Zombies in HD
The back package copy on Anchor Bay’s new edition of Dawn of the Dead describes the new commentrak recorded for it “startling”, but what’s truly startling is their new High Definition transfer of the film itself. I’ve seen George A. Romero’s sequel to his surprise hit Night of the Living Dead many times, and in many different forms – with a raucous crowd in a grungy downtown theater in 1978, on HBO’s cropped tape and laserdisc editions, a revelatory viewing of a bootlegged copy of the longer European version, the restored Elite/Anchor Bay widescreen laserdisc of this 142-minute version, and finally ABE’s DVD editions of both versions in the late 1990s. This first edition of the 21st century surpasses them all in clarity of image and sound, amazingly sharp via their Divimax HD transfer method. The picture is so clear and the colors so vivid that it seems that it must be an improvement on the original negative.
The soundtrack has been given a thorough polish as well, in DTS, Dolby Digital Surround for two different systems, and even the original mono track for you purists out there. The mix is subtle enough to pick out the tinkle of breaking glass, but not so aggressive as to drown out dialogue.
Having seen this film so many times, it’s odd to think that there’s many that have yet to experience it. If you haven’t, here’s a chance to see this classic at its best. Dawn of the Dead, like its predecessor, delivers not only envelope-pushing shocks, but moments of stark black comedy and an undercurrent of social commentary that can’t be missed. A small group of survivors flees Philadelphia in a helicopter after a mysterious phenomena causes chaos – the newly dead now re-animate, and what’s worse, the only thing on what passes for their minds is eating living human flesh. The group holds up in a suburban indoor shopping mall, and after clearing out the resident walking dead “things” (the word “zombie” is never used), boredom sets in amidst their abundant luxuries. However, they’re rudely awakened to the true state of the world when a roving band of bikers invades their territory.
Cynics among us may point out that ABE is releasing this title again only to cash in on the release of Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake. They’ll also point out that Anchor Bay will doubtless follow it with a Digimax edition of producer Dario Argento’s bloodier, less humorous, European cut, then follow it with a special 30th anniversary edition that includes both versions. These points are well taken, but there’ve been so many advances in video technology in the years since this film was last released that an upgrade was inevitable. And if Dawn of the Dead doesn’t deserve to be kept in print, what horror film does?
When ABE and Elite released the European version (known overseas as Zombi) on laserdisc, writer/director George Romero (along with spouse/assistant director Chris Romero and actor/makeup director Tom Savini) was happy to provide a commentrak for what was released as a “Director’s Cut” of the film, though the disc still contained some deleted scenes found in Argento’s cut as extras. However, Romero and company seem just as happy to embrace this 127-minute U.S. theatrical release cut as the “true” Director’s Cut on their new commentrak. The fact is, there have been so many versions of this film that it’s hard to keep them all straight (check Tim Lucas’ article in Video Watchdog #38 for a look at how each video release stacked up at the time). Though they’ve talked about this film innumerable times since it was made, it’s to the film’s credit (as well as the prompting questions of DVD producer Perry Martin) that the filmmakers still come up with plenty to say about it, and the conversation never gets stale, only stopping a couple times when everyone gets involved in the onscreen action. Unfortunately, the track must have been recorded before the new transfer was ready, since no mention is made of the improvement in quality, Romero’s upcoming projects The Ill and Diamond Dead, and only passing reference is made to the remake. This is a shame, as it’d be nice to hear the trio’s views on these subjects. Further discussion can be found in a few Easter Eggs, as the trio sit in for brief interview clips.
The bitrate provided by the transfer leaves little room for much else in the way of extras – there’s not even any DVD subtitles (only closed captioning). A selection of trailers, TV spots, radio spots, a poster gallery, and a text bio of Romero are included. The “Comic Book Preview” touted as an extra is merely a shot of the cover mock-up which has already been posted all over the web.
Though falling short of being the ultimate Dawn of the Dead DVD, this beautiful new transfer comes just in time to remind everyone how this movie changed cinema history before the inevitably too-slick remake opens