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.'
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.
'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.