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Dawn of the Dead DVD (Anchor Bay)

Honestly I wasn't excited about this release as I knew the presentation would still be the basic package released by Anchor Bay a few years ago. The only thing is that this is the true, theatrical 127minute version not the '127minute version plus part of the dock scene'.

The commentary is George Romero, Chris Romero and Tom Savini, going through most of what we learned via their commentary on the Elite Laserdisc in 1996. They don't identify as many zombie extras by name this time, but it is always funny to listen to them act surprised or awed by their own work. Funnier still is George Romero admitting that he couldn't remember filming the downbeat ending for years - but knows he did now. Making this commentary interesting, is the moderator Perry Martin, who does manage to ask decent questions to keep everyone from falling asleep or getting bored with a movie they've all seen 1000000 times.

If you have owned any number of Dawn DVDs you have probably seen the two domestic trailers and TV spots. There are no foreign versions included. The Poster/Ad Gallery for some reason uses a Japanese postcard in place of the actual US one-sheet artwork (it had a black bottom not white). Lobby cards from the collection of the top Dawn collector, Michael Smith, were included. The xeroxed ads are few, and for some reason many were taken from the Ft Lauderdale News. I think this is one indicator that this disc was rushed out by Anchor Bay; they could have collected far more ads or even reviews and collectible shots like the domestic board game, novelizations, record album, CD and posterbook.

Instead of a Photo Gallery we have a few very small stills on the back. I provided stills for the UK Trilogy of the Dead set so those could have been utilized. We do get a load of radio spots which all sound the same in its place. For some reason, the Monroeville Mall promo spot was not included.

There is a preview for an official upcoming comic book adaptation, and the George Romero bio featured on the Day of the Dead DVD disc.

The upcoming box set due Sept. 7, 2004, will likely cover most of the gaps. If that project works out, it will surpass the Day DVD in bells and whistles. The only difference would be that many rare production stills may be impossible to use due to Richard Rubinstein's nature. Behind the scenes footage may be limited to Document of the Dead (owned by Synapse), but some private 8mm footage will likely turn up as well as a new documentary. The Argento cut will have a cast commentary, the Cannes cut commented by producer Richard Rubinstein.

The decision to wait is yours. But honestly they should make the next Dawn the other versions and not include this one for people who have already bought it. This way it can only include the two foreign versions and a supplement disc.

Dawn of the DEA.D.D.

The reporters were desperate for answers for why the events of March 19th were taking place at all. Authorities on all things living dead were baffled.

"Who are these people out there?" one asked.

"We don’t know at this time. It could be just kids. From what we've seen, it looks to be largely teenagers who never saw the first one anyway."

"Do you believe they are the MTV kids who just thought it was a cool movie to see that weekend?"

"We're looking into that possibility."

"Are these kids discovering this genre with this film?"

"Well Resident Evil warmed them up a bit, video games like House of the Dead. They’ve seen the old DVDs on the shelves at Best Buy but most don’t seem entranced by the older movie’s artwork."

"Why didn’t George Romero do this – why did Universal hire all these new names and people?"

"Unfortunately Romero is old hat to them, a washed up guy who wants final cut. They don’t see his brilliance the way we do. They think John Q wants a thrill ride with no brains…or guts..literally."

"So this film has no guts?" another guy cried out.
"Not like the original. It looks like it was just a Universal movie that happened to be the big ticket, that happened to be a zombie movie. People saw it because it was a Universal movie."

"Isn't it suspicious that basically the exact budget was made back on the first weekend?"

"Yes, almost never happens. It’s all proportionate also. The $4 Million zombie movies make that back, the R rated ones make a bit more, depending on how much is spent on advertising. A movie like this with overpumped ads makes it back because they had the bread to lure everyone.""
"Is it possible that there were payoffs to critics?"

"Oh yeah that is always in the realm of possibility with these studio jobs."

"Why were people clapping every time Ving even so much sneered?"

"They must've thought that was a dramatic moment."

"Are they hungry?"

"These things are definitely hungry for a new kind of film. But they’re dumb. They’re easily fooled."

August 8th 2001 will live in infamy for me and most Dawn fans. That is the day the title Dawn of the Dead would never be the same. It died its first death. I had learned that Richard Rubinstein had sold remake rights to a guy named Eric Newman and Beacon Entertainment.

So fresh off writing the live action Scooby Doo, James Gunn begged to get the job to write this "new and improved" version, and the world waited. The guy who was responsible for the Troma trash Tromeo and Juliet, would be signed to commit the cardinal sin - rewriting what was already sacred. He was even drooling when interviewed, that he was "getting really into his characters." Note to producers: Never trust a screenwriter who feels he has developed characters to the point where he has to tell himself that he is getting really into his characters.

When the script first appeared, even then people were relatively nice about it. I didn’t say a word about it, though I hated it, because things sometimes change. There was nothing interesting about it, and it sounded like the writer was exhausted and out of ideas.

When casting started, I was disappointed in the faces of this new dawn.

And who would be in charge of effects? Not the people who should have. Not KNB, not Alterian, not even John Vulich.

So I didn’t pay any attention to this project afterwards. Even through the ads, radio spots, USA first ten minute presentation, website opening, etc. Not until March 19th, when I had advance warnings that the shit indeed had hit the fan. The #1 movie Passion of the Christ reigning for three weeks would be replaced by this new Dawn. So despite a tacky, unimaginative poster art, the advertising worked. But what of reviews?

I knew something was either definitely wrong when Roger (‘I HATED HATED HATED Day of the Dead’) Ebert gave the movie three f**King stars. This was the man who overrated the original with four stars. Mike Clark’s "Dawn of a Mindless Remake" review gave it two and a half. But just about everyone else gave it three stars. Was I missing something? Did this film pack a wallop? Reinvent the genre like Boyle’s publicity machine claimed they had boldly done so with their zombie-free Day of the Dead rip 28 Days Later? Well, I never listened to these critics anyway. They are almost always wrong.

I refused to buy a ticket to see this thing but was able to get a free look at it through some contacts. I remind you that my opinion of this version is not shaped by a relentless passion for the original – it is not and was never my favorite zombie movie of Romero’s (Day is). I learned long ago that critics know nothing – check out the aforementioned Ebert review where he has nothing good to say about it, but yet overlooked any flaws with the other Dead films. He is like the Fox network personified – fair and balanced he isn’t – either physically and movie-watching-wise.

Dawn in Name Only (DINO) immediately it starts off with an uninteresting glimpse into Sarah Polley’s character (Anna)’s nurse job at the ER. Nothing at all happens here – there’s no urgency or even character development. It only serves to set up what happens at her house. We have a needless aerial shot of her subdivision, and we meet Vivian, her child neighbor. What is this setting us up for?

Well, somehow, some way unexplained at any point, Vivian enters their home. Naturally she is undead. How she died, when, where her parents were – all unexplained. We’re to accept that she decided to go to Ana’s house where she predictably attacks her boyfriend/husband (unclear) by way of a nasty bite to the neck – something we’ve seen in Romero’s movies. This is where Ana’s nurse training comes in but as she calls 911, her lover revives within a few moments and attacks her at remarkable speed. Since Anna is the star we know she will make it out. But did we need the cliched bathroom window escape right out of The Shining? Did we need the zombie breaking through the age-old movie cliché of very thin doors?

It is here where we realize the neighborhood is in chaos. A few homes are on fire, a few neighbors are being chased by VERY fast zombies, and some have guns and are threatening people who obviously are not undead. There’s also inexplicable driving hazards with people needlessly getting run over left and right just for extra action. These scenes are also not believably pulled off, and have that "saw that coming a mile away" CGI look. It is supposed to be Milwaukee but clearly screams Toronto. Note an Ontario ambulance license plate.

So as so often when people are stressed, or when they can’t find an address - the radio is turned up for information and not tunes now. The information given doesn’t help Ana nor does it help the audience. It is deliberately unclear as to what is happening. Because the writer didn’t care enough to bother. Right before the credits Anna manages to crash her car (in a scene better executed in the remake of Night of the Living Dead). Maybe the filmmakers thought that what we saw was so unrelenting we needed a break, but refer to Night when the action didn’t stop and we didn’t need a title break for a safe zone.

Here the filmmakers decided to stick the titles. There is no stylish stinger when the main title appears, nor does its font suggest the overwhelming dread as in Romero’s movie posters. It really looks like it could have equally worked in a movie about skateboarders or extreme sports. Not edgy, not hip, just weak attempts at action movie lettering. The title sequence is overdubbed with excerpts from a press conference where again, Night of the Living Dead, no insight is learned. We don’t feel scared or worried about our civil welfare with the dialogue, but we’re subjected to 1960s riot footage and police barricades with rapid cuts Blair Witch Project style. And Romero’s heart should ache a little more: his on-screen credit fades noticeably quicker than the list of hacks he is surrounded by. When you get your home video copy, make a point to time it or play this moment a few times.

So ten minutes have passed. Then we are taken back to Ana’s accident where she gains consciousness, and meets Kenneth (Ving Rhames), a cop. This encounter itself is déjà vu of the dead – we’ve seen the same white woman meets black male hero figure in the two Night of the Living Deads. Within a few un-suspenseful moments, we meet up with a pregnant interracial couple (an attempt at contemporary social shock). No one seems to have transportation; apparently cars are the first things to be disposed of in zombie crises. James Gunn is really the master of cliches! Making matters worse, we have only seen maybe two zombies thus far and they were very ordinary looking.

Instead of escaping in a helicopter, flying overhead and with a Goblin power surge, discovering a mall overtaken by the living dead, Gunn’s undeveloped characters just stumble on the mall. You know a zombie will be leaping out at any moment with utter certainty but that NO ONE will be killed because they are the main cast. The pregnant girl has BITE ME written on her and that is fulfilled. Her bite is intentionally de-emphasized for her later revival. Question to Mr. Gunn by anyone who has seen this film – why do some people infect quicker? Minor bite or scratch = more time before you revive? It is unclear who is dying – and how zombies come to be (any kind of death, not just bites for instance). The lack of explanation is eternally bothersome in these type of movies. At least Romero offered philosophical explanations. This one simply has a familiar-faced TV reverend (Ken Foree) feeding us the dead will walk the Earth bit … even though they are actually runners. The costumes, the makeup, the attitudes…all of these elements still don’t make for memorable zombies. Nowhere to be found are nurse, nun, banker, lawyer, softball player, Krishnas or any other iconoclastic zombies that made the original so brilliant. Every zombie is anonymous or dull-looking.

There’s one zombie that presses its bloodied face on the window glass – does it surprise anyone that this scene AGAIN echoes its inspiration in the Night of the Living Dead remake? And how convenient that Ana automatically knows how to shoot a gun so well! At least, Romero’s female lead in the original had to ASK for lessons! I suppose if a jet pack was laying around, the characters in DINO could have took to those with no training either.

The security guards represent the only real conflict in the film. After they’re done barking a few hostile verbal threats that rival even the cheesiest Troma films, the audience is expected to root for their deaths for the duration of the movie. In Day, Rhodes and his sexist men were so sharply irritable that you could expect a glorious death (dismemberment). Here the guys aren’t nearly as bad, and their deaths are far less spectacular. The interaction with the ‘good guys’ is not very tense at all. You can see clearly see boredom in Sarah Polley’s and Jake Weber’s faces. Unless that is bad acting or embarrassment. For the most part, all the snappy lines that annoy the hell out of anyone over the age of 16, go to tough guy Kenneth. In a discussion in the restroom, Kenneth dismisses the repentent soon-to-be-father with a line along the lines of "Say five Hail Marys, wipe your ass and call it even."

Look at your watches and you will notice that this yawn of the dead’s first 30 minutes are still uneventful compared to the grand zombie movies of old. In Day, we’d by now visited a city infested by the dead, accepted that we were the only ones left and were now capturing them underground for gruesome dissection. In the original Dawn, we were taken from a TV station in chaos to a ghetto raided by SWATs to the countryside with amusing redneck hunting parties. The fact that there are no zombies at all in the mall for the most part is automatically less engaging than the parade of stiffs in Romero’s original (although one can argue that how any could get in). In fact, Romero fully exploited every corner of the mall from crawlspaces to boiler rooms to skating rinks. In DINO the gang hangs out in the safety of a coffee shop. The feeling of claustrophobia with the four living in tight quarters is forgotten.

Also lost and confusing is the gun shop across the way from the mall. Kenneth communicates with the guy via handwritten signs. But if they were in a gun shop, they surely could have been armed to the hilt and been able to escape at some point? After a while the sign exchange becomes idiotic. The S.O.S./ Help Alive Inside messages written on the mall roof was probably culled from any number of apocalypse movies seen by Gunn or etched in his subconscious. The Quiet Earth accomplished this the best. Most fans would agree that hiding in the mall and having it to yourself was one of the charms of the original.

There is a very forced subplot to win sympathy obviously for the pregnant girl. But having her boyfriend really care so deeply about his unborn child (when he looks to be nothing more than a ghetto thug). This character would more realistically eventually be a deadbeat dad, as anyone can surmise from a Jerry Springer episode. But Gunn chose to exaggerate his concern for his unborn child, to the point of trying to save the kid by tying his zombifying girlfriend up. And anyone who has read about the infamous rejected fetus zombie attack scene in the original, can see what is coming up. The ever shocking zombie baby – which looks like a doll of a 5 month old and not some pathetic stillbirth. Not to mention Grandma is another expert marksman! God forbid Gunn put a terrible shot in this story like Romero’s Flyboy character. Oh no, that would involve characters with real tendencies and flaws!

I was equally confused as to when the gang slept and where. Their daily routines are overlooked entirely. With the original Dawn, the activities were easily followed day to day, and even over a period of months by the professional writing of Romero.

It can be argued that Gunn made sure to inject some humor into the zombie targets much like Romero did. Gunn chose to make celebrity caricatures out of them (i.e. Rosie O’Donnell, Burt Reynolds) but to some viewers, these scenes may come across as lame Mad TV/ Saturday Night Live sketches. Do the kids today know who Reynolds is anyway?

In the parking lot crowd near the end, is the silly looking body builder zombie that throws a tank of gas back towards the vehicle. It’s nice to see Solomon Grundy but shouldn’t Superman be around here to save the dawn? This whole getaway itself is a cliché. Anyone remember the surrounded police car in Return of the Living Dead? I suppose it could be said that that was scarier since the dead in that film couldn’t die, and there were no weaponry attached to the vehicle.

The basic ending is a letdown no doubt, for a movie that tries to charge itself up every few minutes. The final moments (pre-credits) are not even as gripping as the proposed beginning marina shootout in the original unfilmed script of Day of the Dead. But a marina serving as the escape path to paradise was already hinted in the ultra-junky Maximum Overdrive, which I am convinced still resonates in Gunn’s head judging by his earlier neighborhood in chaos sequence. Romero’s beginning scenes are an amateur’s ending scenes it seems. But at least Romero didn’t subject us to such cliches as close-ups two lover’s hands parting as the two on the marina dock do.

During the end credits, someone is able to shoot on home video the fates of the survivors. But why would anyone film an empty gas gauge or a fire? So much more finesse, smarts and style went into the original – especially considering its budget. Even the original’s soundtrack has become a cult fave; DINO on the other hand has a bland, unmemorable score by Tyler Bates. The use of the Dies-Irae choir of the apocalypse over the successive cuts of the parking lot zombie populace for instance; in DINO all we get is a hasty wide shot of the whole city of Milwaukee crowding the parking lot. There’s not even a cow zombie in this whole mess considering the milking of the staged location.

We aren’t subjected to a whole lot for such a glorified, over-hyped remake. The trick was accomplished: people were suckered into the theaters because of the name, no matter who it was.

I think even the nefarious John "I added useless scenes to NOTLD to piss on it" Russo could have blown away this script. But naturally this film will have its supporters, Snyder’s and Gunn’s egos will swell up beyond what it should, the over 40 Romero support team will hate it, the under 14 horror crowd will eat this up and Universal will laugh all the way to the bank. It does lack the bite of the original, and is nothing more than a formulaic action flick (as you may have read in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) with chainsaws for the pre-pubescent kids and a pretty face for the teenage boys. Sarah Polley was asked in EW why this movie knocked off Passion of the Christ and she was quoted as saying "that movie has one guy rising from the grave. Our movie has thousands". Neither movie gives any believable reason why anyone could rise from the grave, and Christ rising from the grave is probably more horrifying than any of the makeups in DINO.

And so I await the day that people who know what they're doing make a movie half as good as any of Romero's or a genuinely creepy zombie movie with intelligence.