

"Monroeville Mall" commercial runs for 27 seconds and is a vintage ad for the mall.

There are a series of theatrical trailers which can be viewed with a 'play all' option or individually, they include:

- U.S. theatrical trailer #1 which runs for 2 minutes 46 seconds.
- U.S. theatrical trailer #2 which runs for 1 minute 1 second.
- International theatrical trailer which runs for 3 minutes 45 seconds.
- German theatrical trailer #1 which runs for 1 minute 3 seconds.
- German theatrical trailer #2 which runs for 3 minutes 38 seconds.

5 TV spots are next and can also be viewed with a 'play all' option or individually, they include:

- U.S. TV spot #1 which runs for 57 seconds.
- U.S. TV spot #2 which runs for 31 seconds.
- U.S. TV spot #3 which runs for 32 seconds.
- U.K. TV spot #1 which runs for 33 seconds.
- U.K. TV spot #2 which runs for 1 minute 2 seconds.

There's also 3 radio spots that can be viewed with a 'play all' option or individually, they include:

- U.S. radio spot #1 which runs for 58 seconds.
- U.S. radio spot #2 which runs for 59 seconds.
- U.S. radio spot #3 which runs for 59 seconds.

Rounding out the extras is a High-definition exclusive bonus feature, a "Fast Film Facts" trivia track, which features some information about the production, cast, locations and other fun facts that pop-up while you watch the film.

Overall

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

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.