11 Deleted scenes - with optional commentary from Director and Producer
Theatrical trailer - 'Shaun of the Dead'
Audio commentary - with Director Zack Snyder and Producer Eric Newman
2 Short film
Dawn of the Dead - Director's Cut (2004)
R4 . COLOR . 104 mins .
MA15+ . PAL
Modern remakes of old classics are an easy source of controversy among the cinematic world. Films from almost every period and every genre have been reworked and rewritten in attempts to create entertaining and modern pieces of cinema. The controversy lies in the success of a said remake; as countless efforts are damned ‘pointless’ and ‘unoriginal’ (which is rather ironic). However the negative publicity critics throw at these films doesn’t seem to sway producers, who continue to fund and publish countless remakes – the most recent being The Manchurian Candidate, starring Denzel Washington.
Personal experience has taught me that, traditionally, remakes are either terrible or fantastic. The only exception I can fathom is Stephen Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven, that fell somewhere in the middle. There are numerous examples of a terrible remake, including Marcus Nispel’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2002). However there are far fewer successful remakes, and off the top of my head I can only really name two – Rob Marshall’s Academy Award Winning Chicago (2002) and newcomer Zack Synder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004).
Dawn of the Dead’s origins lay in the American director, commonly hailed as the ‘Godfather of the Zombie’ – George A. Romero. Romero’s first creation Night of the Living Dead (1968) stunned and scared audiences worldwide; featuring slow moving, flesh-eating zombies awoken from the grave after a radioactive contamination. This simple, low-budget, black & white film has since inspired three sequels (including one in pre-production) and the entire sub-genre of ‘zombie-horror’. Ten years after Romero’s Night of the Living Dead he gave birth to its sequel, Dawn of the Dead. Now, 26 years later, Romero’s classic has been beaten with the remake stick.
A serious blood-bath.
We begin Dawn of the Dead with tired nurse Ana (Sarah Polley, Go), retiring after a long days work to her small suburban home. Casually she returns home, relaxes, enjoys the company of her husband, Louis, and ultimately heads off to bed. Early the next morning Louis is attacked by a young girl, and quickly becomes ‘infected’ with a deadly plague. Fearing for her life, Ana flees to the streets only to watch her entire suburb become engulfed by destruction and chaos.
She soon stumbles upon Kenneth (Ving Rhames, Pulp Fiction), a police officer who guides her to meet three other survivors. Struggling to think of what to do next, the five seek refuge in a local shopping mall. As Dawn of the Dead progresses, more come to find shelter from the impending apocalypse amassing outside.
"When there is no room in hell, the dead will walk the earth."
These survivors must now keep themselves at bay from the ravenous undead, looming outside. But they also must find solace in the strangers they meet and are now forced to share a life with. Dawn of the Dead is just as much a drama as it is a zombie-horror. The new lives these people build is the basis of the film, occasionally interrupted by a bloody battle or two!
A solid script, fine acting and some excellent musical montages sustain the dramatic aspect of Dawn of the Dead. The nature in which characters interact seems (usually) very human, and not superficial. Characters are built and developed steadily. The audience can identify with the characters, and the decisions they make. This is not the common practise of a horror film!
To parallel the drama, there are of course the superb action sequences involving thousands of zombies, a bus and (at one point) a chainsaw. The frightening horror scenes will have you (literally) at the back of your seat, squirming – as you come to expect from a zombie film.
Dawn of the Dead is a huge success. As a remake it remains quite faithful to the original concept George A. Romero defined and also carries some of the great blood-splatter effects seen in the 1978 classic. As a film on its own it excels to beyond what you’d come to expect from a standard action film.
Dawn of the Dead’s visual presentation on DVD is quite good. However there are a few minor issues that hold this transfer back from being great.
Black levels were not too much of a problem, however they were sporadic. Often blacks would appear extremely dark, and blend in to the natural black of the monitor. At other times the blacks appear greyish and not as enhanced as they should be. I found this to be a very minor issue, as I only noticed the small change twice.
Colours were very rich and vivid. There are many scenes in Dawn of the Dead that contain a high variety of colour; and were presented exceptionally. The very deep red blood (which frequents itself throughout the film) looks realistic and striking. There were definitely no complaints regarding the colours.
The school bus of the apocalypse.
There was some minor grain present throughout the film which led to a decrease in the detail of shadows (particularly at night), and created a ‘soft’ feel to the film. This softening is my greatest concern in regards to this transfer, as I felt there were moments when a sharper image was needed.
During indoor (and night-time, dusk) scenes a blue-grey tone was set over the film, creating a dark and ‘sterile’ atmosphere. To counter that the outdoor and daytime scenes were considerably lighter and dropped the subtle colour toning. Due to the high contrast between the scenes some detail was lost.
Minimal aliasing was present throughout a number of scenes. However these were usually the darker scenes, containing lots of fast-paced action. Subsequently the negligible aliasing never became a real problem. On the other hand, I was thankful that I noticed no artefacts throughout the film.
While this transfer could have been better, it’s relatively good. The soft detail level is my only real concern.
Dawn of the Dead: Director’s Cut is presented in English and Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1.
To begin with, this is an excellent soundtrack. The subtle surround effects constant throughout the entire film significantly heighten the experience, immensely adding to the ever-changing atmosphere. To put it simply, you cannot watch Dawn of the Dead without a 5.1 capable speaker system! This disc presents an extremely dynamic surround sound experience.
During times of action the entire six channels burst to life, roaring with ear-piercing cries of the undead. In these times of peril there is clear division between the score and the dialogue/sound effects, however voices remain audible and volume levels remain perfectly balanced. In scenes without direct human vs. zombie action, subtle ambient undead-effects fill the surround channels. This sounds brilliant! This is primarily evident during the first few scenes, the morning of the undead-revolt.
Someone wasn't happy they missed breakfast.
Dialogue remains perfectly clear throughout the entire film, as it usually remains secured in the centre channel. There is never a problem in the synchronisation between the audio and video.
There are a number of contemporary music hits incorporated throughout the film (including Richard Cheese’s cover of Disturbed’s ‘Down with the Sickness’). They are all presented with remarkable clarity, and are often accompanied with some dynamic low-tones from the subwoofer.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a great soundtrack. It’s difficult to pick faults in this audio transfer. The only aspect of this soundtrack that differs from some of the big-boom DTS mixes is perhaps Dawn of the Dead’s use of the subwoofer. There were a few scenes that could have had a bigger sub presence; however this is only a very minor issue.
Director’s Introduction – Zack introduces his director’s, unrated, cut of the film. His new cut contains more gore, more character development and is generally a little better (according to him)! Unfortunately I missed out on seeing the theatrical cut, so I can’t validate his comments.
Director’s (Zack Snyder) and Producer’s (Eric Newman) Audio Commentary of the film – Rather interesting audio commentary from first time director Snyder and producer Newman. Snyder goes over small discrepancies between the director’s cut and the theatrical cut, as well as adding some technical comments behind most scenes. There are a few pauses, where there’s either nothing to comment on or where Snyder/Newman want to highlight specific moments of the film.
‘The Lost Tape: Andy’s Terrifying Last Days Revealed’ short film (16:24) – Quite an entertaining Dawn of the Dead inspired short film. The character of Andy (who features in Dawn of the Dead) has recorded his time isolated in his gun warehouse and presented it on DVD for all to watch! It’s quite funny at times, but runs a little long.
‘Special Report: We Interrupt This Program!’ short film (21:05) – This is the full news broadcast detailing the devastating effects of the undead plague that seem to have overrun earth! Small pieces of this news report are featured in the film.
"Let's get down with the sickness."
11 Undead (Deleted) Scenes with optional commentary from Director (Zack Snyder) and Producer (Eric Newman) (11:29) – Set of scenes that were cut from the final film. An interesting and informative commentary runs behind these scenes, explaining why they didn’t appear in the final cut. All scenes appear in original 2:35:1 widescreen.
‘Raising the Dead’ featurette (7:53) – Excellent featurette detailing the complicated make-up effects seen in Dawn of the Dead. Thousands (literally) of extras line up to be made up into horrifying zombie/actors! Special Make-Up Effects director David LeRoy Anderson outlines the three ‘zombie’ stages of make-up featured in Dawn of the Dead.
‘Attack of the Living Dead’ featurette (7:24) – Another great featurette focusing on the stunts performed in Dawn of the Dead; mainly the stunts involving gratuitous violence. Special Make-Up Effects director David LeRoy Anderson takes us through the process of re-creating a stuntman/actor for the purposes of later destruction.
‘Splitting Headaches: The Anatomy of Exploding Heads’ featurette (5:36) – Yet another interesting make-up orientated featurette led by David LeRoy Anderson showing us exactly how the heads of zombies explode! Any action/horror junkie will love this. Aspiring make-up artists will either cringe or squeal in delight!
All featurettes/short films contain optional subtitles but are not 16:9 enhanced.
‘Shaun of the Dead’ theatrical trailer (1:40) – This new British zombie-horror /comedy looks absolutely brilliant! I can’t wait until it hits theatres here in Australia, as it’s received nothing but rave reviews in the UK and America. This is unfortunately not 16:9 enhanced and does not contain subtitles.
This is quite an impressive set of extras for a first-print edition of the Dawn of the Dead: Director’s Cut. Perhaps a comprehensive ‘making-of’ featurette (featured in the US theatrical edition) and some interviews with cast/crew members could feature in the next re-release. But in all honesty, you can only go so far in the extras department. This release provides a very decent number of extras you’ll want to watch multiple times. A second disc with yet more featurettes would have been a nice touch, but ultimately superfluous to our desires.
Dawn of the Dead is a well crafted, action-packed zombie-horror /drama /comedy! The seemingly perfect fusion of all these fantastic genres is perfectly pulled off in this remake of the genre defining George A. Romero classic. Solid performances and an intelligent, human, script sustain this film from start to finish.
Serious end-of-days zombie action!
I’m fairly happy with the presentation of Dawn of the Dead on DVD. The video quality was quite good, but perhaps a little soft at times. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack provided was very good. The Region 2 edition contains a DTS soundtrack, which I’d imagine would benefit the film; however I feel that the Dolby 5.1 mix is more than adequate. An impressive range of extras also helps boost the overall value of this disc.
Universal’s release of the Dawn of the Dead: Director’s Cut is a must for fans of zombies; and blood. One of the better action films of the past 5 years, and the best modern re-make of a classic horror film.
A great 5.1 soundtrack, an adequate video transfer and a great ranges of extras combined make this disc a definite buy for action fans.