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Dawn of the Dead(1978)
As modern society is consumed by zombie carnage, four desperate survivors barricade themselves inside a shopping mall to battle the flesh-eating hordes of the undead.
For more about Dawn of the Dead and the Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray release, see Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on October 25, 2007 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: Scott Reiniger, Ken Foree, David Emge, Gaylen Ross, Tom Savini, David Crawford
Director: George A. Romero
» See full cast & crew
Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray Review
Perhaps the greatest horror film ever makes its debut on Blu-ray
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, October 25, 2007
When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.
I've seen this movie so many times it feels like an old friend. Filmed at the Monroeville Mall near Pittsburgh, PA, (a mall I lived close to growing up and frequently visited), George Romero's Dawn of the Dead is the definitive zombie movie of all time, and one of the great classics of contemporary Horror, alongside Halloween, The Lost Boys , and The Exorcist.
This film is known for its satire of American consumerism as much as, if not more so, than its superficial plot of survivors of a "zombiepocalypse" holing up in a shopping mall. In my review of Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn I discussed the types of horror films I find most effective. One subgenre I failed to mention is the horror-satire film, and Dawn is that genre epitomized. When the movie was made in 1978, American consumerism attained a level never before seen. The advent of the interstate highway system some years earlier and advances in air travel, for example, made it easier and cheaper than ever before to not only manufacture and transport goods anywhere, anytime, but also contributed to the creation of the great wealth needed to allow Americans to purchase these goods. Consumerism played a large role in people's lives, and one line from the movie sums up everything nicely. When our heroes land at the mall and find zombies scattered throughout, meandering the open spaces of the mall, a character notes that the zombies are there because of "some kind of instinct, memory, what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives." It's amazing how things have changed. I rarely step foot into a mall anymore, instead doing the vast majority of my shopping online. We've now become slaves to a different element, and this is why I don't think the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead worked, at least not on the same level as Romero's vision--the satire fails because malls just don't hold the power over us that they once did. In addition to the satire, the gore, and the horror, Dawn of the Dead also manages to entertain and maintain a sense of humor throughout, especially in scenes where our heroes "shop" at the mall, sequences that would later be paid homage to in the excellent 28 Days Later.
As the film opens, we meet Francine (Gaylen Ross), a television news producer covering the biggest story of her life--the rise of the living dead. Her newsroom is in chaos as the world around her falls apart. Her boyfriend is Stephen (David Emge), a helicopter pilot for the same channel. The two escape to the skies along with two tag along SWAT officers, Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott H. Reiniger). Low on fuel and needing supplies, they land at a shopping mall outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The quartet decides to hole up there, realizing everything they need is in the mall. The living dead, however, roam the mall inside and out, and maneuvering from store to store and the outside of the mall becomes very difficult. Our heroes must do battle with the zombies and a different kind of enemy later in the picture (watch for an appearanace by special effects wizard Tom Savini).
As opposed to the recent 4-disc DVD set that included three cuts of the film (the U.S. theatrical version, the extended version, and Dario Argento's European "Zombi" version), the Blu-ray features only the tried-and-true U.S. theatrical version. Don't be surprised to see a box set featuring these other editions to make its way to Blu-ray at some point in the future. Starz/Anchor Bay is notorious for multiple releases of films. in my opinion this is the best cut of the three, but then again it's the one I have seen most often.
Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray, Video Quality
Starz presents Dawn of the Dead in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a 1080p transfer. This is a drab film that has always looked a little dark to me. This may sound strange, but this is a movie you can almost smell based on the visual look (and a lot of the time, especially early on, it doesn't smell good). The Blu-ray presentation is nothing short of remarkable when compared to the most recent DVD release. There are a few speckles of dirt here and there, but overall this is a clean and clear transfer. I didn't notice any overt edge enhancement like what I saw in Evil Dead II. Fine detail that wasn't noticeable in previous versions is here. There is a depth to the text in the opening credits I never noticed before. Flesh tones never falter and the overall color palette never wavers. Blood actually looks red in this release! The blood issue is mentioned in the commentary and though they admit it looks fake, the filmmakers believe it adds to the cartoonish feel of the violence. Nevertheless, it looks great here, the best I have seen it yet. I've seen previous editions where there was a definite heavy orange tint to the blood (I've never seen the film on anything but home video). Minute detail in the gore, especially splatterings and drippings of blood, look dramatically improved here. There was quite a bit of noise on the old DVD editions, even the most recent one, but the print on the Blu-ray is pristine. I didn't think this was going to be a huge upgrade from the DVD while I was watching it, but to my surprise it blows the DVD away. There is no question that, video-wise, this the best Dawn of the Dead has ever looked on home video.
Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray, Audio Quality
As with all the other Starz releases I have reviewed so far, Dolby Digital 5.1 and PCM 5.1 Uncompressed soundtracks are included. Oddly enough, there is a DTS logo on the disc, but no DTS track is available on the actual program (note that the "Ultimate Edition" DVD does include DTS). Also available is the film's original mono soundtrack. I am very pleased that Starz included this track. I'm all for including as much of the original source material as possible. For the purpose of this review, however, I screened the film with the multichannel audio options. Part of the movie's music is performed by Goblin (the famous group that has worked with Dario Argento on films like Suspiria and Deep Red). The theme is mixed with creepy moaning sounds and features heavy synthesizer usage and as a result sounds dated, but it works very well with the film. Parts of the remainder of the score come across as sounding a little distorted, but I can't say if that is due to the presentation here or if this is how it was intended to sound. There is a good deal of clarity across the front soundstage, but dialogue is sometimes drowned out by the heavy, pulsating LFE track and synthesizer score, especially in the final act of the film. The track features good separation and a natural flow as the action travels across the screen. There isn't much happening in the rear, though we do get several nice effects scattered throughout, but there were several points in the movie where I felt the track could have been re- mixed a little better to more envelop the viewer in the action. All of this is moot if you are a purist and intended to listen to the mono track, which sounds just fine but suffers from some of the same problems as the multichannel tracks, such as dialogue lost amidst music and effects.
Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Starz offers up a plethora of supplements, starting off with, as usual, a commentary track that features DVD producer Perry Martin, writer/director George Romero, Make-up artist Tom Savini, and assistant director Chris Romero (the wife of George Romero). It's the same track that is featured on the 4-disc DVD edition, and it's several years old (recorded while Romero was still trying to get a fourth Dead film made). Still, it offers up some great stories and inside information. Fans are going to love this one!
There is a "Film Fast Facts" text-based trivia track that serves up much of the same highlights that are discussed in the commentary track and is best viewed while listening to the commentary track. Next is The Dead Will Walk, a documentary presented in 480p, that runs for an hour and fifteen minutes. Discussed here is quite a bit of the making of the movie, casting, writing the script, Romero's background and lots of other fun material.
Also included are on-set home movies (480p, 13 minutes), filmed by one of the extras who appeared in the film as a zombie. It's a great supplement that is my favorite on the disc. We also have a tour of Monroeville Mall featuring Ken Foree (480p, 11 minutes), a Monroeville Mall commercial, trailers, TV spots (all 480p), and radio spots.
Many of the supplements are not carried over from the ultimate edition, such as the excellent Document of the Dead, but I am sure they will find their way to Blu-ray in the next few years.
Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Fans of the style of horror that is raking in the dollars at the box office today may be disappointed with Dawn of the Dead. It's not as fast-paced and kinetic as the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre films, for example, and the gore looks really, really fake. If this is your first foray into the world of George Romero, you owe it to yourself to go out and buy the first of his Dead trilogy, the famous Night of the Living Dead. It is a film in the public domain and there are multiple editions available, many at a bargain price. Dawn of the Dead is a seminal piece of movie history and anyone interested in collecting the best of the best ever committed to film should have this as part of their collection. The video quality is top-notch and the sound quality does its job, and the inclusion of the original monaural track is a nice addition. The extras are great, but not everything that could be incorporated into this release is here. I'm hanging onto my 4 disc DVD set for the additional versions of the film and the extras, but anytime I want to screen the original version, I'll be playing the Blu-ray. Highly recommended.
Dawn of the Dead: Other Editions
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