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

Dawn of the Dead (Unrated Director's Cut) [Blu-ray]


(Zack Snyder, 2004)






Reissued, on Blu-ray, by Universal in March 2022:



Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Strike Entertainment & New Amsterdam Entertainment

Blu-ray: Universal Studios Home Entertainment



Region FREE!

Runtime: 109 min

Chapters: 20

Size: 25 GB

Case: Standard Amaray Blu-ray case

Release date: September 30, 2008



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: 2.35:1



English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio; Spanish & French DTS 5.1



English SDH, Spanish & French



• Commentary by Director Zack Snyder & Producer Eric Newman

• Exclusive to Blu-ray: U-Control with Picture-in-Picture Interactive Cast & Crew Interviews with Behind the Scenes Footage.



The Movie: 7
First there was George A. Romero's ground-breaking 1968 black & white Night of the Living Dead , made on the cheap with amateur actors. (It was remade in 1990 in color and higher tech production, exec-produced by Romero, directed by Tom Savini.) The charm and seductive power of Romero's first directorial effort was its very low-tech approach – out of necessity came a kind of art form that eventually led to bastardizations such as The Blair Witch Project. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers before it, Romero's ending did not resolve the matter, and a sequel was certainly plausible and probably inevitable. Romero gave us the much better funded Dawn of the Dead ten years later. In Dawn, Romero was more direct in his satirical social commentary, setting his story in a large indoor shopping mall, where zombies return more out of habit than intention. This was followed in 1985 with Day of the Dead, where the gore threatened to take over the movie.

Cut now to 2005, when Zack Snyder, soon to make his mark with 300, itself a remake of the Battle of Thermopylae, came out with his surprisingly competent reconsideration of the Dawn of the Dead. I decided to watch the Romero original, also available in pretty good Blu-ray by the way, the night before, so I had my critical mind set in place and was prepared for the worst. But, somehow, surprisingly, the worst didn't materialize. Without getting into a pissing contest about it, I found Snyder's movie worked well on its own terms, despite its occasional flaws and deviations from the Romero vision, while staying the course.

The big difference is the relative insignificance of the mall in Snyder's film, which is considerably darker and more claustrophobic. There is the possibility in Romero's movie that its new human guests might be able to make a home here, a thought which is fairly soon discarded in Snyder's, not least because he throws in another source of danger: humans. Our small band of refugees soon become prisoners of a trio of security guards, led by the small-time megalomaniac CJ (Michael Kelly). As an additional group of refugees joins them and as the zombies gather relentlessly in ever-growing numbers outside the mall, the idea of remaining at the mall becomes increasingly unpalatable.

Snyder's movie owes much to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later - not in its storyline, but in its tone and in giving its zombies some mobility that makes their threat that much more inescapable. It is of no small importance, historically speaking, that this new Dawn of the Dead is Snyder's first feature film. Comparing it to Romero's first movie in those terms is mind-boggling. One wonders where all the money comes from to chance an investment on a relative unknown.




Image: 9/9
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.

Universal is gradually reproducing in Blu-ray titles that it previously released in its HD-DVD format, for which we must be grateful. I am unable to compare the two – nor do I see how such a comparison could be brought off with any degree of assurance, given the difference in hardware. More useful would be comparisons made to the 480i DVD, which at least can be viewed via the same player. I remember seeing bits of this movie a while back on DVD and thought it soft, even for that medium. Not so, the Blu-ray, which is a satisfying, if not perfect, rendering of what we can assume are original intentions. Where we see noise (as opposed to grain), as in the dimly lit underground garage scene, it comes and goes quickly. Elsewhere, the contrast scale is excellent, becoming longer at the black end without sacrificing too much detail. Occasional moments of saturated color leap off the screen but not out context.












Audio & Music: 9/7
This is one of the better audio mixes out there: it has plenty of breadth, dynamic contrast and directionality. Zombie noises and groans have an otherworldy angst to them that rips right through the soul. In those moments of hard-hitting action, we always know what and who's coming from where. All this with a clear dialogue track. Demo material, this.


Operations: 7
The menu is laid out like other Universal Blu-rays I have seen so far – and they are all very cleverly laid out, indeed. I like the arrows that tell you which way to direct you remote, and the bonus feature instructions are detailed and intuitive. High marks here. The chapter menu includes buttons for U-Control in case you want to approach those functions from that point. And there is also a way to adjust the PIP volume in the set-up menu. The only difficulty here is that that the bonus material, previously available on SD in a separately engageable format, need to be processed through the gate of U-Control, which doesn't really give U the Control U probably want.




Extras: 4
As mentioned in Operations, the bonus material, previously available on SD in a separately engageable format, need to be processed through the gate of U-Control, nor are they laid out in a way that we can easily recognize them. First time feature film director Zack Snyder appears in an entertaining commentary, along with Producer Eric Newman. Snyder reflects on what it was like on his maiden voyage and the whys and wherefores of his choices as he deviated from the Romero script.



Bottom line: 7
Even if you haven't seen any other Dead movies (Is that possible!), this one stands on its own. I like to think of Snyder's experiment in something like the same way as the second Ghost in the Shell movie, Innocence, lives in a parallel universe from the TV series. The Blu-ray image is very good, and the audio excellent. Recommended.

Leonard Norwitz
September 27th, 2008






Reissued, on Blu-ray, by Universal in March 2022:






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