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A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz

 

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Diary of the Dead [Blu-ray]

 

(George A. Romero, 2007)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Artfire Films & Romero-Grunwald Productions

Blu-ray: Genius Products/Dimension Extreme

 

Disc:

Region: A

Runtime: 93 minutes

Chapters: 24

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Amaray Blu-ray case

Release date: October 21, 2008

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1

 

Audio:

English D5.1 Dolby TrueHD. English & French DD 5.1

 

Subtitles:

English SDH & Spanish (feature film only)

 

Extras:

• Commentary by Writer/Director George Romero, Director of Photography Adam Swica, and Editor Michael Doherty.

• Documentary: For the Record: The Making of the Diary in 5 parts (about 78 minutes)

• Featurette: The Roots: The inspiration for the film (2:06)

• Featurette: The First Week: A visit to the set (4:23)

• Featurette: Familiar Voices: Cameo outtakes (5:14)

• Featurette: Character Confessionals (19:47)

• MySpace Contest Winners: 5 Zombie films from Filmmaker fans (avg, 3 minutes each)

 

 

 

The Film: 5
In his brief extra feature, The Roots, George A. Romero talked about a kind of zombie saturation that have taken over as his Dead films have progressed, so he decided to go back to the beginning and start over. Diary of the Dead isn't nearly as clever a title as the one that his protagonist uses for the documentary he is filming as the dead come back to life. Jason Creed is out in the boonies someplace shooting a student zombie flic when news of the dead coming back to life hits. Most of his University of Pittsburg friends stick together as they try to get back to their various homes. But first they have to negotiate the walking and waking dead.

Seeing an opportunity to get history on camera, and get it right, not as the news media and politicians want it to look, Jason is obsessed with filming events as they unfold. He interviews his friends, much to their annoyance, about their reactions to the constantly changing events – both outside their van and inside it. For as sure as God made artichokes, some number of their tight little band will become infected, and they will have to deal with it.

 

 


Jason is unflinching in his determination to get all this on video. Since a few of his friends are also part of the class, they impart their various skills to make his fledgling documentary into Pulitzer material. They find original source material from on-the-spot raw footage of unfolding events on the news, blogs and surveillance cameras and edit it into Jason's film to be titled: The Death of Death.

As in any good foxhole movie, each person reacts differently and characteristically to the crisis. Romero would have it that everyone's reaction to such things is unpredictable, by which he means that from the individual's point of view, he or she wouldn't be able to predict how they will behave. And this is often true for us. But in the movie, each person has a kind of signature attitude that does or does not change according to circumstance. If it doesn't change we are comforted, but bored; if it changes, we are at risk of feeing tricked.

The other risk Romero takes is that by and large what we see is a self-consciously amateur movie, since it is mostly point of view – that is, what we see is what Jason's camera sees. His camera becomes a character of sorts and, as time goes on, begins to have a life of its own. It's a clever idea. The intent is clear enough: so that the whole zombie thing is freshly met – and it is. We know more about how things will unfold than the participants because we've seen the sequels, but to Jason, Debra, Tony, Tracy, Eliot, Andrew and the others, this is all first time stuff. At times it all has a certain wonder about it, despite our advance knowledge. But my feeling is that Diary of the Dead isn't much more than an amateur film masquerading as amateur film.

 


 

Image: 9/5~9
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Diary of the Dead is self-consciously shot on all manner of media for reasons consistent with the narrative. Some of the footage is of sufficiently good quality (quite high in fact) that we can make a reasonable assessment of the transfer, which is excellent. However, it should be noted that it goes for naught for most of the movie. Given that there is a certain softness to the picture in many scenes and less grain than we might expect, we might suspect some DNR. But I can't say that I'm sensitive to it in this Blu-ray.

By the way – and maybe someone can put an end to my ignorance about this – but I was never able to understand why Jason's camera always went way out of focus whenever he put it down and laid it on its side. Even if he didn't have the auto-focus on, wouldn't the camera at least remain at the same focus point as where he left it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 7/5
One of the things that spoils the illusion of a documentary, despite Debra's editorial comment that Jason's film has been edited and tweaked (with music, for example) to not only persuade but to scare its audience, there is no way for his audio to be this good. All of his audio is caught on camera, yet there are some pretty compelling off-camera sounds in the final film. So what I'm saying is that Romero's audio mix is way better than Jason's – which is both the good news and the bad.

 

Operations: 6
I like the chapter search: easy to move swiftly through the chapter thumbanails, all of which are titled, but I see no reason not to have a "play all" option for the five part documentary: For the Record: The Making of the Diary.

 

 

 

Extras: 6
The extra features from the DVD are all brought over to the blu-ray, so I won't spend much time reviewing them. There's an hour and a quarter documentary on the making of the movie: preproduction thinking (including direct-to-DVD considerations), cast interviews about their characters, make-up effects and CGI, and the idea of Jason's camera becoming a character of its own. This last part is titled "A World Gone Mad" and is the most interesting of the bunch.

The commentary, mostly piloted by Romero, examines the technical aspects of the movie. Character Confessionals are deleted bits from the original movie that actually enlarge the characters. Familiar Voices are unedited, audio-only segments by well-known cinema personalities who provided bits for the newscasts in the movie itself. Finally, there are five short films (most of them about 3 minutes) winners of a MySpace contest. Definitely, worth a looksee. All the Extras are in standard definition.

 

 

Bottom line: 5
George A. Romero's latest zombie film goes back to the naiveté of Night of the Living Dead, but with the advantage of the Internet and cell phones. His movie is more or less a student documentary about the day the dead came back to life. A good idea, more in conception than in execution, though I don't know how it could have been else. The final film rarely caught my imagination. The Blu-ray looks and sounds very good.

Leonard Norwitz
October 16th, 2008

 

 

 

 

 





 

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