In 1985, George A. Romero released the then-latest installment in his ongoing zombie movie franchise, 'Day of the Dead.' It may be heretical to horror fans to say it, but I thought the film was pretty dreadful -- boring, dully photographed, overly gory, and hampered by a self-contained underground location that smacked of low budget. It was nowhere near as effective as Romero's previous zombie epics, 'Night of the Living Dead' and 'Dawn of the Dead,' and for many fans (like me), quite a letdown. Though some Romero disciples continue to laud 'Day' as a misunderstood gem, it's probably fair to say that the world was not exactly clamoring for a remake.
Then last year, that's exactly what we got with Steve Miner's 'Day of the Dead,' which borrows the name of Romero's film but not much else. Penned by 'Final Destination' scribe Jeffrey Reddick, this is another remake that takes a few of the basic plot situations and scenarios of the original film, and creates a completely separate experience. I will probably get killed for saying this, but my appreciation for Romero's original film is so low that I actually enjoyed this remake more. It may not be as thematically ambitious as Romero, but it's a fun, fast-paced zombie movie that I found quite enjoyable.
In one of the more dubious casting choices in a horror film in recent memory, Mena Suvari stars as military grunt Sarah, who lives in a small Colorado town with her party-hearty brother Trevor (Michael Welch) and their somewhat ditzy mother. The plot wastes no time kicking into high gear, showing the events after a local contamination brings in the Army, including a cocky young sergeant (Nick Cannon), who locks down the town. Suddenly, the infected turn into raving, drooling zombies, leaving Sarah, Trevor, and a small band of survivors to fend off the flesh-eaters while they try to escape.
This new 'Day of the Dead' bares just about zero resemblance to Romero's original, aside from the military location and the presence of zombies. Miner and Reddick appear to be going for entertainment, not political or social allegory, and as such, ratchet up the action at the expense of just about everything else. 'Day of the Dead,' 2007-style, is a series of scare scenes and chase scenes, punctuated with bursts of bloody, zombie-munching violence. Reddick also wisely jettisons the boring characters of Romero's original (reimagining only one, the infamous "friendly zombie" Bud) and the resulting cast of zombie-food is, if stock, at least fairly likable. None of these changes add anything really new to the zombie genre as a whole, and 'Day of the Dead' isn't really about anything -- compared to the heady (if not pretentious) conceits of Romero, the new 'Day of the Dead' is pure meat-and-potatotes.
Yet, if 'Day of the Dead' ultimately has no real reason to exist, at least its cliches are handled fairly well. Miner may be somewhat of a hack in horror circles (he lacks the craftsmanship and distinguishable style of a Romero or a John Carpenter) but he does direct with energy and is always good at maintaining a fast pace. The cast is also game. Suvari may not be a commanding screen presence, but she seems to have fun going for the gusto with such an atypical role. Cannon also seems jazzed to be blowing away zombies, and it's nice to see Ving Rhames (who also appeared in another recent Romero remake, of 'Dawn of the Dead') back in the genre. And the zombies themselves, if generic in terms of make-up effects, move quickly and deliver quite a few well-earned jolts.
I'm sure there are still some that will dismiss 'Day of the Dead' out of hand, simply because it remakes a "classic." Yes, the film is cynical in that it is a remake in name only, and once again exploits a much-beloved genre original purely for profit. But I had fun with 'Day of the Dead,' and given that I found the Romero original so disappointing, I was able to enjoy the remake far more because I had so few expectations. If you're just looking for a fun zombie movie and can keep an open mind, 'Day of the Dead' should do the trick.
First Look presents 'Day of the Dead' in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video. Unfortunately, the movie has a kinda cheap, shot-on-video look which translates into a fine if hardly noteworthy high-def presentation.
Almost immediately, the image looks too bright and slightly washed out. Blacks lack the depth and richness of the better Blu-ray transfers. Colors appear overly saturated to compensate, leaving the palette both plugged up and lacking in vibrancy. One plus is a healthy level of detail and depth, with the image still boasting some pop despite the less-than-ideal black levels. There's also frequent noise and some slight artifacting (most noticeably motion jaggies), though the image remains generally sharp. 'Day of the Dead' is watchable, but no more than an average high-def presentation.
Two audio options are provided on the Blu-ray, Dolby TrueHD 5.l Surround (48kHz/24-bit) and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (448kbps), both in English. Like the video, it's a not-bad presentation but hardly spectacular.
The film's low-budget origins sometimes show through. I often noticed the obvious overdubbing and low dialogue levels, which give the film a cheap feel. Effects also sound pulled from the studio, and the somewhat thin dynamic range doesn't help. Low bass is fine if a tad anemic. Surround use is pretty sprightly, however, with some prominent discrete effects and a nice use of ambiance. 'Day of the Dead' never really delivers the sonic thrills of a kick-ass zombie movie, but it's perfectly listenable.
'Day of the Dead' received a fairly packed DVD release late last year, and fans can now enjoy all of those same extras on the Blu-ray. There's no video upgrade, however, with all materials still presented in 480i/MPEG-2 only.
'Day of the Dead' surprised me. Quite frankly, I had heard bad pre-release buzz about this remake, but the final product turned out to be an enjoyable and fun zombie movie. This Blu-ray release is just OK, however, with kinda cheap-looking video and audio, and ditto for the supplements. It's not a bad disc however, so fans of the film should find it worth a look.