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First Look presents

Day of the Dead (Blu-ray) (2008)

"There's more of these motherf&*%ers?"- Salazar (Nick Cannon)

Stars: Ving Rhames, Mena Suvari
Other Stars: Michael Welch, Pat Kilbane, Nick Cannon
Director: Steve Miner

MPAA Rating: R for strong pervasive horror violence and gore, and language
Run Time: 01h:27m:00s
Release Date: 2008-12-02
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- DB-A- B-


DVD Review

What do we like in our movies these days? We like remakes, and we like zombies. (Well, OK, the zombie thing may be on the decline, but re-dos are still golden). Zach Snyder's 2004 remake of George A. Romero's all-time classic Dawn of the Dead didn't surprise people with its commercial success, but it also managed to impress as an action movie, even if it couldn't touch the genre-transcending original. Follow-ups also being big, naturally it occurred to someone to craft this quasi-sequel-cum-remake.

Romero's original Day of the Dead, while less beloved than Dawn, has developed no less a reputation over time. Low-budget, lean, and cynical, that film had the survivors of the zombie plague retreating underground, slowly discovering that their fellow man, and the military mindset, are threats far more intractable than the hordes of the undead. It was Romero's darkest statement on humanity, and a classic in its own right. This new film, originally intended for theaters, follows Corporal Sarah Cross (Mena Suvari), whose hometown has been mysteriously quarantined. It doesn't take long for her to uncover the nature of the contagion, and she's soon on the run from hordes of the dead, trying to rescue her brother and his girlfriend while trying to answer the age-old question: where the heck did all these zombies come from, anyway? The film's central, clever, set piece takes place in a hospital where a whole lot of very sick-looking people start dropping off all at once. And to answer the first, most obvious question for any zombie aficionado: these zombies don't amble, and they don't really run. They positively sprint. Up walls, on ceilings, etc., in case you thought that being dead was all bad.

In spite of the proud announcement on the cover of the film's relationship to George Romero's original, the film has almost nothing to do that claustrophobic classic, aside from a climax in a military bunker. There's also a nod to Romero's trained zombie "Bub" in one of this film's most likeable characters, played by Stark Sands, who stands out here as he did in HBO's recent Generation Kill miniseries. Mena Suvari is a mostly believable action heroine, and Ving Rhames is rarely unwelcome, even if what he does here amounts to not much more than an extended cameo, playing the no-nonsense type of character that we've seen him do plenty of times before. Also seen before: Salazar, played by Nick Cannon, is the sassy, wisecracking, cowardly-but-ultimately-heroic, black-people-sure-are-funny, sidekick. It's a character that we've seen too many times before: if it's not entirely offensive, it's at least tiresome (O.K., it's both). Character actor Ian McNeice (Rome) steals some screen time, as well, as a rotund but surprisingly spry radio host (he somehow manages to outrun the superhumanly fast and powerful zombies with a cane, and saves himself by locking a glass door). The actors are generally more than competent, and the action direction from horror-vet Steve Miner is fine, but none of it adds up to much. In this latecomer to the zombie resurgence of the past half-decade or so, it's just not enough to have decent special effects in the service of a bland story. The zombie movie has a great tradition of "relevance," and this new Dawn of the Dead has nothing much to say (aside from a predictable, and bland "the military is bad, sometimes, except when they're the protagonists" message). This new Dawn has decent special effects and performances, and the action is competently directed. It's not so much bad, as utterly forgettable.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The film's generally muted palette is represented adequately in the daytime scenes, where the high-def transfer tends to be crisp and clean. The night scenes, on the other hand, are often unintentionally grainy. On the whole, the transfer is fine, but I'm not certain that the rather bland cinematography really gains much from Blu-ray's added capacity.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby True HD audio mix here is full and energetic: lots of splats, groans, and bangs distributed well across the channels. It's a solid action-movie mix. There's a similarly effective Dolby 5.1 track, included here as an option.

Audio Transfer Grade: A- 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
1 Alternate Endings
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Steve Miner, actors Stark Sands, Michael Welch, and Christa Campbell, writer Jeffrey Reddick, and editor Nate Easterling.
Packaging: standard Blu-ray packaging
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: First up is an audio commentary by director Steve Miner, actors Stark Sands, Michael Welch, and Christa Campbell, writer Jeffrey Reddick, and editor Nate Easterling. I'm not a big fan of the ubiquitous unnecessary commentary track, and it's a little beyond me why anyone would sit through one for a film whose most ardent admirers will find merely diverting, The gang here mostly chuckles along with the film and talks about the difficulties of filming and the challenges of shooting the movie in Bulgaria. Not really bad, I guess, just kinda pointless.

Next, is a fifteen minute On the Set featurette, covering a few days in the life of filming. It's brisk, and enjoyable enough if you've liked the main feature. Similarly, Interviews also clocks in with around fifteen minutes of on-the-set talking head-type chats with cast and crew members. The Alternate Ending is about five minutes long, but really only provides a few seconds of alternate footage, changing the fate of one of the main characters. Three trailers are also included, as well as a photo gallery.

Extras Grade: B-

Final Comments

Mildly diverting, at best, there's no real reason for this in-name-only remake to exist. A capable performance or two and some decent action direction can't really rescue a dull story. Likewise, the high-def image quality is good, not great, and the extras are nothing to write home about. Your zombie-movie dollars are best spent elsewhere.

Ross Johnson 2009-01-07