Let's see if I can't keep my comparisons to the original Dawn of the Dead to a minimum here. Needless to say, one of, if not the greatest horror movie ever made, was certainly not in need of a modern day 'Swan' like facelift, but damn those kids who like a familiar brand name! So here we are, and the damage has already been done, the Dawn of the Dead remake is about to hit DVD, in an unrated extended director's cut with plenty o' extras. I wasn't enthralled with this film when I first saw it in theaters, and although little has changed since then, in some respects, turns out the flick is not without its charms.
For those not in the know, this version of Dawn of the Dead, shares very little in common with the original film, save for the same name and primary setting of a shopping mall. Things start out with a bang, as a hot to trot couple wake up to find a young girl, with some serious issues (namely a partially chewed off face) has found her way into their home. Not realizing that she is now a card carrying member of the undead, they try to help her because they think SHE is hurt. The poor hubby is bitten and immediately turns into one of the creatures himself, while our fearless heroine is now forced to find a way out. Once she's outside, she sees that the shit has really hit the fan, it's almost as if World War III is upon us. She drives for a while, wrecks out and meets up with a few scavengers who decide to seek refuge at a local shopping mall. This is where things slowly start to go downhill.
Once in the mall, our gang meets up with more of the undead, as well as a group of unscrupulous security guards. It's not long after that a truckload of more strangers arrive, and our group of rag tag, zombie chow to be, have to figure out a way to hightail it to safer grounds...that is, if they don't kill one another first.
I can sit here and spout off about the fact that I didn't like this film because the zombies run as if they are in some kind of zombie marathon (they were slow as snails in the original) or I can tell you that it bugged me that once they were bitten, they turned immediately (in the original, it was a much longer process) but I won't. (Editor's Note: I understand that they turn into a zombie when they die, NOT after they are bitten. What I'm saying is that in all of the original DEAD films, it came across as more of a 'process' and not just ::die, have super zombie agenda:: It's more of a feeling you get while watching the original films, than anything else, so save yer emails, nuff said.) I'm going to attempt to let the remake stand on it's own, and go from there. One of the most notable problems with this film, is the lack of character development. There are far too many characters to begin with and we learn virtually nothing about these people. Even as far back as the very beginning, when our first group meets up, there are no introductions, just angry people. Which brings me to my next point, not a one of these characters are likeable in any way shape or form. In this time of tragedy and need, they never bond, not once. They just yell at one another, tell each other to "fuck off" and eventually, wind up killing one another more than the zombies do. So I ask you, who cares? The only character I found sympathetic had no lines until well into the final act. Andy, who sits atop the roof of his gun shop, communicates with the survivors across the street at the shopping mall by holding up signs. They play chess, fill each other in on news updates (or no news updates as it usually turns out to be, or play 'shoot the zombie celebrity look alike (poor Burt Reynolds). These scenes were definitely a highlight of the film.
OK unlikable characters are one thing, but let's talk about their dialogue and more importantly stupidity. Not necessarily the fault of the actors, let's give the screenwriter credit on this one, I'm equal opportunity. It takes these people an hour into the film, to realize that once you are bitten, you will change. Never mind the fact that each of these people have seen countless victims who have changed after being bitten and it has been documented many times in the film up until this point that these are the rules. Yet they still wind up welcoming in a person almost an hour into the film, who is undoubtedly about to change - of course you can imagine their genuine shock and surprise once this happens.
So what does the film have going for it? Gore, and lots of it. Despite the fact that the zombies are not utilized to their full potential within the actual film (I finally had the opportunity to see a lot of the detailed make up in the behind the scenes segments on the disc) this movie is full of a lot of gore, and practical gore effects at that (CGI is kept to a minimum). Lots of prosthetics, exploding squibs, full body casts, you name it - this I really appreciated. So, if you forget that this is a remake, take it as another zombie film (not a great zombie film, but a gore filled zombie film mind you) and are willing to completely shut down your senses for a few hours, Dawn of the Dead can in turn be a somewhat enjoyable experience. For this I say kudos to FX guru David LeRoy Anderson, because you are the reason I found this film to be ultimately tolerable.
Audio and video quality are about what one would expect. The 16X9 scope image looks good, although I was surprised to find a certain level of dirt/spots that I wasn't expecting to see. The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is powerful without being too overbearing. Nice separation, but not much in directional effects. As far as the differences between the theatrical cut and this unrated version? Ya got me. I only saw the theatrical cut once, and it didn't leave much of an impression on me. There is some mention in the audio commentary of some reinstated scenes that were originally snipped by the MPAA (as well as extended dialogue scenes), but I don't think they hit on all of them. The film is pretty damn bloody though, its one saving grace.
Extras include and optional introduction with director Zack Snyder, about 11 minutes of deleted scenes available with or without director's commentary, a 21-minute long 'Special News Report' (some of which is scattered throughout the film), and a Blair Witch-esque piece called 'Andy's Terrifying Last Days Revealed' which is about 15 minutes of home video footage 'shot by Andy', while trapped in his gun shop. Also included are a few behind-the-scenes features (mostly special effects based) including 'Raising the Dead' (a piece on the films zombie make-up), 'Attack of the Living Dead' (misc FX on 6 major zombie characters) and 'Splitting Headaches: Anatomy of Exploding Heads,' a feature on the many style of head explosions featured throughout the film. Being a gore and SPFX nut I really valued these segments the most. Finally, we're offered a feature length audio commentary with director Zack Snyder and producer Eric Newman along with some interactive DVD Rom content. Just remember, it's NOT Dawn of the Dead, it's two hours of watching people you cannot wait to see get knocked off - and eventually they do. If that's not progress, I don't know what is.