Dawn of the Dead (2004) DVD Review

The MPAA must love movies like this. First time director Zack Snyder has said he filmed some truly gruesome shots for this "Dawn of the Dead" remake, only to let the MPAA deal with it all later. It doesn't really make much sense when you think about it (does it really matter how many times you see a zombie get blown up?), but it takes more than gore to make a quality movie.

Working late, Ana (Sarah Polley) comes home to her husband and misses a breaking news bulletin. After being shocked awake by the neighbor's daughter who has turned into a flesh eater, she makes a run for shelter. Joining with a small band of survivors, they head for the local mall to make a last stand and hopefully make it out alive.

"Dawn of the Dead" basically starts with six people. You know very little about them and then suddenly, another set of characters drive into the film. The only thing one can think at that point is "I don't even know the names of the first six characters yet." By the time it's over, that doesn't really change. Even though he has all of three lines, the gun storeowner across the street named Andy is better developed than some of the main cast. That's pretty weak.

When there is some time in the script for the audience to know the characters, it's great. A scene inside a coffee shop was an excellent idea, cropped down horribly to avoid the film from slowing to a crawl according to the deleted scenes here on this DVD. To call everyone shallow would be understating the point.

Then again, who cares? It's a zombie movie. They get killed in gruesome ways and that's what the majority of the audience wants to see. Makeup effects are incredible and very little CGI has been used anywhere. One of the big money shots does misfire (a massive explosion), the only effect that doesn't really work. The biggest change involves the entirely mobile undead, now free to run and chase down the cast as fast as they can.

Actually, once you start to think about it, maybe people do care. This is a remake of a highly symbolic stab at society, and seemingly all of that has been lost. Taken on its own, this is a solid big-budget zombie flick that doesn't exactly do anything original (except for a great credit sequence on both ends of the movie). If you want a true remake, you're bound to be disappointed. If you want a zombie movie, you've got a good one. (*** out of *****)

Most of this 2.35:1 transfer is jaw dropping, rivaling a few HDTV broadcasts. The color is set at nearly ridiculous levels, but it's controlled and never bleeds. Detail is stunning, especially on the actors faces. The biggest problem is the solid colored backgrounds, filled with chroma noise almost non-stop. Filled with red, it's impressive that the compression is under control for the entire running time. It becomes difficult to ignore the backgrounds though; regardless of how good the rest of it looks. (****)

Considering how many rounds are fired, this is of course a great sounding movie, presented in effective 5.1. There's both subtlety and aggression coming from the rears, the groaning zombies surrounding the viewer. There's great separation in the front and a few scenes feature great audio that moves front to back. It would be nice to have a DTS track on this one, but someone at Universal obviously thought different. (****)

"Dawn of the Dead" is available in both a rated and unrated edition. Reviewed here is, unfortunately, the rated version. This disc offers up some of the most innovative features to ever grace the format, digging a little deeper into the film in some unusual ways. The commentary from the director and his producer Eric Newman, is almost the only normal feature on the disc.

"The Lost Tape" is a great idea, showing the film from Andy's point of view, the gun shop owner mentioned above. It runs a little over 15-minutes, setting the movies timeline while developing his character. His obsession with a goldfish remains a mystery to the end.

"Special Report" is a twenty-minute faux-newscast, cheaply put together and acted, yet still engaging. It's yet another side of the story, this time from the perspective of an anchorman going on air for the long haul. As the invasion slowly grows, he needs to deal with a variety of problems until he finally gives up all hope and heads home. This is the type of feature that may not provide insight into the making the film, but who said that's all special features were supposed to do? They actually make the film stronger overall.

Things return to normal with "Surviving the Dawn," a by the numbers making-of. There's a great section on the makeup and it all runs just short of 23-minutes. "Undead Scenes" is a cheap name for 11 deleted scenes that run together, but can be skipped like chapters. Mostly all wise cuts except for the coffee table sequence. The director explains each one with a separate commentary. The unrated edition includes these exclusive extras if you're interested:

  Raising the Dead - turning actors into undead killers
  Attack of the Living Dead - a look at the most memorable zombie kills
  Splitting Headaches: Anatomy of Exploding Heads

(**** out of *****)

Universal slashed "Dawn of the Dead's" budget significantly just before production. Why? "House of the Dead" bombed at the box office and executives figured zombie movies weren't popular enough. Obviously, none of them saw "House of the Dead" or they would understand just why it failed so miserably.

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