Blu-Ray Review: Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: October 31st 2017
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 101 Minutes (Theatrical), 110 Minutes (Unrated)
Like many fans of George A. Romero’s Dead films, I remember being very skeptical when I first heard that Universal was planning to remake his beloved zombie Horror classic; Dawn of the Dead. For me, the original 1978 film wasn’t just the best of the series, it was one of my all-time favorite films…period. With some justified hesitation, I remember sitting down in the dark theater back in March 2004 and being completely surprised at just how good Zack Snyder’s remake was! Like any worthwhile remake, the film didn’t try to be a carbon copy the original (see: Gus Van Sant’s Psycho), but simply used the basic premise as it’s “shell” to offer up something that was terrifying on a whole new level for a new generation. The first ten minutes alone remain one of the most horrifying sequences imagined on screen, and this was just the kick-start to a film that is absolutely memorable in it’s own right. With plenty of legitimate scares and gore to please the Horror crowd, the movie also finds incredible heart in it’s cast ensemble; with performances so well played and believable connections made that the inevitable heartbreak in this apocalyptic world becomes that much more devastating.
In Dawn of the Dead we’re introduced to Ana, a dedicated nurse in suburban Wisconsin who has just finished a very long shift at the hospital, and wants nothing more than to come home to her husband for their date night at home. Having missed an important news bulletin about impending danger during their intimate night together, Ana and her husband wake up the next morning and are immediately thrust into a chaotic nightmare. The sweet neighbor girl, Vivian, has entered their home looking infected and bloody, and bites Ana’s husband, subsequently “turning” him into an infected zombie as Ana desperately tries to flee her home. When she finally makes it outside, Ana realizes that scores of citizens are infected and the world as she knows it has plunged into an overnight apocalyptic scenario. While trying to escape the anarchic destruction and mayhem, she crashes her car, waking up to find Police Officer Kenneth (Ving Rhames), natural leader Michael (Jake Weber), young soon-to-be father Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his pregnant girlfriend Luda (Inna Korobkina). The group soon decides that their best possibility for survival is to hold up in the nearby Crossroads Mall. Once there, some relationships grow and some relationships strain, as our party begins to fear both each other and the undead outside their doors. Soon, with supplies running low, the group comes to the realization that they can’t stay at the mall forever, and devise a plan to escape.
From the aforementioned heart-pounding opening minutes to use of Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” during the credits; it’s immediately apparent while watching Zack Snyder’s version of Dawn of the Dead that, while this is technically a remake, we’re getting something unique and special within the confines of a basic story outline it shares with the original film. Snyder knows how to amp up the suspense in perfect terrifying fashion while screenwriter Gunn crafts characters we can empathize with and want to see safe and out of harm’s way, making the impending doom that much more of an edge-of-your-seat experience. While the original 1978 classic will always hold a special place in my cinematic heart, this remake is fast-paced quality entertainment that offers up an equal amount of scares and heart that will keep audiences entertained throughout.
Dawn of the Dead arrives on Blu-Ray with two versions that look equally impressive in high definition: the original theatrical cut and the unrated version of the film. Both prints have been sourced from their 2K digital intermediates of the 35mm negatives, with the unrated cut requiring some “HD inserts.” There is an intentional greenish tint/filter to the presentation that was present in the theatrical print and subsequent home video releases, and it looks magnificent on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory! The image itself is very clean with an abundance of detail in every frame and black levels that are incredibly inky and authentic. Colors pop with vibrancy throughout, especially in the clothing and various mall locations, with an especially brutal bright red tone for the bloodier sequences that shows up wonderfully in high definition.
The included 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is a crystal clear immersive experience that had me jumping from the couch more than a few times during my home viewing! Dialogue comes through clean and clear and the musical score is well distributed, but the absolute best part of the audio experience is the background sound effects and chaotic action notes that truly put the viewer on edge with a solid surround system. It’s the little things: leaky water from a pipe, blood dripping on the mall floor, etc., that seem perfectly nuanced on this HD audio track.
Scream Factory has given fans of Dawn of the Dead an absolutely feature-packed Blu-Ray release Blu-Ray release that easily stands as the definitive home video version. There are even some great animated menu’s on both discs where the zombie hordes “come to life” in the background. Here’s what’s included:
Disc One: Theatrical Cut
- Take a Chance on Me: an interview with Actor Ty Burrell- This 15+ minute interview with Ty Burrell (Modern Family) is very engaging throughout. The actor discusses where he was at in his career when he won the role of uber-jerk Steve. Burrell is very open about the excitement, nervousness, and insecurity he faced as an actor getting his first “big role.”
- Gunn for Hire: an interview with Writer James Gunn- This 9+ minute interview with Director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 & 2) is thoroughly entertaining! I love the fact that Gunn had a poster for the original 1978 film in his bedroom all throughout high school. Gunn recounts the story of how he became involved in the film through his friend and producer Eric Newman, who had been trying to work with him on a project for some time. The writer/director also recounts difficult stories of how he experienced death threats and petitions to get him removed from the film from hardcore fans of the original (who didn’t want the screenwriter of “Scooby Doo” to mess with their idea of what the film should be). Gunn recounts his writing process and working with Director Zack Snyder in detail as well. This is fantastic!
- Punk, Rock & Zombie: an interview with Actor Jake Weber- Jake Weber discusses becoming the character of “Steve” after auditioning for the role alongside Ty Burrell. He also details how he appreciated the artistic freedom he was able to utilize to “discover” his character because the script’s general outline allowed him to add his own panache to the role.
- Killing Time at the Mall: The Special Effects of Dawn of the Dead– This 25+ minute interview with husband-wife special effects team David Anderson and Heather Langenkamp Anderson (A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Nancy) is very informative and includes the new HD interviews mixed in with actual behind-the-scenes home video footage from David & Heather’s archives. Being able to see the inception and design of some of these spectacular special effects is very cool for fans of the film! This is the highlight bonus feature for me personally.
- Deleted Scenes- These 11+ minutes of deleted scenes are presented in standard definition non-anamorphic widescreen with optional commentary from Director Zack Snyder and Producer Eric Newman. Many of the scenes are just very small snippets (5-15 seconds) of footage that was left on the cutting room floor. They’re interesting scenes that help us to gain some perspective into the editing process and creative decision-making and welcome additions to this release (though they seem rightfully left out of the final film).
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film is presented in high definition and definitely sets the mood for prospective audiences.
- Photo Gallery- Various production stills and behind-the-scenes photos from the making of the film.
Disc Two: Unrated Cut
- Audio Commentary- Director Zack Snyder and Producer Eric Newman sit down to discuss the film for this feature length commentary and offer viewers plenty of great behind-the-scenes stories and making-of details for fans of the 2004 remake. It’s very east to listen to these two, who clearly had a great time making the film and for Snyder, jump-started a career that continues to impress!
- Splitting Headaches: Anatomy of Exploding Heads Featurette- A short 5+ minute featurette on the special effects teamwork involved with making the heads explode in the film.
- Attack of the Living Dead Featurette- This 7+ minute featurette takes a behind-the-scenes look at more special makeup and prosthetics involved in the film, specifically focusing on the life-cast prosthetics involved for one actor portraying a zombie.
- Raising the Dead Featurette- This nearly 8-minute featurette showcases many of the zombie extras involved in the making of the film and some more of the unique special makeup effects.
- Andy’s Lost Tape Featurette- This 16+ minute “lost tape” shows gun shop owner Andy’s final days and is quite enjoyable. This “one man show” is an interesting companion piece to the sequences we see in the film from the main group’s perspective.
- Special Report: Zombie Invasion Featurette- A 21+ minute special news report, much of which is seen/heard periodically throughout the actual film.
- Undead and Loving It: A Mockumentary- A 5+ minute mockumentary where Snyder and various cast and crew pretend that the “extras” are actual zombies. This one is short but a lot of fun!
- Drawing the Dead Featurette- This one is just under 3 minutes and features Zack Snyder and Mark Yates’ storyboarding process.
- Storyboard Comparisons- Nearly 6 minutes worth of side-by-side storyboard to final screen comparisons.
This Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory features a beautifully rendered slipcover by artist Nat Marsh highlighting the approaching dead as they hone in on our crew in the parking garage basement of the mall. The forest green color scheme works very well with the contrasting yellow light peaking through in the background. The shadow detail of the main cast along with the bloody handprints on the parking garage columns round out some fine artistic detail on this edition. The back of the case includes a brief plot synopsis, a list of bonus features for both discs, and technical specifications. Inside you’ll find the Theatrical Cut Blu-Ray disc with Sarah and the creepy undead riser (one of the film’s scariest moments) and the Unrated Cut Blu-Ray disc featuring the group’s “help, alive inside” message on the rooftop of the mall. The inner artwork is also reversible, allowing fans to showcase the original theatrical artwork under the slipcover if they so desire.
Like any worthwhile remake, Dawn of the Dead doesn’t try to be a carbon copy the original, but simply uses the basic premise as it’s “shell” to offer up something that is terrifying on a whole new level for a new generation. The first ten minutes alone remain one of the most horrifying sequences imagined on screen, and that sequence is just the kick-start to a film that is absolutely memorable in it’s own right. With plenty of legitimate scares and gore to please the Horror crowd, Dawn of the Dead finds incredible heart in it’s cast ensemble; with performances so well played and believable connections made that the inevitable heartbreak in this apocalyptic world becomes that much more devastating. This Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray from Scream Factory offers up beautiful 2K transfers that look very clean with vibrant colors and inky blacks, a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that delivers all the pulse-pounding chills intended in a fully immersive experience, and hours upon hours of fantastic bonus material to peruse for fans of the film! This release from Scream Factory has now become the definitive version of Dawn of the Dead on home video and comes highly recommended this Halloween season!