Land of the Dead (HD DVD)

January 28, 2012 10 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Lately, I don’t know what it is, but I’ve been seeing a lot of zombie movies lately. Maybe with Halloween approaching I’m trying to get myself in the spirit of the season or something to that effect. I’ve never really been much on horror movies (or in this case, a zombie movie) but I’ve certainly heard of George Romero. Some forty years ago he created a classic with “Night of the Living Dead”. Time has passed and now he’s offered up “Land of the Dead” (not to be confused with the recent “Dawn of the Dead” in which our heroes are stranded in a shopping mall). One thing that all of these movies seem to have in common, and even the very tongue-in-cheek “Shaun of the Dead” is that they don’t really tell why things happened the way they did. It just goes on the assumption that the audience will understand that something happened along the way and that there are now dead people walking around the Earth looking for human flesh to eat. Ok, I can accept that but we have to ask ourselves what’s really worse: being really “dead” or being dead and then being brought back to life as a zombie?

In “Land of the Dead”, we see that it’s been several years since the dead started walking the Earth and industrialist Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) has taken the initiative to restore peace to the world. When I say “taken the initiative”, I mean that he’s secured an office building, hired security to keep out the undesirables (zombies) and charges and arm and a leg for a luxury apartment. This seems to have been working well for him and his hired guns are good at what they do. Led by Riley (Simon Baker) and Cholo (John Leguizamo), the two are as different as night and day. Riley wants to go North and get away from everything and live a peaceful life and Cholo wants to get enough money where he can move into the high rise. Unfortunately Kauffman doesn’t see things that way. To add fuel to the proverbial fire, the zombies seem to be able to do something no other zombies are able to: they’re actually learning how to communicate with one another. The leader, Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), who communicates through a series of grunts and growls, is leading them towards the city though we don’t really know why. And Cholo has hijacked “Dead Reckoning”, a supped-up RV of sorts, which is Kauffman’s only way of escape. Can Simon and his entourage save the day, avoid the zombies and still manage to head North or is the entire world doomed (again)?

As I mentioned before, I’ve never really delved too deep into the world of “zombie movies”. Each one seems to have a particular flare. Do zombies only eat flesh and if so, why? Why don’t the people who aren’t zombies merely pretend to be zombies so they’re not recognized? I mean, how smart is a zombie really? They don’t have the capacity for logic, but they can tell a human being in the blink of an eye? Oh well, I suppose that some zombie questions are best unanswered. Romero shows us that he hasn’t really lost his touch. He’s older and supposedly wiser now and “Land of the Dead” does have its share of graphic violence. We see the zombies not only eat the humans, but we also see the ripping of body parts, faces and other appendages as well. Granted, we know it’s all fake but it might not be for the feign of heart. As far as zombie movies go, I’m not really sure how this one would rank but if you’ve seen one then you’ve seen them all. Right?

Video: How does it look?

Ironically, I was watching a part of this movie on HBO a couple months back, kind of liked it so I went out and bough the DVD (Universal had previously not sent it out for review). Well, wouldn’t you know it…there’s now a zombie movie in HD! The 2.35:1 HD transfer brings new life (sorry, had to be said) to the transfer as it looks very sharp and clean. The movie is dark, as most zombie movies should be, and though there are many opportunities for the transfer to falter, it rarely disappoints. There’s no edge enhancement to speak of and flesh tones, for lack of a better word, are on par as well. Compared with the standard DVD (which is included on Side B), there’s a pretty noticeable difference between the two and the HD DVD version is certainly the better of the two. Also, this is a landmark in that this is the first zombie movie offered in High Definition. Could it get any better than that? Didn’t think so.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is fairly decent as well. There are several instances of gunfire, that’s how you finally kill the little buggers by the way – shoot ‘em in the head. Dialogue is very crisp and clean with little distortion, too. I found that the surround effects really added a lot to the soundtrack. How else can you experience a zombie movie if you can’t literally hear the flesh being ripped off the person? Exactly. You need those discrete sound effects that heighten the mood. The standard DVD comes equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 version that sounds just about as good, but I noticed a bit more depth on the Dolby Digital Plus side.

Supplements: What are the extras?

If you were one of the ones who went out and bought the standard DVD when it came out, I’m happy to tell you that all of the supplements have been ported over to this new HD version. You even get the standard DVD on the flip side of the disc. I won’t comment on this trend, some like it and some don’t so we’ll leave it at that. The commentary by Romero is the only supplement on the HD side and he offers up a pretty decent track. Directors of horror films are often very proud of their work, though the public might not really put a zombie movie at the forefront. The other supplements are on the other side of the disc, thus nullifying the fact that this is a HD DVD and there’s ample space on one side of the disc. But I digress…

The supplements are basically a lot of featurettes, dealing with makeup and how they brought the dead back to life. I do have to mention, however, that one of the funniest moments in my DVD reviewing career comes when John Leguizamo hosts “A Day with the Living Dead”. Leguizamo has a great humorous side (as evidenced in other films) and literally starts yelling at the fake zombies. Evidently he got mad at the zombie that bit him in the movie and he starts slapping and yelling at the fake zombie on camera. I had to watch it again and yes, it’s really that funny. Aside from that, the rest of the featurettes are what we’d expect – how they did this and that. There’s a music video, three deleted scenes and we even get to meet “Shaun of the Dead” stars Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. If you’re a zombie fan this you’ll know what to expect, but as for me I might have to check a few more out before I know how to rank this one.

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