Dawn of the Dead appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Given the movie’s age and budget, I didn’t expect much from the picture, but instead I found a pretty solid transfer.
The main issue I confronted related to edge enhancement, as haloes appeared moderately frequently throughout the film. These weren’t severe, but they created some minor distractions. The edge enhancement didn’t seem to cause any sharpness issues, though, as the movie always came across well. Wide shots demonstrated a smidgen of softness, but those examples remained modest, as the majority of the movie looked nicely distinctive and tight. No problems with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and print flaws seemed shockingly absent. I noticed a couple of specks and spots but that was about it, as the transfer suffered from exceedingly few source defects.
Dawn went with a natural palette that didn’t excel but that seemed more than satisfactory. The tones consistently came across as full and well-developed. I noticed no bleeding, noise, or other issues with the colors, as they usually looked appropriately lively. Interior shots - of which we found many - sporadically seemed slightly flat, but not badly so. Blacks were similarly tight and firm, and most low-light shots seemed smooth. Occasionally I noticed some visuals that appeared a bit too opaque, but those didn’t occur with much frequency. Overall, I really liked the transfer of Dawn and thought it earned a solid “B+”; lose the edge enhancement and this one would head to “A”-level.
The folks at Anchor Bay sure do love their multichannel remixes, and Dawn of the Dead sported three of them. In addition to the original monaural and a Dolby Surround 2.0 track, we got both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio. While those two sounded decidedly different, I didn’t think either seemed superior to the other. The Dolby version was largely monaural, as only sporadic elements broadened the audio out from the center domain. The DTS edition presented glorified mono, on the other hand. It opened up the mix to the other speakers but didn’t usually do so in a convincing manner. Instead, the imaging appeared unfocused and failed to give a well-defined sense of place. Occasional good moments occurred, such as with the movement of bullet ricochets around the spectrum, but usually this remained a restricted and not very involving pair of 5.1 mixes.
Quality seemed similar for both of them. The source dialogue presented the biggest concerns, though little else sounded very good either. Speech tended to come across as dense and metallic. The lines were reasonably intelligible but rarely much better than that, as dialogue was occasionally edgy as well. Effects sporadically presented a little low-end response, but the elements usually seemed fairly harsh and rough, with a little distortion and not great clarity. Music came in along the same lines, as the score was somewhat shrill much of the time and never presented much definition. Some background hiss cropped up at times. For a more than 25-year-old low-budget flick, the audio of Dawn generally seemed passable, but it never became any better than that and it remained lackluster at best.
From what I can tell, this new “Ultimate Edition” of Dawn of the Dead represents its fourth DVD incarnation in Region One, as well as its second of 2004. Anchor Bay released a single-disc version in the spring to coincide with the theatrical remake. It appears that the UE replicates the smattering of extras from the spring 2004 Anchor Bay disc and adds many, many more.
Each of the four discs includes special elements. On DVD One, we get the US theatrical version of Dawn plus an audio commentary with writer/director George Romero, makeup effects creator Tom Savini, assistant director Chris Romero, and moderator Perry Martin. All four sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. This lively conversation goes through subjects like the origins of the story and its concept, details of working with a low budget, casting, sets and locations, and makeup and effects. Much of the time we hear details of the frenetic nature of the rapid, low-budget shoot, and they reminisce about the wild times on the set. They tell us a little about all the friends and family they used in the cast and crew and gives us a generally fun and informative talk about the making of the flick.
As we continue through DVD One, we find two US trailers plus three TV spots and nine radio spots. For the latter, three run 60 seconds each, while the other six go for 30 seconds apiece. Inside the Poster and Advertising Gallery we locate 25 stills. These include posters, publicity stills, and newspaper ads. The George A. Romero Biography falls in line with Anchor Bay’s usual high standards for those listings. It seems long and detailed and is definitely worth a read. Finally, the Comic Book Preview simply advertises the new adaptation of Dawn.
When we head to DVD Two, we discover the movie’s extended version. At 139 minutes, this one runs 12 minutes longer than the US theatrical cut. According to the notes, it “was created to use to premiere the film at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival and contains numerous additional scenes, gore and a music score filled with library tracks.” While remastered in anamorphic 1.85:1, only the original monaural audio appears; no new multichannel remixes show up for the extended version. (For a concise look at the variations seen in this version, please visit this excellent site: http://www2.gol.com/users/noman/ver01.htm)
This cut comes with its own audio commentary, as here we discover notes from producer Richard P. Rubinstein and moderator Perry Martin. Both sit together for their running, screen-specific piece. Financial considerations to bring the movie to the screen and assembling the budget, various versions, issues with censors, his role on the film, Romero’s style, working on the set, ratings problems, the film’s reception and success, and the 2004 remake. Some gaps pop up, but these remain minor, and Rubinstein fills the track with quite a lot of good information. Martin does his job well and makes sure that we get a nice level of quality material. Frankly, I didn’t expect much from this commentary, but it ended up as the best of the three.
Also on DVD Two, we find a Monroeville Mall Commercial. This 27-second ad has nothing to do with Dawn, as it presents a bizarre and amusing Mall promo from the Seventies. Lastly, we get three Still Galleries. These divide into “Production Stills” (99 photos), “Behind-the-Scenes” (97), and “Memorabilia” (47). All three add up to a nice set of images.
When we go to DVD Three, we begin with the European Cut of Dawn. At 119 minutes, this one runs eight minutes shorter than the US theatrical cut. According to the notes, “this edition of the film was edited by producer Dario Argento for use in European territories. This version contains numerous scene extensions and skips over several scenes from the North American versions of the film. The European Version also contains additional music from composer Goblin.” Also remastered in anamorphic 1.85:1, it comes with all the audio options accorded the theatrical cut minus the DTS track. (For a concise look at the variations seen in this version, please visit this excellent site: http://www2.gol.com/users/noman/ver01.htm)
To accompany the European cut, we get an audio commentary with actors Ken Foree, David Emge, Scott H. Reiniger, and Gaylen Ross, all of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific discussion. Though sporadically informative, this stands as the weakest of the three tracks. For the most part, the actors just laugh and comment on the on-screen action without much insight. Occasionally we get notes about character choices and development as well as experiences on the set. These improve somewhat as the commentary progresses, but even at its best, the track remains inconsistent and without much depth. Some fun remarks appear but not much of note occurs, as this offers a spotty and only occasionally useful piece.
A few other elements fill out DVD Three. The trailers domain includes one Italian ad plus two German clips. Two UK TV Spots also appear, while the Poster & Still Galleries divide into five subsections: “Posters” (11 shots), “Lobby Cards” (60), “Pressbooks” (73), “Soundtracks” (20) and “Video Covers” (90). Unsurprisingly, these cover non-US materials exclusively. Lastly, the Dario Argento Bio provides another detailed and informative look at a filmmaker.
Unlike the first three platters, DVD Four includes no alternate cuts of Dawn. It consists solely of supplements, and it starts with a new documentary called The Dead Will Walk. It runs 74 minutes and 54 seconds as it presents the usual mix of movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from George and Chris Romero, Savini, Reiniger, Emge, Foree, Ross, co-producer Dario Argento, associate producer Claudio Argento, music composer Claudio Simonetti, director of photography Michael Gornick, production manager Zilla Clinton, assistant editor Pasquale Buba, sound recordist Tony Buba, and actors David Early, David Crawford, Jim Krut, John Harrison, Sharon Hill-Ceccatti, Leonard Lies and Clayton Hill.
The program starts with George Romero’s film influences and his roots in filmmaking. We then proceed through the genesis of Night of the Living Dead as well as George’s subsequent films that led up to Dawn. It goes through the roots of Dawn, its path to production, casting, and the shoot. In the latter domain, we move through the different segments of the film in the order they appear during the flick. For example, we start with information about the TV studio segments and then head through the tenement attack. During these, we touch on appropriate subjects like effects and makeup, the level of gore, approaches to the characters and zombies, community support, shooting in the mall and many elements there, the movie’s themes and message, life as a zombie, photographic techniques, editing, the audio, the originally planned ending, the European version of the movie, distribution problems, its reception and legacy as well as a hint of a potential fourth Dead offering.
”Walk” doesn’t provide a tremendously tight examination of the production, as it mostly follows an anecdotal structure. That works well for the program. It keeps things light and fun while it still offers a great deal of useful information about the movie. Yeah, the show flits from subject to subject without any logic, but it manages to remain well constructed anyway, and it flows smoothly. It’s a very interesting and entertaining program.
One nice touch: when you start “Walk”, it warns you that the program contains potential spoilers. Granted, I can’t imagine who would watch the documentary before they check out the movie, but this comes as a thoughtful disclaimer.
For an older examination of the flick, we go to Roy Frumkes’ Document of the Dead. Created in 1989, this 91-minute and 37-second program offers the standard combination of movie snippets, behind the scenes elements, and interviews. We discover remarks from George Romero, Rubinstein, Gornick, Savini, Foree, Reiniger, Emge, lighting director Carl Augenstein, and casting director John Amplas. The piece starts with a quick examination of movie storytelling techniques with some material from Romero’s predecessor to Dawn, 1977’s Martin. After that, we go through pre-production with a discussion of the script, influences, his use of African-American lead actors in both Night and Dawn. We then go into production with monetary issues, the atmosphere on the set, effects, shooting in an active mall and the challenges that result, the use of storyboards, the flick’s cinematographic style, editing, and distribution and ratings problems. Unusually, the elements from 1978 then end and we leap ahead to the late Eighties to see Romero at work on Two Evil Eyes, the first collaboration between Romero and Dario Argento since Dawn. There we see an extended segment from the set that depicts the shooting of a gory sequence, and we also hear from Romero, wife Chris, Savini, as they talk about that era’s particular challenges for small-scale filmmakers. They add some other notes about Romero’s work. We also get a few remarks from comic artist Gahan Wilson, “The Phantom of the Movies” and illustrator Steve Bissette on the director and some of his material. The final seven minutes or so includes additional 1978 footage cut from the original “Document” plus an alternate ending sequence.
In contrast to the more dynamic and fast-paced “Walk”, “Document” acts as a more technical examination of its subject. Much of the focus sticks with Romero’s techniques and style. It offers a fairly analytical examination of Romero’s work, and that extends beyond issues connected solely to Dawn; the program also includes clips from and comments about his flicks Night and Martin. The pacing makes “Document” move a bit slowly at times and it turns somewhat dry at times, but it mostly presents an interesting investigation, and it nicely compliments the other materials.
Some On-Set Home Movies fill 13 minutes and 25 seconds. Zombie Bob Langer introduces us to the genesis of these snippets and narrates what we see. He shows us behind the scenes elements like getting made up and various production elements, and he also identifies various folks. These come as an intriguing and entertaining look at the movie.
DVD Four finally ends with a Monroeville Mall Tour. Led by Ken Foree, this 11-minute and 28-second voyage leads us through the modern Mall and shows us the spots where they shot the movie. It’s interesting to see how the location has changed, so despite the crude production values, it’s a fun piece to examine.
Across the various discs, we find a smattering of Easter eggs. On DVD One, head to the extras menu, highlight “Main Menu” and click to the right. This activates a zombie, so press “enter” to see a four-minute, 33-second clip in which Chris Romero discusses how she met George. When you go to DVD Two, head to the “Still Galleries” menu, land on “Main Menu”, and push to the right. That accentuates another zombie, so press “enter” to watch a three-minute and six-second snippet in which Gaylen Ross chats about some of her résumé fabrications.
Head to the “Trailers” menu on DVD Three, highlight “Main Menu” and click to the left. This lights up a zombie, so click “enter” and we get a short 57-second interview with “Screwdriver Zombie” John Harrison about how he got recognized a decade later. On DVD Four, scroll to “Monroeville Mall Tour”, press to the right, and zap on that zombie. This lets us check out a 67-second clip with a Japanese Buddhist monk fan of the movie.
Dawn includes a couple of paper materials as well. The booklet gives us notes about the contents of the various DVDs, and we also get a 24-page mini-comic book. This presents an adaptation of Dawn that ends when the characters land at the mall. It then tells us to read the rest in a trade paperback which makes it something of a tease, but it’s a free toss-in, so I won’t complain.
Especially given the quality of this entire package. When they called this version of Dawn of the Dead the “Ultimate Edition”, they weren’t kidding. The movie itself isn’t the best of George Romero’s undead flicks, but it’s entertaining and creative. The DVD presents very solid picture with mediocre sound and an amazing package of supplements.
Due to the nature of the film, Dawn clearly won’t be for everyone, but horror fans should likely dig this enjoyable flick. As for already-established fans, they should be in heaven with this elaborate and lavish release. I guess someone who a) doesn’t care about supplements, and b) has no interest in alternate versions of Dawn will remain happy with the earlier single-disc release from Anchor Bay, but I imagine that such a contingent of fans remains in the minority. Dawn is one of those movies that inspires passion from its partisans, and for them, I give this set a very strong recommendation.