Review Date: August 29, 2004
Released by: Anchor Bay
Release date: 9/7/2004
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
There exists in every genre a great trilogy, a trilogy so notable that it rises above its genre to become a film steeple. For the science fiction film, it is Star Wars
. For the drama, it is The Godfather
. For the action film, it is Indiana Jones
. And for the horror film, it is the Dead
trilogy. Romero’s holy trinity of Night
and Day of the Dead
were more than just great horror films. Filled with irony, gore, satire and social commentary, his trilogy exists almost outside of genre. The three are in hindsight some of the most relevant films of each respective decade in which they were released.
As far as DVDs of the set goes, Night of the Living Dead
has seen no less than three packed special editions, the definitive being Elite’s Millennium Edition. More recently, Day of the Dead
was given a deluxe two-disc set by Anchor Bay. Dawn
, which most consider the best of the series, however, was never given a proper special edition DVD in Region 1. Anchor Bay broke news a few years ago that a special edition for Dawn
was in the works, which would have all three celebrated cuts of the film in one tidy package. Fans clamored over the news, but anticipation began to wane as Dawn
would be subject to a number of delays by the Blue Sailboat. “How could a DVD take so long to produce?” was the question everyone asked. The wait is over however, and Anchor Bay answered that question with four jam packed discs of every possible supplement imaginable. This is a fantastic set, and I will tell you why.
Like the stories for other 70’s masterpieces like Halloween
and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
, the plot for Dawn of the Dead
has become legend. Plot description seems redundant, since the elements of the film have become pop culture staples over the years. Regardless, here is a quick refresher. Taking place sometime after the events in Night of the Living Dead
begins in a television station ridden with anguish and hysteria. The dead walk, and the apocalypse seems very much on the horizon. People contemplate their deaths as the entire world is in chaos. Laws and rules seem to hold no baring any longer, as police frantically shoot at whomever they please, and respect for human dignity seems all but lost. Amidst the frenzy, a young couple, Stephen Andrews (David Emge
) and Francine Parker (Gaylen Ross
), join up with officers Peter Washington (Ken Foree
) and Roger DeMarco (Scott H. Reiniger
) on a helicopter ride out of the station. They have no idea where they are heading, but eventually settle down on a seemingly safe place…the Monroeville Mall.
Although the rooftop remains secure, inside the mall lurk zombies throughout the escalators and storefronts. “This was an important place in their lives,” Stephen muses, as the zombies bask in all the consumer culture. Eventually, the allure of commodities tempts the four survivors to explore everything the mall has to offer. They turn on the muzak, play the arcade, and indulge in needless commodities. The zombies are easily contained, and the four of the apocalypse remain content under the intoxication of the capitalistic rituals the mall facilitates. Eventually though, the veil of consumerism is lifted with one swift bite, and the gang realize the emptiness and vulnerability of their lives.
Roger is bit by a zombie, and as the group observe his slow transformation into the living dead, they grow increasingly uneasy of their own condition. While the mall may have everything they need, it still does not help them to avoid the fact that eventually they will all die. The fabulous four’s problems are compounded when a ragtag biker gang decides to stake their claim on the mall. The group must not only fend themselves off from the dead, but now they must also fight against their own kind. The fabric of society unravels, all in under the roof of consumer paradise.
The consensus on Dawn of the Dead
remains that the film is masterpiece in motion picture history, but what is oft debated though, is which cut that masterpiece actually is. Three major cuts have been circulating for years, all of which are included in this set. The first is the most recognized U.S. Theatrical Cut, which Romero himself claims is his favorite version of the picture, runs 127 minutes. The Extended version (commonly confused as the director’s cut) is the longest version of the film, which premiered at Cannes at a robust 139 minutes. Just south of France in Italy (and eventually over the rest of Europe), Dario Argento made his own cut of Romero’s picture, which clocked in at a much shorter 118 minutes. Three movies, three different takes on the same subject and footage.
Credit must be given to Dario Argento and Goblin, who over the years have been responsible for some of the most rousing and pulse pounding moments in cinema, whether it be the opening of Suspiria
or the wall crawl in Tenebre
. In Argento’s cut of Dawn
, the film is filled out with a wild and assaulting Goblin score, which gives a quicker paced urgency to the entire story just like some of Argento’s best work. The problem is, Dawn of the Dead
is not an Argento film, and it is not an urgent one either. Romero has always worked much slower, allowing quiet for his characters to develop and for the apocalyptic despair to take over. Whereas Argento relies on kinetic action to highlight his films, Romero very much thrives on the stuff between the action. It is no surprise then that Argento’s cut of the film jars with Romero’s style, creating a film that is quicker paced and much darker, but without the irony, social commentary and character development that makes Romero’s films so deeply satisfying. Indeed, in Argento’s hands, his Dawn
cut seems little different than the hundreds of inferior Italian zombie films that would follow in Dawn
In Argento’s cut, many of the dialogue scenes have been tightened, and gore scenes added. What results is a shorter and faster paced film, but as a consequence character development seems to get lost in the shuffle. The characters appear like flat character archetypes that usually permeate European horror films, when they should possess all the complexities from Romero’s original script. Not only do the characters seem more shallow, but the entire film seems much less epic and intelligent with Argento in the cutting room. The signature satiric bits with the mall muzak are completely removed, as Goblin’s jarring soundtrack instead bookends the entire film. The muzak not only offered a strong commentary on the monotony of consumer existence, but it also provided downtime in the film for the viewer to get accustomed to the mall world. In Argento’s cut, it is full throttle the whole way, and Goblin’s track offers little down time. The variety of Romero’s original pacing and music serves the film much better. Even the ending is nipped and tucked to poor result by Argento, as the mall montage is substituted instead for dull white on black credits. Argento’s European Cut may be fast and furious, but it is hardly substantial.
More substantial is the Extended version, but it seems to suffer from very much the opposite problems found in the Argento cut. Running a lengthy 139 minutes, the film seems much more longwinded than need be, as dialogue scenes have been extended and some redundant ones have also been added. Jokes like the “do you have any smokes?” line at the helicopter are much more explicit and labored, and lose their effectiveness. Characters are also shown repeating the same basic point a number of times, making plenty of the extensions superfluous. Not only does the Extended version seem too long, the music composition is also a mess. Half the score is taken from stock library music (like Night of the Living Dead
), while the rest is fragments from Goblin’s score. The result is a very uneven mix, moving between big band and synthesizer music. In the theatrical cut, Romero uses this kind of contrast as well, but the band music is limited basically only to the mall muzak. By limiting the band music, it becomes very noticeable when it finally does appear and makes the scenes that feature it stand out from the rest. In the Extended version though, that effect is lost because so much generic library music is used, removing much of the satiric bite from many of the mall scenes. The scenes in the Extended version also don’t seem to be edited to the music in the effective rhythm that was obvious in the more polished theatrical cut. Argento’s cut may be too thin, but the Extended is by contrast too bloated.
The Extended version is more humanized than Argento’s cut, so comparing the two it ranks slightly superior. Still however, neither cut compares to the U.S. Theatrical Cut. Romero’s cut seems to strike the perfect balance between the quick intensity of Argento’s cut and the slower paced character development of the Extended. For all the masterpieces in the horror genre, like Halloween
, The Exorcist
, the stars seem to align and every little flaw suddenly seems overlooked. Dawn
is not a perfect film, but it feels like it is. Romero’s cut strikes a magic balance that can be studied and ripped off, but never fully duplicated. That is the essence of a masterpiece, the inexplicable quality that makes it endure despite its faults. No matter how much one may wish to yell at the screen as Roger continues to make the same repetitive and neglectful mistakes over and over, by the end of the picture that problem suddenly seems a non-issue. The weight of the entire picture ends up all that matters, and there are few horror films in the history of cinema that weigh up with the epic magnitude of Dawn
Not only does the film feel like a masterpiece, it has the substance to back that up. The ripe social commentary and progressive black and female roles still all stand up as qualities that few films have matched. Much is made about how the mall zombies are Romero’s ironic commentary on consumer culture, the metaphor really extends much further. Not only does Romero use zombies, but he also uses mannequins to illustrate the dehumanization of the capitalist world. When people base all their pleasures on products exterior to themselves, rather than enjoying the benefits of relationships or other interpersonal exchanges, they become less human and less emotional. They become as empty and lifeless as mannequins. When Francine realizes how the gang has been living a false illusion of happiness behind all the mall’s products, she makes her face up to mimic the mannequins that surround them. The allure of the marketplace is just as responsible for the gang’s unraveling as is the attack of the zombies.
The other notable depth to Romero’s screenplay is how he again challenges the conventions of the characterization of African Americans and females. As Ross is quick to point out throughout the supplements, Dawn
is a film that came out before the action feminist renaissance initiated by the Aliens
films. Francine is always sure to hold her own against the guys in the film, never resorting to the standard female horror clichés. She decides the fate of her unborn baby, and she is very much the only person in control as the credits roll and the music swells.
Foree’s character is equally as strong. Night of the Living Dead
was one of the first films to feature a black character in a prominent protagonist role, and Romero extends that with the Pete character in Dawn
. Perhaps as a way to mock the traditional white, all-American hero of western’s and other genres past, Romero names Foree’s character Pete Washington, using the name of America’s capital city to stay that this is Romero’s take on the all-American male.
What is most interesting is that Romero takes the two most progressive characters in his film, the powerful black and the resourceful female in a time when they still had trouble securing such roles, and has them fly off together at the end. The details I will not explain so as to not spoil it, but their coming together is a powerful scene that was as equally unheard of as Duane Jones’ black lead in Night ten years prior. As the two go off together, the film ends with the suggestion that they will go off together to an island and become the Adam and Eve in their own Eden. Romero suggests the idea that they will restart the human race anew, this time without the trouble of race, since the new world would be founded in universal grays rather than conflicting blacks and whites. The fact that Romero underscores the final shot with traditional western finale music is yet another of his ironic twists to demonstrate that he is doing a similar convention as previous films (riding off into the sunset), but with a new twist (multiculturalism). Few filmmakers remain as socially conscious as George A. Romero, as he consistently fabricates his films to comment upon the anxieties that confront the world at a particular time and place.
Although his zombies lack it, Romero is always on the pulse of America, and Dawn of the Dead
is arguably his deepest attempt at social commentary. It is with the social commentary and the overall epic pacing of the film that combine to make the film Romero’s largest and most substantial horror effort. While he had done great non-Dead films before Dawn
, like Martin
, and solid films since, like Creepshow
, none possess the weight and overall breadth of Dawn of the Dead
. Filled with thousands of gore effects by Tom Savini, massive location shots and a large cast of characters, Dawn
has an expansiveness to it that few horror films have. Dawn of the Dead
can be studied, remade or ripped off, but never will it be replicated. Perhaps the biggest irony of all in Dawn of the Dead
is that Romero’s commentary on a specific time and place in 1978 America became a timeless phenomenon the world over. Even today Romero’s film remains as prophetic and influential as ever, and stands as one of the genres few undisputed masterpieces.
Anchor Bay presents the three versions on three separate discs, all with 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers. All three versions are very similar in quality, which is to say they all look excellent. The theatrical cut is taken from the previously released DiviMax edition, and looks nearly as clear, sharp and clean as today’s films. The film has a comic book palette of intense bright colors, particularly the pinkish blood and the blue and green facial coverings on the zombies. That palette is brought out beautifully on this transfer, as each color, right from the first shot of red carpet in the film, bounces off the screen. There are some darker moments where the print seems a bit faded, particularly in the boiler room and final air vent scenes, but otherwise the blacks are very rich and solid. The print used is nearly spotless, and the minimal grain gives the film a depth that had been lost on its many incarnations on video.
|U.S. Theatrical Cut||Extended Cut||European Cut|
The European and Extended versions seem to use the exact same remastered footage from the theatrical cut, with the additional footage edited in. For the most part it is very tough to distinguish which footage is different in terms of quality, there are a few instances in the Extended version where faded blacks and high grain make obvious the additional scenes. Generally though, for alternate cuts of the film, they look amazingly sharp…certainly a long way from the alternate cuts found on Anchor Bay’s weak Manhunter
and Army of Darkness
|U.S. Theatrical Cut||Extended Cut||European Cut|
There lies a bit of controversy in regards to the differing video transfers of the European cut compared with the other two cuts. In there European cut, there are several shots, like the one's shown above, where they are not color corrected with the same orange tint as they are in Romero's cuts. While this initially seems to be an oversight by Anchor Bay, the truth is that Argento himself supervised the coloring, and it was his artistic choice to leave these shots (as well as several others throughout the film) without any tinting. In this sense, it seems that Argento superseded Romero's wishes in order to construct his own version of the film. Questions regarding artistic rights aside, the different coloring is as per Argento's wishes, and not an oversight on Anchor Bay's behalf. With these three transfers, Anchor Bay has demonstrated why they are still the leader in genre DVD offerings. It just doesn't get much better.
Each version of the film is presented with a number of different sound options. The theatrical cut has 5.1 DTS, 5.1 Dolby Digital, 2.0 Dolby Surround and original mono tracks. There is little noticeable difference between the DTS and the Dolby tracks, cine the surround track is not overly active. There are no audible directional effects, as channel separation is almost non-existent. Instead, many of the sound effects and music have been bled over from the front speakers into the rears. It adds a bit of envelopment hearing everything from the front and back, but given the mono roots of the original film, there was clearly little to work with. Like their Day of the Dead
5.1 tracks, Anchor Bay’s mixes here look better on the box than they actually sound. Still, audio is clear and the music mastered so as to not interfere with the dialogue, which is all one can really ask for for a film of such age. It sounds a bit flat at times, but that’s the 70’s way.
The European version has all the soundtracks as the U.S. Theatrical except for the DTS track, and the differences are hardly noticeable. It is nice to hear some of Goblin’s more obscure tracks in all their remastered glory, although the excessive looping of the main track can become really grating after awhile. The Extended version is presented only in mono, and the difference between it and the other two versions is considerable. The sound is much less distinguishable and muffled at times. Overall it sounds much flatter than the other tracks, and the music seems to be much more subdued. Since the U.S. Theatrical is the main attraction such a track is understandable.
While overall these audio tracks may not reach the depth of some of Anchor Bay’s finer remixes like The Beyond
, they are still more than acceptable, and the DTS track is without a doubt the best the film has ever sounded. Nice job, Anchor Bay.
A box set as epic as the film itself, there is literally hours and hours of footage to sift through, and that is not even including the three different cuts of the film. The set is split into four discs, with each cut receiving its own disc, plus an additional disc housing some documentaries. The first disc has an audio commentary with George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Romero’s wife Christine, and moderator Perry Martin. As they were in the Day track, Savini and Romero really carry the track and are bursting with knowledge regarding every facet of the film’s production. Savini is the energy man, speaking of the film like a kid talking about a new toy, and Romero is warm and humble as always. Martin
does a good job probing Romero on his career, asking him questions ranging from zombie stage directions to production planning. Savini is quick to divulge the secrets behind every effects shot, and hearing Christine gag after each of those shots makes it all the better. It’s a solid track, balancing information with entertainment. The disc is rounded off with a promotional material for the American release of the film, with a handful of trailers, TV and radio spots, and a poster and still gallery. An informative Romero biography is included, and is the same as the one featured on the Day of the Dead
set. There is also a Dawn of the Dead
comic book preview screen which is pretty redundant considering one need only flip open the digipack to read the actual comic.
Disc two is the Extended version, and this time the commentary is with producer Richard P. Rubinstein and moderator Perry Martin. Martin again does a good job of soliciting answers, and Rubinstein is quick to discuss the history of his relationship with Romero, the budgeting of the film, his reaction to the gore, and other more monetary responsibilities he oversaw. Most interesting in the commentary is Rubinstein’s discussion of horror film fandom, and how he sees it as a dishonest “business”. Rubinstein can be a little dry in delivery, but he is very liberal in discussing the film, resulting in another worthwhile commentary. A very short and odd Monroeville Mall commercial is included, as well as a couple galleries (behind-the-scenes, memorabilia and production stills).
The European version features the most energetic commentary of the set, and perhaps all time. Stars David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger and Gaylen Ross are all reunited for the first time in several years, and the gang just have an absolute ball recalling every single scene. Unlike the other two commentaries, most of the commentary is spent reacting to what is happening on screen, with the gang shouting, laughing and just having a good time taking it all in. It is fairly slight in terms of information, but it is fun in the sense that talking through a movie with friends is fun, and the energy alone carries the track. Ross is surprisingly intellectual as well, often throwing in momentary bits of insight into Romero’s symbolism to offset all the fun and games. A fun track. In addition to an Argento biography found on some of his other Anchor Bay releases, are a number of international press materials. International trailers, U.K. TV spots, lobby, poster, pressbook, home video and soundtrack galleries all compliment the U.S. promotional materials on disc one.
The final disc has two feature length documentaries, one new, one vintage. The new one is the more accessible one, running a tight 75 minutes, and Anchor Bay should be commended for the sheer breadth of interviews included here. In addition to the regulars like Romero, Savini and Argento are all the principal cast members, Goblin, most of the main crew (from the cinematographer to sound man) and even some of the zombie extras(!). You know Anchor Bay has done their research when you read “Nurse Zombie” as one of the interviewees. It is nice to see the perspective of the entire filmmaking process from some of the extras, as they often have a much more enthusiastic and different view than those directly involved in production. All the standard bases are covered, from the makeup to Romero’s historical background and it flows very fluently. Gaylen Ross, like in the commentary, comes off as the most interesting, as she talks about how she fudged her resume to get hired, how she hired an old school acting coach to help her read zombie lines, and how she worked with Romero to try to change the way females were portrayed in film. Director Perry Martin leaves little questions unanswered, and if there are any, they are no doubt answered in the next documentary.
“Document of the Dead” was shot in 1989 by Roy Frynkes, and features plenty of behind-the-scenes footage on Dawn
and many other subsequent Romero films. Running a lengthy 90 minutes, it is more of a film school approach to Romero, dissecting the jobs one needs to fulfill to create a motion picture and breaking apart the themes and preoccupations in Romero’s films in a very scholarly manner. Significant time is spent discussing the impact of Night of the Living Dead
, and how Martin
introduced several themes that would be woven throughout the rest of Romero’s films. Romero is very personable throughout, and the best information he gives on this entire box is featured in this documentary, when Romero talks about his ambitions to stay an independent director, and how the film industry is very much a corrupt and dishonest business. There is also significant footage of Savini’s gore effects on a number of Romero pictures. While the documentary may be a bit dated and less polished than the new documentary, it provides a much more direct look into the making of Romero’s films, and provides scholarly insight that runs much deeper than the usual talking head featurette.
Two other short 15 minute clips are also included. The first is a great montage of Super 8 footage shot on the set, narrated by zombie extra Rob Langer. Langer has a fanboy excitement for the whole thing, and it is without a doubt that he has seen the footage a number of times, as he was basically narrating information before it even showed up on screen. He talks so fondly and affectionately about behind a part of such a monumental film, and also has some funny asides about knowing the first pregnant zombie. Another fanboy footage featurette is a recent Monroeville Mall tour which Ken Foree hosted. It is very amateur, as the photographer often just wanders the eye of the camera to wherever he wishes, at one point video taping someone video taping him. It is good to see what the mall looks like after all these years, but the shaky footage and smug and annoying banter by the cameraman can be somewhat annoying.
Look for some interesting easter eggs scattered throughout the discs for some truly bizarre footage. If you thought Buddhist monks and Dawn of the Dead
never mixed, you were wrong. A full color comic book is also included in the packaging, which is a nice fold out digipack. The digipack is simple but effective, with red-tinted zombie faces on each slip. The whole digipack slides into a simple black slipcover that has effective shiny red text. Anchor Bay has really outdone themselves with this set. It is amazing that the took the time to devote four discs to a single film, considering there are many TV series on DVD that don’t even cover that many discs. Every facet of the film is covered on this documentary, and if you really have any further unanswered questions then you know way too much about the film!
Dawn of the Dead
remains one of the true masterpieces of the horror genre. Few films have been able to so skillfully balance horror, satire and social commentary all in one epically ghoulish package. The best version of the film remains the U.S. Theatrical version, but the other two are certainly no slouches either. Anchor Bay has delivered a set that is really everything a Dead fan can ask for. Not only is it loaded with supplements and three cuts of the film, but each and every piece of footage is interesting and informative. A culmination of years of interview and information grabbing, the final product is truly the best of its kind. Never has a single film been covered with such an expansive DVD set, and never has a film been more deserving. This disc needs to be owned by all horror fans and anyone who cares at all about film history. This is a seminal film in a seminal set that will surely change the meaning of the words “Ultimate Edition”. Lumber over to your nearest shopping mall and pick up this piece of horror history, you won’t regret it.
Movie - A
Image Quality - A
Sound - B+
Supplements - A
- Running time - 2 hours 7 minutes (U.S. Theatrical), 2 hours 19 minutes (Extended), 1 hour 58 minutes (European)
- Not Rated
- 4 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English DTS 5.1 (U.S. Theatrical)
- English Dolby Digital 5.1 (U.S. Theatrical, European)
- English Dolby Surround 2.0 (U.S. Theatrical, European)
- English Mono (U.S. Theatrical, European, Extended)
- U.S. Theatrical Version (Disc One)
- Theatrical Trailers
- TV Spots
- Radio Spots
- Audio Commentary with Writer-Director George A. Romero, Special Makeup Effects Artist Tom Savini, and Assistant Director Chris Romero. Moderated by DVD Producer Perry Martin.
- Comic Book Preview
- George A. Romero Bio
- Poster & Advertising Gallery
Extended Version (Disc Two)
- Audio Commentary with Producer Richard P. Rubinstein. Moderated by DVD Producer Perry Martin.
- Production Stills
- Behind-The-Scenes Photos
- Memorabilia Gallery
- Monroeville Mall Commercial
European Version (Disc Three)
- Audio Commentary with Actors David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger and Gaylen Ross.
- International Theatrical Trailers
- U.K. TV Spots
- International Poster & Advertising Gallery
- International Lobby Card Gallery
- International Pressbook Gallery
- Home Video & Soundtrack Artwork
- Dario Argento Bio
Documentaries (Disc Four)
- "The Dead Will Walk",featuring interviews with Dario Argento, Claudio Argento, Tony Buba, Pasquale Buba, Sharon Ceccatti-Hill, Zilla Clinton, David Crawford, David Early, David Emge, Ken Foree, Michael Gornick, John Harrison, Clayton Hill, Jim Krut, Leonard Lies, Scott H. Reiniger, George A. Romero, Chris Romero, Gaylen Ross, Tom Savini, and Claudio Simonetti
- "Roy Frumkes' Document of the Dead", the original documentary shot on the set of DAWN OF THE DEAD
- On-Set Home Movies with Audio Commentary from Zombie Extra Robert Langer
- Monroeville Mall Tour with Actor Ken Foree
- Comic book
- Easter eggs