Review Date: January 31, 2001
Released by: Dutch Filmworks
Release date: 1/30/2001
Region 0, PAL
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: No (Director's Cut) || Full Frame 1.33:1 (Argento Cut)
Many dead fans have longed to see a definitive DVD version of Dawn of the Dead. One that includes all the various cuts of the film, such as the "theatrical cut", "director's cut" and the "Argento cut" - a shorter version edited by Dario Argento himself for release in Italy as Zombi. Given the running times of the various cuts - between 117 and 140 minutes - there's no doubt that any sort of "definitive" DVD release would have to be 2 or 3 DVDs at the least. Fortunately, there is hope for Dawn of the Dead fans - Anchor Bay plans on releasing a "definitive" version onto DVD. Full details aren't know at this point, but there's no doubt that whatever versions they can get their hands on will be cleaned up and remastered for the release, which is currently scheduled for a 2002 release.
As is often the case a foreign company, at least to some extent, has beat Anchor Bay to the punch. Dutch Filmworks has released the entire dead trilogy onto PAL DVD in Holland, though I assure you we WILL NOT be reviewing their Night of the Living Dead DVD since it's the atrocious 30th Anniversary Edition with the newly added scenes. Their Dawn of the Dead release however, is a 2-disc PAL DVD that contains both the "director's cut" and the "Argento cut". Not only that, but included on disc 2 - the "Argento cut" - is the 60 minute Document of the Dead documentary. The set is missing the "theatrical cut" however, so I wouldn't really go as far to call this the "definitive" Dawn of the Dead DVD. It's pretty damn close though, and there's no doubt that with these 2 cuts and a documentary all in one package, it's definitely going to perk the attention of many Dawn fans.
As we all know, being first doesn't necessarily mean being better in terms of extras, supplements and overall value. We still don't know all the specifics as to what's going to be on Anchor Bay's release, so it's unfair to make any sort of comparisons at this point. Instead lets focus on the DVD at hand - Dutch Filmworks' 2-disc PAL Dawn of the Dead DVD. Lets take a closer look.
The world is in a state of chaos; the dead live, rising up from their graves to hunt the living and eat their flesh. The United States has declared martial law - all residents are required to leave their homes and go to "rescue stations" for shelter and protection. At a local TV station in Philadelphia, a worker named Francine Parker (Gaylen Ross) is determined to stay and help keep the station - also in a state of chaos - up and running. Her boyfriend Stephen Andrews (David Emge) arrives to tell her he has a helicopter and that they're going to leave the city that night. She's reluctant to go at first, but soon agrees after a co-worker informs her that the station is going off the air at midnight - the emergency network is taking over. Joining them in the flee from the city is Stephen's friend Roger DeMarco (Scott H. Reiniger), and Roger's friend Peter Washington (Ken Foree). Both Roger and Peter are police officers who are tired of the constant killing of both the dead and the living. They're abandoning their duties, running to save themselves before it's too late.
The four meet later that night on top of the TV station as planned, and fly away in the helicopter in search of someplace safer and less chaotic. They eventually land at an abandoned airfield to refuel, only to find it's plagued with zombies. Thanks to Roger's sharp shooting, they just barely manage to refuel and escape the zombies unharmed. The next stop is a mall that's also been abandoned. Stephen, now dubbed "Fly Boy" by Peter, lands the helicopter on the mall's roof so they can investigate. No one is surprised to see the dozens of zombies roaming about in the parking lot. But inside of the mall many of the store gates are closed, preventing the zombies from being able to get inside the actual stores. The zombies inside of the mall itself are mostly on the first floor, leaving the second floor relatively safe. Peter breaks a window and the group climbs down into a storage room on the second floor. The room appears to be safe and secluded from the zombies, with only one entrance leading up into it. They barricade the door with some boxes and decide to stay a bit to get some much needed r&r.
Roger and Peter quickly become antsy and decide to scour for supplies. They easily outmaneuver the zombies and end up finding a lot more than supplies. The mall is full of everything they could possibly need - food, supplies, entertainment and even electricity. Peter suggests that they stay around in the mall for a while to get an extended rest. A wall is built to hide the only entrance up into the storage room; a ventilation shaft now serves as the sole exit and entrance into the room. They even go as far to block off all the entrances to the mall with tractor trailers, preventing any additional zombies from getting in. All goes well at first, but disaster soon strikes. While moving the trailers, Roger is bitten in both the arm and leg by several zombies.
The bites leave Roger barely able to walk; his health and sanity begin to decline. Minus Roger's unfortunate accident, their plans have been a success. The mall is free of zombies and no new ones are able to get inside. They begin to really enjoy themselves - going ice skating, playing video games and going on shopping sprees. But all good things come to an end, and for this group that happens when an army of renegade bikers show up at the mall. They force open all the main entrances, allowing both themselves and the zombies to get inside. The bikers begin riding around the mall doing their typical looting, then begin treating the zombies as play things. Stephen makes the mistake of shooting at some of the bikers, which quickly sparks a war between the two groups. Now Stephen's group is not only faced with surviving and escaping the army of bikers that is intent on killing each one of them, but also the army of flesh eating zombies that have entered the mall.
Dawn of the Dead is the second entry into George Romero's dead trilogy, and it just so happens to be my least favorite of the three. Don't get me wrong, all three are classics in my book and I do enjoy Dawn of the Dead quite a bit. It's just that my order of favorite is: Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead (I'll explain why in another review) and then Dawn of the Dead. Part of it is the fact that Dawn has the most humor of the three, and I'd certainly rate it as the least scary because of that. Yes yes, the humor is, of course, intentional and helps to make the zombies seem less threatening, allowing both the characters and the viewers to build a false sense of security. But my preference is always the straight horror/zombie movie that's light on the comedy, which is exactly what Night and Day are.
Dawn is a mix of action, adventure, drama, comedy and horror; Romero balances the mix of each just right. The character development is superb, and you really end up caring for each of the "good guy" characters in the film. Each actor in the main group of four characters does a wonderful job with their part, definitely helping to create a realistic environment. Then there's the use of the mall, which is a perfect representation of American society. The fact that the zombies are mysteriously drawn to it - perhaps because it's become part of human nature and is something they actually remember from their past life - is a nice touch. At first the characters find themselves using the mall as a fortress of sorts, only to discover that it can quickly become a prison as well.
Besides having great acting and a good story, Dawn also has great special effects that are sure to please all gore fans. It's full of blood and guts, courtesy of special effects artist Tom Savini, who also did stunts and even plays a role as one of the bikers in the movie (see screenshot 4 for Tom). I must also admit that while the zombies in Dawn are decent looking, I prefer the look of Fulci's zombies in Zombie. I find them to be much more realistic than Romero's, whose basically look like humans with green makeup slapped on their face. In fairness, Romero had to work within his budget; since Dawn has dozens more zombies than Zombie has, it makes sense that he couldn't afford to have extensive makeup effects done on each and every zombie.
Both the Director's Cut (139 minutes) and the Argento cut (117 minutes) are included on this 2-disc set. Previously I have only seen the Director's Cut on Elite laserdisc; I've never seen the Theatrical Cut. As for the two on this DVD - Director's and Argento - I'm torn as to which one I prefer. The DC tends to drag at times, especially in the middle as the group begins securing the mall. AC has a much quicker pace to it and has what I believe to be a better score (performed by Goblin). But at the same time, the AC has less character development, which I really enjoyed in the DC. I didn't really notice much more gore in the AC, but many claim there is more there. I did notice one gore scene missing in the AC - when the square headed zombie gets the top of his head cutoff by helicopter blades. Regardless, both had lots of gore and I found them to be about equal in terms of gore eye candy.
Obviously I'm split as to which I prefer. I plan on reviewing Anchor Bay's Theatrical Cut DVD soon, which will be my first time seeing the TC. From what I hear it has a quicker pace than the DC, while still maintaining the character development; perhaps that will end up being my preferred cut. I definitely like having both the DC and the AC available in one package, giving me the ability to view each cut both now and again in the future to decide which I prefer.
If you haven't seen Dawn of the Dead please kick yourself, then rush out and at least rent the theatrical cut DVD from Anchor Bay. You're bound to love it; it's a great entry into Romero's dead trilogy that is sure to please any horror fan.
Dawn of the Dead: Director's Cut
is presented in a non-anamorphic widescreen transfer in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Sadly, the overall quality of this transfer is rather poor, at least by DVD standards. It's not that this image on this DVD is plagued with all sorts of problems, it's just that there was obviously no restoration or enhancement done. The biggest problem on this transfer is the colors which are consistently faded and washed out. Blemishes and grain are quite minimal, hardly appearing at all. The picture is soft and lacks any real detail. Occasionally some minor MPEG artifacting can be seen in the background, though that's also quite minimal. I'm rating this a C as I think it's a just barely acceptable transfer overall. It's obvious some restoration needed to be done with the print and that just didn't happen here.
Dawn of the Dead: Argento (European) Cut
is presented in a 1.33:1 full frame transfer. This transfer ended up being worse than the DC transfer. Nearly all of the same problems are found, except they're more severe here. Once again colors are faded and washed out; the picture is softer than the DC and once again lacking in detail. The image goes from either being too dark or a bit too bright. MPEG artifacting is a bit heavier here, but just as with the DC it's only occasionally noticeable in the background. Blemishes and grain are minimal here as well. I'm scoring this one a D+.
Certainly these transfers are better than VHS bootlegs, and for many die-hard Dawn fans this DVD is a blessing. Just don't expect top notch video quality that many have become used to from horror dvds. The quality is certainly bearable, but there's no doubt Dawn could look better, and certainly deserves to look better.
The sound on both discs is mono. Not much to say here, though it's important to note that the soundtrack on the Argento cut was done by the group Goblin. The Goblin score sounds quite wonderful on the DVD and definitely stands out. I did hear some minor distortion in a few spots on each disc, but it's brief and only happens in a couple of scenes.
Optional Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Finnish subtitles are included on each disc.
This 2-disc set has some nice extras, best of which is the 60 minute Document of the Dead documentary. During the filming of Dawn, Romero allowed a film crew from the School of Visual Arts onto the set. This Document of the Dead documentary consists mostly of footage shot over a long weekend by that film crew. It's very in-depth, covering many aspects of the making of Dawn of the Dead, as well as explaining Romero's filmmaking style. It's broken up into sections - Pre-Production, Production, Post Production and Securing Distribution. There's tons of behind-the-scenes footage from the Dawn set, interviews with Romero plus several members of cast and crew and clips from other Romero movies. I particularly enjoyed the last section - Security Distribution - and seeing how George had to fight to get Dawn released in its unrated form. Glad he ended up winning!
The rest of the extras between the two discs are pretty standard, consisting of a photo gallery, talent files and several trailers (foreign and domestic for Dawn, plus trailers for Day and Night), TV ads and radio spots. There's also an insert included that focuses on Romero's career, the entire dead trilogy and how Dawn of the Dead came to be. The insert is in both German and English text which I was very exited to see. Obviously the documentary is the highlight of the disc and is certainly a terrific extra. Because of it I'm rating the Supplements with an A-.
Dawn is a great entry into Romero's Dead trilogy and is required viewing for all horror fans. The video quality isn't so great on either DVD, especially on Argento's Cut (being full frame doesn't help either). Still, it's great to be able to view and own both cuts - Director's (139 mins.) and Argento's (117 min.) - in the same package and at a reasonable price (about $30). The inclusion of the 60-minute Document of the Dead documentary definitely helps to increase its value, no doubt making it an easy buy for many Dawn fans.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - C
Sound - B
Movie - B+
Image Quality - D+
Sound - B
Supplements - A-
- Running time - Director's Cut - 2 hours 19 minutes
- Running time - Argento Cut - 1 hour 57 minutes
- Rated "16" (Holland)
- 2 Discs
- Chapter stops
- English Dolby Digital Mono
- Optional Subtitles: Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Finnish
- 60 minuted documentary: Document of the Dead
- Trailers for Dawn of the Dead - foreign and domestic
- Trailers for Day of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead
- TV Ads
- Radio spots
- Photo gallery
- Talent files