Dawn of the Dead – Ultimate Edition
Anchor Bay – 2004
Written and Directed by George A. Romero
Scott H. Reiniger
Awesome! This 4-DVD box set is the best product I’ve ever seen Anchor Bay create. The box artwork, each DVD is so beautifully put together that it shines just from an outside appearance. Combine this with three different versions of the film, three audio commentaries, two documentaries, On Set Home Movie with audio commentary, a video tour of the Monroeville Mall, a commercial for Monroeville Mall, a 16 page booklet and a DOTD comic book. What are you waiting for? Go to your nearest store or get online now to purchase The Ultimate Edition.
I’m going to begin with an all-new 75-minute documentary called The Dead Will Walk. I have seen numerous documentaries; I’ve made two of them myself and have to say this one really impressed me. I like the way The Dead Will Walk is organized. Interviews, footage from the film, behind the scenes footage is presented pretty much the same order as it happens in DAWN OF THE DEAD. Beginning at the TV station, moving to the SWAT team in the low rent housing building, zombies in basement, the small airport…you get the picture. This works well as anyone who knows DAWN OF THE DEAD will enjoy this storytelling design. I was pretty flabbergasted at how many of the principal people (including George & Christine Romero, Tom Savini, DP Michael Gornick, co-producers Dario Argento & Claudio Argento, composer Claudio Simonetti, sound recordist Tony Buba to name a few) and even recognizable extra zombies are part of the documentary. To me this shows that Perry Martin and Anchor Bay have gone the distance to make this the most comprehensible behind the scenes film chronicling the making of DOTD. The picture quality, graphics and sound of The Dead Will Walk are all outstanding. This is not your average, politically correct gloss over electronic press kit featurette. The person behind this is passionate about DAWN OF THE DEAD; we benefit big time because of it.
DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD is also included on this DVD and we should thank Synapse Films for teaming up with Anchor Bay. Most folks have probably seen this 95-minute documentary but it’s cool that it’s part of The Ultimate Edition. To tell you the truth, I had not seen the parts added since the documentary was originally made. The footage shot on the DOTD set is invaluable and it was great to hear what George Romero, Tom Savini, Richard Rubinstein actually felt while they were making the film. It was a real added bonus to see the behind the scenes footage of TWO EVIL EYES.
On Set Home Movies with audio commentary by Zombie Extra Robert Langer is 13 minutes of 8mm film footage that any DOTD fan will enjoy. It doesn’t matter how rough the film looks, it is never before seen footage taken on the DOTD set and is priceless.
The digital video footage of Monroeville Mall Tour shot by Gregory Nicotero is much cleaner than the 8mm footage and you should enjoy seeing what the famous DOTD location looks like now. The stairways and boiler room still look the same. Actor Ken Foree acts as the host.
The opening of this film is dynamite and probably my favorite sequence of any George Romero film. Romero sets up that the world is in complete chaos as the living dead are taking over. Francine (Gaylen Ross) and her lover Stephen (David Emge), escape the television station they work for in a helicopter and end up bringing along Stephen’s friend Roger (Scott H. Reiniger), a SWAT officer, and another SWAT officer Peter (Ken Foree). The way Romero orchestrates this opening is impressive as he focuses on those characters inside the TV station while people scream and argue about what to do to survive. The sequence at the apartment full of zombies, where the SWAT team takes over is exciting and eerie. The editing of these sequences, paired with Michael Gornick’s cinematography make you feel like you are right there with the characters. Romero uses mostly a static camera, with realistic production design and backed by a probing score by Italian Rock composers Goblin.
The four characters leave the city and for the countryside and eventually land on top of a shopping mall. They figure everything they need is inside that mall. But things do not work out as easy as they start to bicker amongst themselves, Francine becomes pregnant and a big bad motorcycle gang comes to take over and ravage the mall.
DAWN OF THE DEAD has something distinctive about it. It’s a combination of all its ingredients that makes it stand out as one of America’s most original horror films. It’s not so much that this film is scary; it’s more because Romero felt the pulse of society and captured the way people live and interact within the confines of a shopping mall under siege. Tom Savini’s enthusiastic special make-up effects were ground breaking and certainly helped set the stage of all horrific films to follow. Romero almost made the film like a comic book, using bright colored blood, library music and sound effects to help offset the extreme violence.
Which version of Dawn of the Dead is the best? This is not an easy question to answer because truthfully each version has its own qualities.
US Theatrical Version is probably the all around best version of the film. It moves quicker than the Extended Edition and has more character development than the European Edition. This is the version of the film George Romero prefers and I can see why. Goblin and the library music are used in tandem and give the film a soundtrack that works. George Romero, Christine Romero and Tom Savini speak on the audio commentary about how difficult; yet fun it was to make DOTD. It’s kind of sad to hear how difficult it is for them to get films made today and you have to hope that they can do it again soon.
Extended Version runs 12 minutes longer than the Theatrical Version and it is worth seeing because of this. But like most cases, the footage doesn’t necessarily make the movie better as it slows the film down and some of the performances in cut scenes are questionable at times. The added gore will wet the appetite of the bloodhounds. Audio commentary by Producer Richard Rubinstein is kind of a dry and blunt but what can you expect from a businessman. To his credit, you hear how Rubinstein stood by Romero and agreed to put the film out the way Romero wanted to release it. Rubinstein credits Romero as his creative film mentor and you do have to admit they made a great team.
European Version producer Dario Argento cut the film down, added dialogue parts and used Goblin music much more. The Goblin music does add atmosphere but the cuts took away some of the character development and made the movie feel more choppy (a problem I feel almost all Italian zombie movies have). Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, David Emge and Gaylen Ross provide Audio Commentary. These actors take a laid-back approach recounting their involvement and stating their opinions of what they think of the film now. They are proud of DOTD but don’t come across pretentious.
Anchor Bay has given every version a startling wide screen transfer, stellar Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0 sound, astonishing DVD menus that glitter with vibrant color and terrific music cues from the movie.
DAWN OF THE DEAD – Ultimate Edition is the Best DVD Release so far in 2004.