Romero? Doing another zombie movie? Pinch me, I must be dreaming! I can remember being off-the-wall excited when Land of the Dead was first announced. The anticipation of a new Romero filmusing modern day special sounded like a perfect fit. It was almost too good to be true and, sadly, it sort of was. Now, it wasn’t a horrible movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it also wasn’t the best. I enjoyed it, regardless of how predictable it was or how generic it seemed. But now, revisiting the title for Blu-ray, has it improved with age?
The grandmaster of zombie movies, George Romero, returns after a twenty-year hiatus with the fourth film in his Dead series. From its humble cinematic beginnings in a besieged rural house in Night of the Living Dead, the zombie menace has expanded throughout the Dawn andDay of the dead to become the Land of the Dead, where the living seek shelter from the seas of undead in a fortified, walled city. Those of privilege live in a high secure tower while mercenaries and ne’er-do-wells live in streets of filth and venture forth into the perilous wasteland to scavenge goods for their masters. This state of affairs is soon thrown out of balance by the growing intelligence of the reanimated hordes and the ambition of the scavengers, who don’t plan on doing others’ dirty work forever.
I wouldn’t say the movie has improved all that well, but it doesn’t leave the same bad aftertaste in my mouth like it did years ago. I still find the story a bit predictable, but this time lacking bite. Romero was the king, at one point, of including biting social commentary, and it’s no different here, but it’s not as subtle or well-executed here. It’s not as over-the-top as Diary of the Dead, but it’s still not handled as well as it could have been. Still, it’s a good movie, but not as good as it could be. I remember this movie split Romero fans down the middle when it was released and, today, it’ll likely be no different. It’s still has the same problems, none of which Romero apparently solved in his next movie.
I will say this, that I am glad to see the original walking zombies return. While the running zombies were an exciting visual in the 28 movies and in the Dawn of the Dead remake, to me, the walking zombies are more effective. There’s just something creepy about these lifeless bodies, shuffling down every dark corner, lashing out at anything nearby that breathes. And the walking zombies are out in full force here, slowly evolving somehow. Adapting to their surrounding and learning. It’s fascinating how, in this movie, it’s the humans who are capable of such terror and the poor zombies are the ones suffering by their hand. A neat idea that, well, is not so subtly portrayed here. It’s pushed right out into the open and, at times, can get overbearing. It doesn’t help that the overall plot for the movie isn’t the strongest. It’s an interesting idea to tackle the idea of class structure and class struggle, but it just doesn’t seem to fully gel here.
Still, to those not caring about the story, you’ll find plenty of incredible special effects here. Mixing special effects with practical, Romero is able to provide some really amazing shots here. Some of the artistry is apparent, as some of the zombies look just amazing. And, of course, when they attack, the resulting fight sequences are laced with flawless effects and some great moments. Then again, given how the cast is a bit one-dimensional, I suppose the fate of each doesn’t really matter. Hell, it’s quite obvious that, when all the characters are introduced, we know who is going to die and how. There are a couple surprises along the way, enough to keep us enthralled, but Romero’s characters are surprisingly flat. Still, the actors manage to keep us watching, and even caring about a couple of them, up until the firework-laden finale.
While not a flat-out success as his previous efforts, Land of the Dead is still a solid movie. Romero seems to have lost a bit of his Midas touch when it comes to these movies, but, still, any horror fan or Romero fan should be thoroughly pleased by the efforts we see here. Romero fans likely won’t be blown away by any means but, regardless, have to admit that it’s one of the better horror movies in ages. Horror fans in general should get a kick out of the strong effects, some great human on zombie combat, and some inventive zombie “deaths.” It’s not the most solid entry in Romero’s Dead series, but, personally, I prefer it over his later effort Diary of the Dead. It’s a solid, if flawed, movie that comes Recommended.
Arriving as part of a trio of horror flicks, Dawn of the Dead: Unrated Director’s Cut lands on Blu-ray in similar fashion to its previous DVD and HD-DVD releases. The disc itself comes in a standard Blu-ray case, complete with an insert advertising other Blu-ray films as well as disc art that mimics a selected portion of the cover art. Menus for the film are laid out in the same way as all Universal Blu-ray’s and are simple and easy to navigate—no fuss or confusion about it.
Dawn of the Dead arrives with a beautiful VC-1 encoded transfer that boasts plenty of detail and clarity. Romero’s return to camera came complete with a whole array of exploding zombie parts that translated to the screen exceptionally well. Characters, clothing, environments—they all look fantastic on this transfer. I don’t have any real complaints, but it is a rather dark film so there won’t be many “Oh wow, you can really tell it’s HD!” moments as you’d hope. On the audio side of things we have a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that envelopes the room in sounds that range from gun blasts to squishy zombie sounds, so there’s no shortage of immersion on that front. There is also an impressive amount of surround work done, as the screams and moans of humans and zombies alike creak out of the speakers during several instances of the film. If you wonder what it’d be like to hear a zombie moaning and shuffling up behind you, look for further than this mix. An alternative Spanish DTS 5.1 mix is included, as well as English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles.
First up on the extras docket is the feature commentary from director George A. Romero, Producer Peter Grunwald and Editor Michael Doherty. Despite there being three of them, the track is abnormally quiet and uneventful. Tidbits are pointed out such as the difference between the theatrical and director’s cuts, but the repetition of what’s happening on screen and how and where CGI was used in the film got rather tedious to listen to.
Aside from the U-Control embedded behind the scenes footage, there is a smattering of other extras to take a look at as well. “The Remaining Bits” (2:56), “Scenes of Carnage” (1:43), “Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene” (3:18), “Bringing the Storyboards to Life” (7:55) and “Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call” (1:04) are all just various scenes from the film in unfinished or completely CGI states and are really nothing that are of any value to watch. The coolest extra is the “When Shaun Met George” (13:00) featurettes, where we see Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead fame fly out to meet Romero and play the roles of two of the zombies in the film. A really great extra and easily the highlight of the set. All extras are in standard definition.
Overall a solid Blu-ray effort that brings to life the film like never before (unless you owned the HD-DVD version previously, in which case…it’s the same thing, really). Recommended.
Land of the Dead: Unrated Director’s Cut is now available on Blu-ray.
This review was co-written by James Harvey (film portion) and Zach Demeter (Blu-ray portion).