Tuesday, October 31, 2017

DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) Blu-ray review

Dawn of the Dead (2004) d. Snyder, Zack (USA) (3rd viewing) 110 min

“The world is in danger when a mysterious virus turns people into mindless, flesh-eating zombies. In a mall in the heartland, a handful of survivors wage a desperate, last-stand battle to stay alive ... and human!”

Sound familiar? To be fair, when Snyder’s remake of George A. Romero’s 1978 classic was first announced, the landscape was not cluttered with undead onscreen shamblers everywhere. In fact, with the exception of 28 Days Later and Resident Evil (both 2002), zombies were kind of, well, dead. But with the success of this worthwhile reboot, which in turn sparked Romero’s own return to the fray (for better or worse) with Land of the Dead later the following year, the stage was set for all manner of rotters, microbudget to blockbuster, and the face of horror would never be the same.

Back in 2004, Snyder (now hailed as the “visionary director of 300 and Watchmen”) was just a guy trying to make his big break in Hollywood; ditto screenwriter James Gunn (Slither, Guardians of the Galaxy) who was doing his best to crawl out of the Troma cellar. And there was SO MUCH HATE being farted in their general direction for even attempting to put a new coat of paint on what was considered a masterpiece. In retrospective, it’s intriguing to imagine the world where zombies and/or remakes did not become big business, where these best-laid planned plans fell flat on their Karo syrup-soaked faces.

But such was not the case. Armed with a capable cast of second-tier Hollywood regulars (Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mehki Phifer, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly, and Matt Frewer), Snyder and Gunn put all fears to rest by the time the opening credits (underscored by Johnny Cash’s kicky “When the Man Comes Around”) had finished rolling.

While there are still scores who decried the dawning of the age of ferocious running zombies (which those of us in the know were quick to shut down with “Um, 1985? Return of the Living Dead, anyone?”) and the softening of Romero’s “the living are the real monsters” social commentary, it was and remains difficult to deny the big-bam-boom adrenalized entertainment factor, and the splatter factor is impressive for a mainstream Hollywood effort, earning its hardcore stripes with oodles of exploding heads and dripping grue.

It’s not a perfect movie (the zombie baby is goofy and the dialogue is barely a notch above the original’s parade of clunkers), but it could have been a lot, lot worse. Plus, points for clever cameos for 1978’s cast members Ken Foree, Tom Savini, and Scott Reiniger.

Shout! Factory unveils a special two-disc Blu-ray issue just in time for the Halloween season, with both the R-rated theatrical release (101 min) and the 110-min unrated version, with more nudity and gore and a few more character flourishes. Many of the supplements are ported over from the original DVD release, but there are a number of extras that might justify the upgrade for fans.

In addition to the HD mastering for both versions from their archival negatives, there are new interviews with Gunn, Burrell, Weber, and special effects artists David Anderson and Heather Langenkamp Anderson (yes, Nancy from Nightmare on Elm Street herself). A smattering of deleted scenes (several of which show up in the unrated version) and a theatrical trailer round off Disc One.

The second disc has the original audio commentary track recorded by Snyder and producer Eric Newman, as well as the vintage featurettes “Splitting Headaches: Anatomy of Exploding Heads,” “Attack of the Living Dead,” “Raising the Dead,” “Andy’s Lost Tape,” “Special Report: Zombie Invasion,” and “Undead and Loving It: A Mockumentary.”

Dawn of the Dead is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:



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