Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead at Least Looks Good on Blu-ray
As with any pop-culture timeline, the history of the living dead can get convoluted. The modern zombies we know and love originated with George A. Romero’s 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, and his 1978 followup Dawn of the Dead -– with its bigger budget, far better splatter effects, and color film stock –- further canonized the undead flesh-eaters which still populate countless indie horror films and/or the latest interminable season of The Walking Dead.
But our current zombie wave is generally traced back to the financial success Zack Synder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, which Shout! Factory is releasing on October 31 in an extras-packed double-disc collector’s edition Blu-ray.
It’s the same day Shout! Factory is releasing their Blu-ray of George A. Romero’s 2005 Land of the Dead, which we talked about last week, though it’s not the first time the two films have been associated on video. Rights-holder Universal has released Snyder’s Dawn and Romero’s Land together in multi-disc sets in 2007, 2011, and 2015, but thankfully Shout! Factory is releasing them as separate entities, and both of their Blu-ray sets collect all the extras from past releases along with new transfers and interviews. And Dawn, which was art-directed and color-corrected within an inch of its life to begin with, looks eye-searingly spectacular in this “HD Master Derived From The Digital Intermediate Archival Negative.” Dig the green of those neighborhood lawns!
When Romero’s Land of the Dead was initially released, it was criticized for continuing the political subtext-as-text for which his original trilogy had been praised, especially Dawn. Snyder’s Dawn jettisons all that namby-pamby nuance, retaining the shopping-mall setting and little else.
This was intended from the start. Screenwriter James Gunn, who wrote and directed those Marvel movies with the space raccoon wearing people clothes you enjoy so much, is open in his interview about not being interested in the sociological aspect of Romero’s film. Though he says it’s a favorite and that he had the poster on his wall as a teenager, he dismisses the original film’s “character stuff and talking” as “just not what the movie was about,” declaring it “primarily an action film.”
Mind you, he’s saying those tone-deaf things more than a decade after the fact. But because fans are the worst -- except for Wizard readers, of course! -- when it was announced that the Dawn of the Dead remake was being written by a screenwriter who had the Scooby-Doo films on his otherwise horror-heavy resume, Gunn received death threats. That’s just what garbage people on the Internet do, and the odds that whoever sent those death threats are huge fans of Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy now are quite high. (See also: "Nooo! Ben Affleck is going to play Batman!" followed a few years later by "Nooo! Ben Affleck isn't going to play Batman anymore!")
Gunn also reveals that he only took the gig because he didn’t have to pitch it or otherwise have any actual ideas to start with: "Today I'm actually very planned out in the way I write, and I write incredibly detailed treatments, but back then, I just sort of put my characters in the situation and wrote. And that's what Dawn of the Dead was."
This may explain why in spite of all the gore and noise and sturm and drang, nothing memorable happens in the film between the opening and closing credits. Also note that of the five zombies and four humans on the cover below, you can’t see any of their faces, because the characters don’t matter in this film.
But the prologue and opening and closing credit sequences are doozies. Okay, sure, the panther sound when the girl attacks in the prologue is a bit much, and the fact that the zombies run is a whole ‘nother matter, but if you set aside the middle 90 minutes -- basically everything between the end of Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” at 0:13:05 and the beginning of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” at 1:35:33 -- then Dawn of the Dead might be the best work of Snyder’s career.
Images: Universal / Shout! Factory