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Shaun of the Dead (Blu-ray)
Universal Studios / 2004 / 100 Minutes / Rated R
Street Date: September 22, 2009
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
"Tonight I'm gonna have myself a real good time
I feel alive and the world it's turning inside out, yeah!"
The American debut for actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as well as writer/director Edgar Wright, 'Shaun of the Dead' brought a dry form of British comedy to our shores that was nearly universally embraced. Their television show, 'Spaced,' didn't even hit American store shelves until after the success of their second film, 'Hot Fuzz.' but with 'Shaun,' they put their own uniquely fresh spin on a not too fresh sub-genre: the horror spoof.
It's been done a hundred times already, from self-aware horror films to full on film mix-and-match fare like 'Scary Movie,' but few such films can claim the same brilliance and appeal as this British take on zombies. More a love-letter than full on parody, 'Shaun of the Dead' took on the living dead in a manner only rivaled by the master George Romero himself.
Shaun (Pegg) and his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) are at a crossroads in their relationship, with each side's friends only exacerbating their issues. With tension at home between flatmates Ed (Nick Frost) and Pete (Peter Serafinowicz), there's no neutral ground where Shaun can sort out his life. Leave it to an outbreak of zom...(shh, don't say the zed-word!)....undead to put everything into perspective...if only Shaun would notice the world disintegrating around him!
In 'Shaun of the Dead,' Comedic timing gets redefined in numerous ways, with countless ironic (or soon to be ironic) shots and bits of dialogue, and a few moments that repeat themselves, transforming from mundane situations to twisted parallels, much like Bizarro World.
The fact that an entire outbreak can go by undetected by those too wrapped up in their minor crises sets a stage far more convincing than the original zombie films, where random men and women find themselves in the middle of a growing issue. There's no time to stock up, strategize, or get to one's friends and family.
The diverse cast of characters and personalities who seemingly refuse to put their own problems and idiosyncrasies on hold in response to the end of the world only help the film. Shaun, Ed, and Liz don't seem to care about the apocalypse, letting minute issues from before dominate their actions in the present, while Liz's friends Dianne (Lucy Davis) and David (Dylan Moran) each act in the same manner, using the ensuing end of the world to further their own agendas of love and jealousy. Shaun's mom Barbara (Penelope Wilton) and stepfather Philip (Bill Nighy) also have their own problems, but don't seem to let the situation all around them affect their actions one bit.
We aren't told the cause of the outbreak, despite it starting to be explained, thanks to the changing channel joke, where numerous broadcasts tell a different tale by jumping between programs. Much like Wright's signature jump cuts, the story isn't to tell the explanation, but to show the results. Like the rest of the great zombie flicks of old, it's better to not know the cause of the outbreak, but just see it develop from a few isolated incidents to a full on undead pandemic. Also, much like the greats of the sub-genre, the film's zombies are slow and incredibly stupid, working together much like Star Trek's Borg, while empowering the story's anti-heroes to act.
'Shaun of the Dead' is full of deliciously perfect timing, genius oblivious acting by the entire cast, hilarious screwball situations that no normal outbreak survivor would ever put themselves through, and plenty of pop culture gags to boot. From the seemingly psychic jukebox on random, to the theory that dogs can't look up, to the discussion of the decommission of the only gun available, there's nary a scene in the film that isn't sheer perfection, a zombie fan's dream. The perfect mix of comedy and zombie horror, 'Shaun' is sure to stand the test of time, and find a place next to the other 'of the Dead' films that Romero made famous. If only every parody film were this well thought out, focusing on themes rather than a smattering of random occurrences with no semblance of a plot, and if only every zombie film could follow the classic rules to the letter as 'Shaun.'
"You got red on you."
A former HD DVD hold out, 'Shaun of the Dead' arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode that rivals the dead format's VC-1. The same strengths and weaknesses can be found here, so those still fighting that long dead war, find another case subject.
Detail is strong, with the occasional bit of softness thrown in at random. Colors are drab, largely due to the lighting in most scenes, as a few shots (in the market, or at Liz's flat), they are sharp and bright, jumping off the screen. The film has a nice three dimensional feel to it, and reds, obviously a vital element to the film's aesthetic, replicate nicely, with countless shades of fresh and dried blood taking center stage.
Delineation is poor, especially in night shots, while black levels leave a bit to be desired. Still, this isn't exactly a big budget production, and this transfer is more than acceptable. It's quite good, honestly!
While the HD DVD release of 'Shaun' sported a Dolby Digital-Plus mix, the Blu-ray release (which hits shelves more than two years later) improves upon the audio side of this disc, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that is the best the film has ever sounded on home video, for more reasons than the lossless effect.
Dialogue, for the most part, is clearly prioritized and perfectly comprehendible, raising in intensity to match the ever-increasing chaos on screen. Sound is localized nicely throughout the sound field, from Shaun and Ed's video game hitting on the right channels, to zombie moans and groans emanating from all angles consistently. Dynamic range is superb, as high pitched musical and atmospheric elements are crisp alongside some very deep low end noises.
The constantly thudding bass is a superb, borderline dominating element of this sound mix, increasing in intensity as the film (and outbreak) does, with jump cuts and soundtrack sporting a superb rumble. However, by the end of the film, the pulsing thud can overpower soundtrack (Queen's Don't Stop Me, for example) elements and dialogue alike. Even urgent yells get overshadowed by the LFE. The ADR'ed line replacing "pissed" with "drunk" (on American releases, as our pissed means aggravated, not inebriated) still feels out of place, especially with Pegg's emphasized lip movement, but that is an issue that will never change on stateside releases.
- Audio Commentary - With Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. The duo discuss their coming of age, in a way, from a television show to full length feature films, mentioning racist continuity errors, the recurring characters with changing roles (live vs dead), bringing up random actors (in a Farrelly brothers sort of way), their favorite lines and shots, and their homages/references/ripoffs of other films. Perhaps the best track on this release, full of rapid fire back and forth, with actual information on the production, to boot!
- Audio Commentary - With Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Dylan Moran, Kate Ashfield, and Lucy Davis. Here you'll find discussions of crotch rot, zombie romances, literal potty language, zombie moans, airplane movie demeanor, and more. This is a conversation that goes nowhere.
- Audio Commentary - With Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton. Wilton is quite plain and bland, while Nighy is more lively and comical. They share their hatred for fart jokes, wonder if the French enjoy fart jokes, call each other attractive, call characters "shit rags," and so on. Wilton mentions how Wright told her that the film is much like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and it makes so much sense when one thinks about it...For the most part, they watch the film, comment on things they found clever, and giggle quite a bit. This commentary was not on the domestic DVD or HD DVD, but was found on the R2 DVD, so this isn't technically an exclusive.
- Audio Commentary - With the Zombies (no, not Rob and Sherri Moon). Another track that is new to stateside releases to the film, though is not a new recording. This track starts out like a generic moaner gag, but soon turns into a real commentary with many of the characters who turn into zombies in the film. They discuss the perils of filming a zombie movie near real locations (going off set), ramble, can't remember actor/character names, ramble, ramble, and go off on random observational tangents. A poor track, that would have been better had it stuck to HMRRRMRMAAAAAARRGGARR.
- Missing Bits - A section of extras concerning varying footage from the film. First up is Extended Bits (SD, 13 min), which contains extended scenes from the film, with optional commentary. The small omissions found here flesh out the story, but would have done nothing for the pace of the film, as we can imagine some things, rather than being spoon fed. Most of the changes in these scenes are development, not humor. Outtakes (SD, 10 min) is as straight forward as it sounds, with random flubs and gaffs on set, and a few alternate ad-libs, including some descriptions that would have given the MPAA fits. The Man Who Would be Shaun (SD, 1 min) is a silly outtake that features a stereotypical British voice gag. Funky Pete (SD, 2 min) features a PG cut on the Electro sequence with numerous vulgarity replacements. Rounding out this section is Plot Holes (SD, 3 min), which features three explanations/outcomes of scenes in the film.
- Raw Meat - This set of features sports a Play All feature, which is somewhat crucial considering it consists of eight sections, and that's a lot of back and forth to the menu when viewing piece by piece. Simon Pegg's Video Diary (SD, 12 min) has actors in varying stages of zombie makeup screwing around, and getting prepped for filming. Lucy Davis' Video Diary (SD, 12 min) features more of the same, with actors wasting time between shots, with occasional bits of how special effects were shot, and a beware of zombie actors sign apologizing for the appearances of the actors for random pedestrians, and some very odd looking stunt doubles. Joe Cornish's Video Diary (SD, 10 min) is a bit different, going the route of showing a day in the life of a zombie extra. Casting Tapes (SD, 4 min) has the auditions from the actors who made the film, providing very raw takes and some general tomfoolery. Edgar and Simon's Flip Chart (SD, 13 min) has the duo showing the original draft of the film, skimming through it like they were somewhat embarrassed for some unknown reason. SFX Comparison (SD, 2 min) shows a comparison in the lovely pole impalement scene (the one effect I always wanted to know the techniques behind), and Pete's demise. Color me entertained! Make-Up Tests (SD, 2 min) has random extras in zombie makeup approaching the camera, to see if they're convincing. Lastly, the EPK Featurette (SD, 7 min) is standard EPK fare, a promotional "behind the scenes" look at the film.
- TV Bits (SD) - A collection of television broadcasts that are glimpsed in the film. T4 with Coldplay (4 min) features the non-zombie members of the British pop band in a mock interview, as they name off celebrities who got infected, explain their cause, and debut their new band mates. Fun Dead (1 min) is an extended look at the zombie exploitation game show. Your Nine Lives Are Up (1 min) is the first of two faux "Trisha" talk show segments, showing the before section where the couple are having relationship issues. In I Married a Monster (1 min), the pair, now half undead, defend their relationship. Lastly, in Remembering Z Day (2 min), a cable news program anchor discusses the aftermath of Z Day.
- Zombie Gallery - This three section segment focuses on still images. There's a 44 picture Photo Gallery available, that features the cast and crew bullshitting around, that is honestly a bit of a bore. The 2000 AD Strip is a fantastic little comic that can be zoomed in on for readability purposes, featuring the shop clerk Mary, one of the more memorable zombies in the film. Lastly, Poster Designs features eleven theatrical posters for the film.
- Storyboard Gallery - This feature plays much like U-Control, with a symbol popping on screen that opens up galleries when prompted. This is DVD technology, exiting the film entirely, which could have been properly utilized in the included U-Control feature. Perhaps they are, though (keep on reading).
- Trailers (SD) - There are six trailers available for 'Shaun of the Dead,' including US and UK trailers, teasers, TV spots, and a trailer that played at Fright Fest.
- Candy Cash - First pressings of this release include an insert redeemable at many retailers for $5 worth of Halloween candy. Sweet.br>
- U-Control - While the Zomb-O-Meter was included on the DVD and HD DVD releases of 'Shaun of the Dead,' it is now utilized through U-Control. This track covers the homages to previous zombie films, from music choices (and any links they have to zombie films of old), to the references to other undead, random facts about the film, dictionary excerpts, and so on. The track is quite frequent in its coverage. The U-Control feature also can prompt the storyboards from the Storyboard Gallery, but cannot play both the trivia track and the gallery at the same time. There can only be one!
- BD-Live - Hop online with BD-Live! Currently, there are no 'Shaun of the Dead' exclusive features available, just the standard Universal Portal.
- My Scenes - Bookmark your favorite scenes to replay later!
- D-Box Motion Code - Those with D-Box equipped furniture can get some thunder down under.
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'Shaun of the Dead' is a brilliant mix of the horror and comedy genres, crafting a tale full of fun characters, hilarious situations, and classic zombie perils (there is no running to be found here!). With solid video, great audio, a huge supplement package, and appeal for fans of two genres, all at a catalog price, this release gets the rare "Must Own" status.