Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
"Ever since I wrote the original review for the DAWN OF THE DEAD ULTIMATE EDITION DVD package, I have decided whether or not I should separate my review of the film from my review of the DVD boxed set. When I had initially posted this review, a separate section devoted strictly to the DVD boxed set wasn't available, and I just threw what I had written up on the movie's main page. The review I had written came out to about 10 pages on my word processor, and it has dawned on me that I have to at least start to learn to streamline myself as a writer, even though I can't help it if there's so much to talk about on a DVD release that is clearly a collector's wet dream. In fact, this one even received an award in the time I have been considering splitting up my old review. At last, I have decided to go back and separate my original review so that I can have this separate description of the contents of the Ultimate Edition isolated from my actual review of the film." - John Bishop, 10/2/05
To pick up where my original review left off, click this link: Dawn of the Dead movie review.
In early 2005, George A. Romero's classic film Dawn of the Dead was released in a special "Divimax" edition that not only offered improved sound and picture quality, but also a nice array of supplements including an audio commentary and original advertising material. However, it was released mainly to provide a sample of what was going to be one of the most grand special edition DVD packages Anchor Bay Entertainment would ever release, a titanic undertaking that collected three separate versions of Dawn as well as exclusive new bonus features and existing treasures that served to be the last word on Romero's cherished sequel to his classic Night of the Living Dead. On September 7, 2004, the DAWN OF THE DEAD ULTIMATE EDITION DVD package made its debut, eventually winning the Saturn Award for "Best DVD Classic Film Release" at the 31st Annual ceremony in May of 2005 and finding a place on the shelves of countless horror film buffs across the world.
This "Ultimate Edition" contains the original "U.S. Theatrical Cut" of the film at 126 mins., as well as an extended version that played exclusively at Cannes during the film's tenure on the festival circuit (and was released itself on out-of-print VHS/DVD titles) and the Dario Argento edit of the film called "Zombi," which is about to be issued as a standalone disc itself by Anchor Bay late this year.
Anchor Bay's presentation of the "U.S. Theatrical Cut" of DAWN OF THE DEAD is presented in the same manner as it was in its Divimax release from earlier in the year. The second disc features the "Extended Version" that was first screened at Cannes. This version made it to both VHS and DVD for a fairly limited time before from Anchor Bay, but has finally been re-released in the U.S. exclusively for this set. Much of the movie consists of scenes so lousy that they weren't truly missed, such as when Stephen and Frannie are confronted by a bunch of cartoonishly sinister dock patrolmen, and some noticeably longer versions of scenes inside the mall, as well as about 5% more splatter. Character development is stepped up a notch, such as when Peter and Fran converse about their lives whilst in the airplane, but the movie strides along with the same sense of pacing as the original, and for the most part the "Extended Version" is quite a keeper. (Also of note is that Romero utilized a whole bunch of library recordings to make up sound and music seeing as how this was basically an unfinished version of the film.)
Dario Argento's "European Version" is known as "Zombie," which was eventually followed up by Lucio Fulci's 1979 movie, which is called "Zombie" in America but was known throughout other countries as "Zombie 2" or "Zombies 2" as a means of cashing in on a brand name. Dario Argento extends many of the scenes in the beginning, such as additional lines of dialogue in the first two scenes of the movie and also some small throwaway bits Romero never used in any cut of the film (notice Roger talking to the black S.W.A.T. officer after the two of them kill their first zombie in the building). The movie is much more ferocious in its presentation of gore and action, toning down most of the comedic dialogue and all of the satire elements in the film to instead focus on do or die situations our heroes engage in. Dario surprisingly enough thought that the helicopter decapitation was a lame sequence, despite a grisly death, and he even cut that out. Also, try to look for dialogue that has been switched around so as to make up for some removed footage.
Obviously, the "Divimax" high-definition DVD transfer of Romero's theatrical cut is a marvelous presentation to behold. The movie has never looked better than in this remastered version, which strips away all of the nagging grain/print flaws, tones down the edge enhancement to some outdoor shots, tightens up the sharpness in the presentation of the 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio (anamorphically enhanced), and actually makes you focus on the images presented in the movie. And these images look particularly superb. Flesh tones on both the humans and the zombies have been bolstered to vivid and accurate colors whereas there have been pale and greenish elements to them beforehand. Hell, even the pig innards look clean and well-photographed. The opening raid on Martinez is seen in a dark setting, and the black levels on that, as well as in later scenes, are as sharp as fresh cutting blades. Shadow delineation was for the most part solid. The color palette is definitely marred by its age, but given much more dimension and breadth than you could've anticipated. The extended version as well as the European edit benefit from remastering that is not as on a high scale as the Divimax-bolstered first disc, but are never really all that harsh and unsettling to watch anyway. Most of the scenes are just extensions of other parts in the original, so that the look never seems to veer off course from one extreme to another. In fact, having watched my old VHS copy of the "Extended Edition," I find that a lot of uncomfortable editing and transfer concerns have flown the coop. And I'm pretty sure that the "European Version" never looked as good before as it does in Anchor Bay's possession.
The original version of the movie has the most audio tracks to sift through, with both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mixes as well as Dolby 2.0 and the movie's initial mix in mono. In fact, the attempt to remixing a mono soundtrack to a more spatial environment proves mostly, especially if you've shot the film in shoestring, to be one heck of a chore. While I once again admit that the DTS track is probably the best way to listen to it, all I could get was Dolby. The 5.1 and 2.0 tracks both exhibit some impressive stereo separation, with clear yet cushy dialogue saddled in the center and many of the so-so effects and the Goblin musical score, benefiting from some rather psychotic fidelity, spreading around the front channels. Mostly surround effects were limited to reinforcements in terms of music and setting, with only the sound of a bullet ricocheting off metal in the utility room really getting much due praise. Bass response was decidedly lackluster. The "European Version" contains all of the original's sound offerings except for the DTS track, and there's basically no difference in how everything sounds. The "Extended Version" can only go so far, and that distance is summed up in the words "mono." That means expect a flat mix that hasn't much of the heftiness of the mono tracks from the 1st and 3rd discs. Still, I probably wouldn't knock it because it indeed was the rough cut of the film. Closed captioning is provided on all versions because the subtitles got eaten alive by all the damn zombies.
All three versions of "Dawn" on the separate three discs contain their own little audio commentary tracks. Disc one features the same yak trak from the March DVD, in which Anchor Bay rep Perry Martin sits together with George Romero, Chris Romero and Tom Savini to discuss at length the making of this movie. Full of passion and enlightening tidbits as related to the tight shooting schedule at the Monroeville Mall, the creation of the effects using more natural resources (expect the letters "CGI" to pop up), the artistic choices made by all who worked on the film (Savini did much more than just the gore), the editing of the film, and thoughts about the movie getting redone for 2004. The always thoughtful Romero opens up explaining that the fourth movie in the trilogy is just waiting for the green light, but thankfully this highly entertaining commentary goes strictly film-related. Savini is as always full of interesting observations, memories and opinions in regards to FX work and test screenings, and Chris mostly relates personal opinions about the film and a few small shooting stories. Martin of course acts as the instigator, but works well into the overall commentary, which is a great deal spontaneous and filled with stories, technical/production detail, plenty of talk on how the movie came to fruition, and the pain of having to shoot late hours post-holidays at a real life mall. Fans of this movie will love it, even if they are likely to have heard most of this before.
Martin joins producer Richard P. Rubinstein to cover the "Extended Version." Once again, Martin prompts Rubinstein's thoughts via interview questions and mostly backs up much of this track via some information he already knows about the film. But listening to one-man commentaries always seems to play out much more boringly when sandwiched between large, ecstatic group commentaries. Whilst Rubinstein has a distinct memory of this movie which allows him to build upon aspects of the movie hinted at during the Romeros/Savini yakker, he sounds mostly dry and straight-faced throughout. And whilst he does discuss the film's reception and the way it has carried on throughout the 26 years of its existence, there's a mostly call-and-response feel to Martin and Rubinstein's delivery. That, and the many stretches of silence are highly awkward. I'd recommend it if you have two-and-a-half hours of free time to get through it in one sit, but I wouldn't be enthusiastic to hear it again for quite a while. But it offers plenty of rewards due to Rubinstein's deep respect and involvement in the film, and it does spill enough technical and personal details to make up for any shortcomings with the delivery.
I was impressed more by the third commentary which runs the length of the "European Version" and contains actors David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, and Gaylen Ross. Martin failed to join them on this one, as the four actors sat together in one of those commentary tracks that's more like a reuniting of old friends watching their movie and doing their best to recall dialogue, favorite moments, and separate viewpoints on the whole project. The deep-voiced Foree is obviously the man whose career will be most defined by the role he had in "Dawn," although he seems to have done more in his career than his other three cast members ("From Beyond," anyone?). Ross and Reiniger cover a lot of this commentary as well, on instances such as how Ross got involved with the way this character had evolved from a typical screaming heroine to someone with an obvious shred of feminism-inspired dignity and grit, whereas Emge mostly detaches himself and only speaks whenever he's prompted or when the mood strikes him as he watches his character. The rapport between these performers is a treat, and just to end this on a note of summation as pertaining to these three commentaries, there are enough valuable comments on these tracks so that three commentaries are necessary in capturing them all.
Disc one contains a quote-packed and career-detailing George A, Romero biography. A similar profile on Dario Argento shows up on disc three, which is unfortunately shorter, but still worthwhile. Disc one houses all of the American promotional materials, with a pair of theatrical trailers, three TV spots, and a whopping NINE radio spots, ranging from 1 minute long on down in length. These are easily stellar little previews of DAWN OF THE DEAD that do justice to the film and look professionally done and potent even today. Finally, Anchor Bay must have went on an exhaustive hunt for still photos relating to this movie, as disc one is only a page of the economy-sized scrapbook. I counted 26 stills in the poster & advertising gallery, which features theatrical poster art, lobby cards and newspaper spreads used to promote the film Stateside. Finally, the disc concludes via a comic book preview and a couple of anecdotal easter eggs featuring Chris Romero and Tom Savini interviews.
Disc two has limited amount of extras. The thirty second Monroeville Mall commercial is just plain hilarious, a faux-psychedelic animated oddity promoting "big time shopping," but that's basically the only moving extra you'll find on this one. Three still galleries focus on 97 slides worth of behind-the-scenes photos, 99 production stills, and 47 slides of film memorabilia. On disc three, we once again get promotional materials for the film, but from international territories seeing as how disc three contains the movie in its foreign "Zombie" version. An Italian theatrical trailer and two German theatrical trailers sit alongside two U.K. TV spots for the movie, which was called "Zombies" and earned that wonderful "Certificate X" rating by the British ratings association. Finally, hold on to your arrow keys and get ready for some major league thwacking...FIVE stills galleries with a total of 254 photos awaits you. These focus on the movie's foreign posters (11), lobby cards (60), press book captures (73), soundtrack art (20), and the insane amount of DVD/video cover art from the many conceptions of the movie, as most territories kept releasing the film again and again so that they could get past some of the censorship imposed on the movie throughout the many eras. Even the phrase "Uncut" just couldn't cut it in some regions. Try sitting through all 90 slides without being amazed at just how many releases of the film came out worldwide. You'll think twice before talking about the endless amount of "Night of the Living Dead" releases on DVD/video. Look out for one hidden menu feature apiece on these two discs, with KNB FX master Greg Nicotero and one of the zombie extras who meets a nasy demise at the business end of a housewares tool.
The fourth disc is affectionately dubbed "Documentaries" because Anchor Bay have saved up all the interview footage and behind-the-scenes material for this particular platter. And it's quite a large sum to take. The Dead Will Walk is your typical Anchor Bay-produced hour-plus documentary which crams as many of the film's personnel as possible into one bonus feature so that they can reminisce about the film. Aside from everyone heard in the commentaries, you also get interview clips with the likes of Dario Argento, opening scene actors David Crawford & David Ealy, cinematographer Michael Gornick, production designer Zilla Clinton, Goblin performer Claudio Simonetti, and several of the zombie extras. 75 minutes is the time it takes for all of these people to squeeze in their two cents, and needless to say, it works well. Unfortunately, you don't see much in the way of on-set footage and stills, as the documentary follows the template of interview subject-movie footage, interview subject-movie footage to a I (not a full "T," loyal reader). If there's any reheated information, it's mostly from the same people heard in the commentary tracks, and even then this generous documentary merits generous praise for being so essential.
Synapse Films licensed Document of the Dead to Anchor Bay for inclusion in this boxed set, and bless them for it. This is a vintage documentary piece from 1989, written, produced and directed by film student Roy Frumkes, who made the kind of promotional but highly informative and insightful on-set expose that so many EPK pieces fail to be. That's perhaps mainly because they last a meager 5-30 minutes usually, whereas "Document" runs a full 91 minutes long. Frumkes focuses on many aspects you probably wanted to see more of in all the other commentaries and interviews, such as Romero actually getting in the cutting room, vintage footage of Savini going to work on the zombie extras, shots of storyboards and script pages, and filming the set-up and action on some pivotal scenes. Interviews from Romero, Rubinstein, Savini, John Amplas, the three lead male actors and others on the set from 1978 give you insight into Romeros secretive creative side, the general feeling on-set as the movie's getting made, the perks of making a low-budget film, and the trouble with the MPAA. However, the film also moves backwards and forwards in the time frame, covering clips from some of Romero's older films, Romero's old Calgon detergent commercial that has to be seen to be believed, and even shots on the set of "Two Evil Eyes." This is a piece that gets the greatest steam working off the differences between modern filmmaking and the old way, when Romero refused to compromise and the result was something big, when now it only means you get shortchanged and blackballed by the Hollywood system. Kudos to Synapse and Anchor Bay for getting this one on the DVD.
Finally, there's two general featurettes that run below 15 minutes each. The first is simply 13 minutes of on-set home movies shot on the set of the movie by Ralph and Robert Langer, two of the zombie extras, with Robert in particular providing commentary throughout. Langer is a zombie extra who seems to have kept this experience stored in his mind forever and never seemed to let it go even after over a quarter of a century has passed. He even remembers the cheap 16mm film stock which was used in the camera as well as the sound it made which interfered with shooting. Whilst the footage is entirely grainy, Langer takes you to further places around the set than on Frumkes' film, such as the ice rink which became the food court, and also captured that infamous ceiling explosion which leveled a couple of glass panes and caused a small panic amongst the crew over the cost of damages. It's a golden bonus for fans. Finally, Ken Foree and several other cast and crew members led a group of fans on a Monroeville Mall Tour, and FX artist/"Day of the Dead" star Greg Nicotero was there with a handheld camera making his own video memoir for some friends in L.A. Foree takes Nicotero and others everywhere, from the bank where he and David Emge stole their money to the J.C. Penny's which was where he made his famous "When there's no more room in Hell..." speech to the small patch of space on the first floor where the zombies fed on the bikers. Foree even launches out little pieces of trivia to the tourists, including the fact that Sharon Ceccatti-Hill, who played the "nurse zombie" and is the wife of "lead zombie" Clayotn Hill, made all the pies for finale. Finally, the main menu contains one hidden menu feature with the man who plays the Buddhist monk zombie who terrorizes Gaylen Ross in one of the film's many great scenes.
The fold-apart digipak design comes with its own slipcase, and there's a 6-page insert with detail on the contents of each disc and "redprints" of the mall. There's even a reproduction of some of the "Dawn of the Dead" graphic comic book, with information on how to order the complete publishing.
It's hard to imagine just how to top DAWN OF THE DEAD: ULTIMATE EDITION, four jam-packed discs which contain three versions of Romero's great zombie horror flick and a slew of fine commentary tracks/documentaries. It's just too...ultimate. However, I wouldn't be surprised if Anchor Bay decide to make a "Ultimate Edition, Number 2" which contains the infamous "R-rated version" used on double bills with "Creepshow" in 1982, the 152-minute "Ultimate Final Cut" from Germany, and new interviews with George A. Romero and Dario Argento, perhaps when they're suffering from Alzheimer's.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age