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Dawn of the Dead 4K Blu-ray review: Dir. George A. Romero [Limited Edition Box Set]

Peter: They’re after the place. They don’t know why; they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here.

Francine: What the hell are they?

Peter: They’re us, that’s all…

George A. Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead rightfully remains a hugely influential film in the scheme of horror, social commentary, and creativity. Playing on the fears of the unknown, something the States and beyond have excelled in with the wrong kind of leaders of late, this film continues to impress as a small group of people look to survive after an unknown virus causes the dead to come back to life, and they kill the living to endure. Yes, we’re talking the classic Zombies.

This Second Sight Films release is an extensive, incredibly prominent bundle as well. Not only is it finally the long-awaiting release of this seminal film in this form, it comes as a Limited Edition 4K UHD and/or 4K Blu-ray release, with the 4K scan and restoration coming from the Original Camera Negative, which was backed by Second Sight at the wonderful Final Frame New York (and London), a post-production company who work with independent companies. That’s not all either because the process was supervised and approved by Dawn of the Dead’s very own DoP Michael Gornick himself, and it looks stunning to be fair. Coming across as clean and crisp in its cinematography, it also persists in its expansive vision but also – an important thing – the Zombie-deaths pack a punch and, yeah, the blood and gore doesn’t lose its grisly edge.

On this occasion, and because it has been years since I delved into this one – Yeah, I know, I feel guilty it was so long – I went with the ‘Cannes’ cut, which isn’t really a favourite of Romero or Producer Argento but nevertheless extends certain scenes and offers a little more background on certain character moments. Overall, though, out of all the cuts included on this fantastic 4-disc Blu-ray, you’d be just as happy with the original theatrical version or Argento’s European cut, which speeds things up a bit.

The truth is, Dawn of the Dead still makes one hell of an impression, whether that connection has been heightened by the nature of the last year, where an invisible virus has had an horrific impact on the world I’m unsure, but re-watching this film and see the chaos in the TV Station, alongside public panic, makes it seem just as relevant than ever, or maybe it has always been applicable? That could be history itself. But, yes, the film endures and is packed full of tension.

What makes Dawn of the Dead immersive is the sheer suggested scale of the contagion, and while we’re mainly in one place, you’re given a sense of the world beyond. This takes us from cities to rural areas, from everyday people, to Farmers and more. Everything is happening at the same time and in those early days, we’re shown that people are aware of the threat but treating it as fun. The dark comedy of rednecks shooting at the Zombies on a hill is genuinely quite amusing. There’s a lot of funny moments here. Even though it’s so, so wrong.

But that’s just the beginning and soon we’ll be following David Emge’s Stephen, Ken Foree’s Peter, Scott H. Reiniger’s Roger and Gaylen Ross’s Francine, as they scramble to stay alive after making their temporary home in a shopping mall at the edge of town.  This is a purposeful placement from Romero, his film has always been an allegory for capitalism and consumerism.  They see it as a place where no-one else should be but, you see, Zombies are still heading there because of ‘Memory, instinct, this is an important place in their lives…’ and the initial establishing shots of the Mall, putting on the bland music, and offering us reflections/connection to the everyday is actual genius. Never has there been a more intelligent comment on modern society in this form, and all it’s pointlessness, especially when it comes places like malls and all their soulless nature.  

The only big issue with Dawn of the Dead, as with any slightly older film (but not all), is the pace of the action or, more so, the pace of the peril. Although the characters are learning what to do as they go along, the attacks can feel a bit wooden and occasionally over-dramatic. While this holds its own charm, we can all see a Zombie coming towards people, as can they, and yet when they attack, they treat it as the strongest, most crazed thing they’ve ever seen. Yes, humans are strong, but can braindead ones push you over without pushing you over? Those elements seem unlikely and can be unintentionally funny despite the aggressive, brutal deaths that the Zombies suffer. The only time when you can understand it being overwhelming is at the Mall, because the sheer volume could easily be terrifying and a lack of character caution always leads to stupidity in films like this, maybe DoTD set that probability for future homages.

Overall, the intensity and inventiveness outweigh those establishing situations and eventually the threat and fear really does grow, even after they ‘settle into life’ in the Mall. There’s more than a few stand-out scenes that includes the Hari Krishna attack, Roger’s blood lust and demise, the lorry cab struggle, the pointlessness of real cash and then how all four characters accept they might as well make the best of it, helping themselves to clothes, picking up new stuff, getting haircuts, playing video games because, after all, there’s nothing like material wealth to make you feel better for a while, oh, and never forget the Helicopter blades, or the shot of Francine and Stephen sat motionless in bed because it’s inspired.

The other good thing here is a diverse cast, which seems distinct and something that really stuck in horror films (it seems) at the time, but it’s welcome and makes it feel modern. While Ross’s Francine is initially treated as ‘just’ a woman who’s pregnant, and there’s a concerning male discussion without her regarding whether they should talk her into getting rid of it, but after that initial moment she builds her character and becomes a vital part of everything. Ken Foree’s Peter also leads throughout and is truly the lead character bringing action, decision-making and strength from start to finish. Truthfully, they wouldn’t survive without him as Stephen is too weak and Roger is too unhinged, which is also the reason for his downfall later.

Dawn of the Dead continues to live up to its hyped high standards, and this is something that could easily seem a little silly or trite, is instead a brilliant statement on modern society, even 40 years since its release. Whether that’s troubling or magnificent is up to you but when the conclusion of the film is visions of ‘alive’ humans trying to kill each other, it makes you wonder if we ever learn at all, or whether we’re simply destined to fly off in search of somewhere new forever.

Dawn of The Dead Limited-Edition 4K UHD and Dawn of The Dead Limited-Edition Blu-ray on 16 November 2020.

Order the 4K Blu-ray: https://amzn.to/3n5p1sB

Order the 4K UHD: https://amzn.to/3p9L8Qt

If you’re picking up either set, then you’ll be getting ace packaging which features the original iconic poster art plus newly commissioned artwork inside. These include four discs – with three versions of the film: The Theatrical Cut, The Extended (‘Cannes’) Cut and The Argento Cut, plus stacks of special features that take in new and archive interviews, including the previously unreleased The Lost Romero Dawn Interview. I’ve also added ALL the special edition extras below, take a gander!

The extras are extensive, this is a superb set that’s worth every penny, considering how much you get. So with commentaries and documentaries galore, soundtrack CDs and a stunning brand new 160-page hardback book Dissecting the Dead complete with brand new writing, this is an absolute glorious set that any film-fan would benefit from, and respects the film its representing.


SPECIAL FEATURES

BLU-RAY DISC 1: THE THEATRICAL CUT (127 mins)
• NEW 4K scan and restoration of the Original Camera Negative by Second Sight at Final Frame New York and London supervised and
approved by DoP Michael Gornick
• Audio: New restoration of the original OCN Optical presented in Mono 1.0, Stereo 2.0 and 5.1.
• Commentary by George A Romero, Tom Savini, Christine Forrest
• NEW commentary by Travis Crawford
• NEW optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired

BLU-RAY DISC 2 – THE EXTENDED (‘CANNES’) CUT (137 mins)
• Produced using 4K scan of the Theatrical Cut Original Camera Negative and 4K scan of the Extended Cut Colour Reversal Internegative
• DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono
• Commentary by Richard P. Rubinstein
• NEW optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired

BLU-RAY DISC 3 – THE ARGENTO CUT (120 mins)
• 4K scan of the Interpositive by Michele De Angelis at Backlight Digital, Rome
• Audio: DT-HD Master Audio Mono 1.0 / Surround 5.1 / Stereo 2.0
• Commentary by Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, David Emge
• NEW optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired

BLU-RAY DISC 4: SPECIAL FEATURES
• NEW Zombies and Bikers – With John Amplas, Roy Frumkes, Tom Savini, Christine Forrest, Tom Dubensky, Tony Buba, Taso Stavrakis
and a whole host of zombies and bikers! (59 mins)
• NEW Memories of Monroeville
A tour of the mall with Michael Gornick, Tom Savini, Tom Dubensky and Taso Stavrakis (34 mins)
• NEW Raising the Dead: The Production Logistics (25 mins)
With Michael Gornick, Christine Forrest, John Amplas, Tom Dubensky (23 mins)
• NEW The FX of Dawn with Tom Savini (13 mins)
• NEW Dummies! Dummies! – An interview with Richard France (12 mins)
• NEW The Lost Romero Dawn Interview: previously unreleased archive interview (20 mins)
• Super 8 Mall Footage by zombie extra Ralph Langer with option of archive commentary by Langer and new commentary by
Ralph Langer (13 mins)
• Document of the Dead: The Original Cut (66 mins)
• Document of the Dead: The Definitive Cut with optional commentary by Roy Frumkes (100 mins)
• The Dead Will Walk 2014 Documentary (80 mins)
• Trailers, TV and Radio Spots

Plus…

AUDIO CD DISC 1

  • The Goblin Soundtrack 17 tracks including Alternate and Bonus Tracks

AUDIO CD DISC 2

  • A De Wolfe library compilation part 1

AUDIO CD DISC 3

  • A De Wolfe library compilation part 2
  • Rigid box with lid featuring the original iconic artwork
  • 2 inner digipaks
  • 160-page hardback book featuring new essays, archive article, archive George A. Romero interview and rare behind-the-scenes stills
  • Dawn of the Dead: The novelisation book by George A. Romero and Susanna Sparrow with exclusive artwork

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