Review by Leonard Norwitz
Theatrical: Artfire Films & Romero-Grunwald Productions
Blu-ray: Genius Products/Dimension Extreme
Runtime: 93 minutes
Size: 50 GB
Case: Standard Amaray Blu-ray case
Release date: October 21, 2008
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Video codec: VC-1
English D5.1 Dolby TrueHD. English & French DD 5.1
English SDH & Spanish (feature film only)
• 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
• 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)
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
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.
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:
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
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
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
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.
October 16th, 2008