Diary 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. Despite the limitations of the source material, I thought the flick looked good.
Sharpness usually seemed solid. The shooting style meant lots and lots of out of focus elements, but those had nothing to do with the transfer itself. The DVD featured delineation that was perfectly appropriate for the various shots. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no edge enhancement. Source flaws also remained absent; I saw some video artifacts in low-light scenes, but those were inevitable.
Given the videotape origins, colors tended to be bland. The movie often made things look somewhat monochromatic, which made sense within the format. Though the hues never seemed memorable, they were fine for what I expected. Along the same path, blacks tended to be somewhat wan, while shadows usually appeared a bit opaque and dense.
All those criticisms and I still gave the image a “B+”? Yeah, that might not sound consistent, but this was an instance in which the objective reality didn’t match the subjective impression. Due to its “on the fly” video format, I honestly thought Diary would look terrible, but most of the time it offered very nice visuals. This was a much more pleasing presentation than I expected, so I felt a “B+” was appropriate.
As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Diary, it satisfied. As was the case with Cloverfield, I thought the nature of the multichannel mix violated the reality of the material. Yes, Diary explains the presence of music – which was unnecessary in the score-free Cloverfield - but it doesn’t give us a logical reason for the high-quality effects; they’re much better than we’d get through camcorder recordings.
Anyway, if I suspend disbelief, I think the soundtrack works fine. Audio quality was always good. Speech seemed concise and natural, without edginess or intelligibility issues. Music demonstrated very nice vivacity and range, as the score was full and rich. Effects did pack more of a punch than they should, though not to the same bass-pumping extreme heard in Cloverfield. The effects were strong and didn’t violate “reality” too much.
The soundfield also broadened things but didn’t embrace the multichannel material to a tremendously unrealistic degree. Music used the speakers in the most active manner, as the score emanated from the side and rear speakers. Effects mostly stayed in the front, where they showed pretty good movement and placement. The surrounds threw out a few effects but weren’t terribly active in that regard. Overall, this was a perfectly acceptable “B”-level soundtrack.
When we head to the extras, we open with an audio commentary from director George A. Romero, director of photography Adam Swica and editor Michael Doherty. All three sit together for a running, screen-specific discussion. They go over the film’s concept, cast and performances, shooting the flick and editing, camerawork, sets and locations, audio elements, and effects.
From start to finish, we get a competent commentary but not an especially stimulating one. Romero occasionally goes off on Official Aging Hippie rants about society, man, but otherwise the track stays pretty low-key and emphasizes nuts and bolts. It moves briskly and covers the flick pretty well, but it’s nothing especially involving.
Character Confessionals cover four of the film’s roles. We find reels for “Eliot” (6:06), “Tracy” (4:10), “Tony” (4:06), and “Debra” (5:21). These put the characters alone with the camera to discuss their thoughts about the events that befall them. None of them seem particularly interesting, though if you like Diary, they should prove interesting. I do like the presentation, though; if you go for the “Play All” option, it shows them in chronological order, not just character order.
Behind the scenes footage appears via the four-minute and 20-second The First Week. Independent filmmaker Michael Felsher follows the production for its first few days. Some decent footage appears, but there’s not much depth to be found in this quick piece.
A look at the project’s origins comes to us with The Roots. This two-minute and five-second program offers a short statement from Romero as he tells us that Diary will “reboot” the franchise. The reel essentially just promotes the flick.
Familiar Voices lasts five minutes, four seconds, as it provides some audio elements. When we hear media broadcasts in Diary, we get voice acting from a mix of notables like Guillermo Del Toro, Simon Pegg and Stephen King. “Voices” lets us hear outtakes from those three sessions, so it’s a cool addition. (Other famous folks appear in the film itself, but we don’t get their outtakes.)
Under the banner of For the Record, we get a collection of five featurettes. They include “Master of the Dead: Writer/Director George A. Romero” (13:18), “Into the Camera: The Cast” (17:04), “You Look Dead! Make-Up Effects” (10:56), “A New ‘Spin’ on Death: Visual Effects” (19:00) and “A World Gone Mad: Photography and Design” (20:23). Across these, we hear from Romero, Swica, producers Ara Katz, Sam Englebardt, Artur Spigel and Peter Grunwald, executive producer John Harrison, special make-up effects producer Greg Nicotero, special make-up effects supervisors Chris Bridges, Neil Morrill and Kyle Glencross, Spin VFX’s Steven Lewis and Colin Davies, costume designer Alex Kavanaugh, production designer Rupert Lazarus, and actors Josh Close, Joe Dinicol, Michelle Morgan, Shawn Roberts, Scott Wentworth, Philip Riccio, and Amy Lalonde.
Over the five programs, we hear about Romero’s work as director and how he got into filmmaking, the development of Diary and shooting it, cast, characters and performances, make-up and visual effects, cinematography and costume and production design. The first two seem a bit perfunctory and they fail to offer much in the way of memorable information. However, the other three prove considerably more useful and interesting. No real surprises emerge, but the pieces cover the material in a clear and concise manner.
Next we get something called MySpace Contest Winners. Here we find five homemade zombie films: grand prize winner “The Final Day” (3:02) and first prize winners “Deader Living Through Chemistry” (3:04), “Opening Night of the Living Dead” (3:16), “& Teller” (3:00) and “Run for Your Life” (1:43). Man, if these were the winners, I’d hate to see the other entries! Actually, “Chemistry” is pretty good, but these others seem much less satisfying.
A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Night of the Living Dead, Teeth, and The Mist. No trailer for Diary appears here.
After the reasonably effective Land of the Dead, I hoped George A. Romero could crank out another good reinvention of his 40-year-old zombie franchise. Unfortunately, Diary of the Dead flops in almost every imaginable way, mostly because it attempts a form of realism that it’s not willing to truly embrace. It’s a documentary-style flick that too heavily sticks with genre conventions. The DVD provides good picture and audio along with a pretty nice collection of supplements. I feel pleased with this release, but I don’t care for the movie itself.