Plot: What’s it about?
“When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.”
The original “Dawn of the Dead” stands as one of George Romero’s die-hard (pardon the pun) cult classics. And in the realm of “zombie” movies, there’s little competition to dispute that fact. But this is 2004 and we just re-make old classics because coming up with original story ideas is too hard. Only kidding. First time Zack Snyder actually hit the nail right on the head with his adaptation of “Dawn of the Dead”. I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to movies like this, I usually tune out. If the movie had not been done before, I’d say that it was just trying to copy of last year’s great “28 Days Later” in which London becomes overrun by zombies. “Dawn of the Dead” is less scary and more eerie when you really think what’s happening. The chain reaction in which an epidemic can spread (in this case, the dead killing the living and thus becoming the “living dead”) is what is most disturbing.
The plot is fairly simple and straight forward and the expanded prologue serves to introduce us to the main character of Ana (Sarah Polley). Ana’s a nurse and she’s worked a long shift. She comes home to her suburban Milwaukee home for “date night” with her lover. She awakens the next morning to her neighbor’s child who promptly kills her lover, only to have him turn into a flesh-eating zombie. Ana manages to escape and runs into Kenneth (Ving Rhames), a police officer who has also managed to stay alive throughout the morning. They meet up with a group of three (who we learn was a group of eight earlier in the day) and manage to make it to the shopping mall – which is, of course, closed. Now this is where things get interesting. This group meets up with three mall security officers (who take their jobs a little too seriously), who have made the mall into their “Alamo” so to speak. The leader, C.J. (Michael Kelly) borders on the insane, but once he’s made his point clear (that he wants to live), they start to understand. Naturally, these people can’t live in the mall forever and the zombies seem to all be flocking to the mall parking lot for some reason. They must escape before they all end up dead…or worse.
The premise is simple, and the tagline really says it all “when there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth”. There’s really no back plot to the story, things just start to happen and take their course. We don’t know if the phenomenon is relegated to the Milwaukee area, the United States or the world (we assume the world) and if there is any safe haven for our heroes. While this differs from the original version, there are some different aspects to both. I enjoyed the original more as it had more of a unique feel to it. But I’d have to say that for a first-time director; Snyder has done pretty good work here (even casting himself in a few different small parts). This version reviewed is the “Director’s Cut” which contains some 9 minutes of extended and deleted scenes edited back into the movie. Gross? Bloody? Yes. For a good double feature, watch this and Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” for a zombie fest (and interestingly enough, the word “zombie” is never used in this movie). Recommended.
Video: How does it look?
“Dawn of the Dead” is shown in a 2.35:1 anamorphic ratio that looks pretty good. Zack Snyder has used nearly every film stock in the book here and they all appear decent. For the most part, the colors are very bright (you’ll get to see every bit of blood and gore on the zomibie’s faces), but the dark scenes tend to retain that sharpness that doesn’t give way to artifacting. The ending credits are shot on a DV camcorder that really give a genuine look and feel to the movie. All in all, though there are some trouble spots, the picture is top notch – as it should be.
Audio: How does it sound?
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is pretty robust as there are plenty of opportunities for guns, explosions, tires squeeling, etc. The dialogue is very clean, free of any distortion and while the surrounds take charge during some of the key scenes, the soundtrack is mainly limited to the front stage. There were a few instances, mainly at the end of the movie, where the surrounds broadcast the “crowd” effect of the zombies and I was fairly impressed. There’s not a whole lot else to say, it’s better than average but not a reference track. No major complaints here.
Supplements: What are the extras?
There are two versions of “Dawn of the Dead” out there and it will pay to get the Unrated Director’s Cut (the version reviewed here, coincidentally). The first, and maybe most important feature, is that we get 9 minutes of footage edited back into the film. These are extended and some deleted scenes that clarify a few continuity errors found in the theatrical cut. Also included is a director’s commentary with Director Zack Snyder and Producer Eric Newman. These two give a very delightful commentary and Snyder is obviously enamored with the original cut of the film. His passion is shown elsewhere in the supplements, but it’s conveyed here that he truly loves his job. “Splitting Headaches: The Anatomy of Exploding Heads” gives us a good look at how they made those entire zombie heads explode. Once we see the nuts and bolts of it, it’s not too scary, but interesting to see how much effort goes into a two second shot. “Attack of the Living Dead” focuses on six of the movie’s more memorable zombies (Maintenance Man, Lady in Wheelbarrow, etc.) and shows their screen test as well as how much effort it took to turn them into undead killers. This brings us into “Raising the Dead” which tells how the zombie’s physical look was made. Three stages were included to represent the three stages of the film. The freshly dead, the “dead for a week or so” and then the “skin tightening up around the bones” dead. Who knew? Two “documentary like” featurettes are also included, the first being Andy’s tape. Andy is the owner of the gun store across from the mall and we get to see an abbreviated version of the movie from his point of view as his decent into madness is documented on videotape. Next is “Special Report: Zombie Invasion” in which we get to see extended cuts from the actual news briefs as the events of the zombies continue to unfold. Lastly there are some 12 minutes of deleted scenes, available with Director Commentary as well as some DVD-ROM content. All in all, a good remake of a good movie which gets great treatment by Universal.