Dawn of the Dead (2004)
By: Andrew Gillies on March 17, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Universal (Australia). Region 2 & 4 PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, Hungarian DD 5.1. English, Dutch, Hebrew, Hungarian Subtitles. 104 minutes
The Movie
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly, Kevin Zegers, Michael Barry, Lindy Booth
Screenplay: James Gunn (story by George A. Romero)
Music: Tyler Bates
Tagline:"When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth"
Country: USA
When the word spread that Romero's classic 1978 zombie gore fest Dawn of the Dead was being remade, the fans were furious. The majority hated the idea, and thought that no remake could ever be better than the original, and that this would just be a waste of everyone's time; a Resident Evil knock-off. But instead of being a pointless action zombie movie, first time director Zack Snyder along with James Gunn (writer of both Scooby Doo movies) created a 're-imaging' or 're-interpretation' if you will, and made one of the best zombie films of 2004!

Dawn of the Dead is about a group of survivors who seek refuge in a shopping mall after a plague has turned everyone into zombies. The band of survivor's must fight off the zombies, secure the mall, and stay alive in this action oriented zombie flick. However, unlike the original "Dawn," the remake boasts more characters, new scenarios and most notably a change in zombie behaviour. These zombies are fast and vicious, and although many may argue inferior, are just as, if not scarier than the traditional Romero zombie because of their appearance and stamina.

"Dawn '04" moves out of the social commentary realm, which made the original a classic, and into the action oriented horror fright fest. The action starts early with a lipless zombie girl ripping someone's neck in a bloody display of graphic gore, which sets the tone for the rest of the picture. The movie is fast paced and enjoyable to watch. It creates tension for the audience, and involves enough eye candy for those wanting some mindless fun.

The film contains good character development in the short span it has in between the scary and action sequences. The characters we meet are either likeable or instantly hated, which shows good script writing; the ability to keep the movie flowing yet still encapsulate good characters. Gunn has written believable characters and situations, which depict an accurate representation of how people would react in an epidemic such as this. The characters, although not all likeable, are indeed real.

Dawn of the Dead worked beautifully as a remake because it did what a remake should do; take an original idea and re-write the rest. James Gunn's script was superb in that it took the zombies and the Mall, and put characters somewhere in between. A remake, or re-imaging as this movie really is, works best when the simple story is used as the template, and everything else is re-worked. And it truly turned out best for Dawn of the Dead. The mixture of action, scares, great characters and running zombies made this one fantastic ride of excitement and chills. "Dawn '04," although on a tangent to what many believe to be a traditional zombie movie, succeeded in what it set out to do, make a movie designed to entertain and thrill.
Universal has delivered a great transfer for this movie. The film itself was shot beautifully, the movie is bright and boasts light and fluorescent colours, especially inside the mall. Presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2:35:1, the print shows little to no signs of grain. Some darker scenes, such as the sewer sequence, can show slight blemishes. They are hardly noticeably, since the film itself was shot so well. The transfer is crisp and clean, and the detail is sharp, with colours displayed well, which is important for a gory film such as this. The film itself is rather bright, which definitely compliments the blood, all a gracious red colour. However, with the first scene where we see Andy, it is hard to see what he has written on the board, indicating the contrast can be a little too high sometimes. Other than that, the transfer is beautiful.

However, I do have one gripe with the transfer. Since this is the Director's Cut (also the US unrated version) it includes new scenes not seen in the theatrical print. These scenes have noticeable blemishes, grainy black spots appearing throughout. It's minute in detail and doesn't take away viewing pleasure, but it is present. Whether the source footage is older or damaged, for the trained eye, the new scenes are easily picked out. Apart from that, the quality of the added scenes is up to the standards of the rest of the film.
There are two audio selections, English and Hungarian, both supported by a 5.1 Dolby Digital track. The English track (I haven't listened to the Hungarian, for obvious reasons) is well mixed. The front speakers get most of the audio action, with the rear speakers picking up the background noises and added sound effects to help maintain suspense. The track is easy to listen to, and there is nothing dramatically worrying about it. The score works well alongside the dialogue, and the sound effects in this film are presented well. Overall, the movie sounds great.
Extra Features
This is the Director's Cut of "Dawn of the Dead." It contains the true unrated print of the movie, and additional scenes not seen in the cinema. (I say true unrated print, because the Region 1 US release actually censors one of the 'unrated' scenes. The scene where Anna sees the nude woman from her car is censored digitally with added blood over the windshield, covering the nudity.) The added scenes and gore are great to watch. The new scenes develop even further the characters in the film, and one scene shows exactly how the group get into the mall, and the problem they encountered while doing it. The added scenes certainly help explain some of the movie's confusing moments. Being a zombie flick, you want to see blood, and the Director's Cut delivers! The theatrical print was good, but this is even better. The extra gore is phenomenal, with the janitor zombie suffering a bloodier spiked head, numerous additional headshots, more blood and a longer zombie baby sequence.

The commentary track is one of the best I've heard, with Director Zack Snyder chatting away with Producer Eric Newman. The two have great chemistry, and produce an informative and entertaining commentary. The two obviously loved making the movie, and clearly enjoyed the time they spent together. We learn the hows and whys, and also get to hear some great stuff, including the Director's love for gore, and why he had to make this movie full of it.

There is a brief optional introduction by the Snyderr, explaining what the Director's Cut is. It's short, but interesting none the less.

Onto the two shorts, "The Lost Tape: Andy's Terrifying Last Days," and "Special Report." "The Lost Tape" is a 15-minute short, which shows Andy's side of the story. Andy talks to the camera so he can make a record of what is happening. Although interesting to see what Andy went through, and his struggle with lack of food and boredom, the short itself adds no extra power to the overall film. Andy was a great character in the movie, because he is developed as someone we all want to meet, but this short just takes away the emotional impact of Andy.

"Special Report" is a 20-so-minute simulated TV News Broadcast during the epidemic. Like "The Lost Tape," this is a relatively pointless feature. Again, it is interesting, but it adds no real purpose to the film. It has some fun news stories and interviews, but overall it lacks the feel and atmosphere the film presents. Although the two shorts don't compliment the film, they are still very entertaining to watch, and a great asset to this DVD.

Next are the deleted/alternative scenes, with optional Director's commentary, explaining why things were cut. I actually enjoyed the scenes, and would have loved to see most of them incorporated back into the picture. The new scenes are just added character development, nothing overly exciting zombie wise, so don't expect an epic new zombie sequence.

The DVD also includes three really good, yet relatively short featurettes, "Raising the Dead," "Attack of the Living Dead" and "Splitting Headaches: Anatomy of Exploding Heads." All run for approximately 5 minutes, and detail the special makeup effects or the zombies featured in the film. It has some great behind the scenes stuff, including how they did those nastier moments. These featurettes are the best behind the scenes extra on the disc.

Unfortunately the Director's Cut disc misses out on the awesome making of feature, "Surviving the Dawn," which features on the Region 1 US Theatrical release. It is a great 20 minute "making of" including cast and crew interviews and behind the scenes footage. However, to make up for this loss, the Region 4 release has a bonus trailer for Shaun of the Dead.
The Verdict
Dawn of the Dead is a great zombie flick. It has the story to captivate, the characters to care for, and the zombies to terrify us. Zack Snyder has done an impressive job on re-working an original classic, keeping fans old and new happy. The new story by Gunn has allowed for a respectful yet different take on the original, and the effects by David LeRoy Anderson are some of the best to be seen. The DVD comes with a great little selection of extras, which are sure to please the Dawn fans out there. Universal have done an impressive job, both movie and DVD wise.
Movie Score
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