Blu-ray: Good Disc, Bad Flick
3 Stars out of 5
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List Price 16.98
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Release Date: August 24th, 2010
Movie Release Year: 2009
Release Country: United States
COLLAPSE INFO -

Survival of the Dead: Ultimate Undead Edition

Review Date August 31st, 2010 by
Overview - A war-weary band of soldiers is lured to a remote island that promises to be the last paradise on earth, only to discover that even here, miles away from civilization, peace is shattered by the arrogance of men and the lust to kill.
OVERALL
Good Disc, Bad Flick
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Story Review Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

1.5 Stars out of 5

"Death isn't what it used to be."

I used to love George A. Romero, the man who revolutionized zombies in cinema some twenty-plus years before I was born. His original trilogy of zombie films comprised the authoritative guide to creating a zombie film, crafting tense tales where survival was not certain, where man was more a danger than reanimated, former men, and where parallels and allusions were intermixed in the themes so thoroughly that it would be impossible to reproduce (many have tried, none have suceeded). The "rules," in essence, to how zombies act were created by these seminal films, though in recent years the rule book has been thrown out the window by even Romero himself.

He had the right idea. Pit relatable, though complex and flawed humans against each other, as well as an ever-growing army of the undead, and let human nature unfold before our very eyes, with actions speaking louder than words, and tension so thick a Ginsu knife couldn't cut through it. Don't try to shock your audience, or make them leap out of their chairs, subdue them into a sense of safety, then send their world crashing down all around them, where they have nowhere to run.

Then, after a lengthy hiatus from the subgenre he helped create, he returned. Not as a messiah, not to remind us of what zombie films used to be. No, he instead came back as a man who seems to have forgotten what made his past hits so relevant and mindblowing to this day. Instead of creating films capable of being viewed endlessly, he created works that audiences would rather forget, never to revisit. Characters spouted observations like they were fucking philosophers amidst the apocalypse. With three films, he went and undid every positive thing he did for zombie cinema in the three before, piggybacking on his own success much like his imitators, though sometimes falling below the oh-so reachable bar they set. With 'Land of the Dead' and 'Diary of the Dead,' Romero changed. He went back to his roots, and then dug them out with a shovel.

Now, Romero has again risen from the dead to infect audiences who used to love him with 'Survival of the Dead.' The first official direct-sequel in the 'of the Dead' series, 'Survival' takes a one scene character (Alan Van Sprang as Sarge Crocket) from 'Diary' and turns the villainous National Guardsman into an similarly underdeveloped anti-hero. The group of military gone wild are seeking their new place in the world, where the dead already outnumber the living, and both sides of the fence are equally dangerous. A trip to an island off the coast of Delaware promises a better life for those who can afford to make it, but a rivalry between warring families threatens everyone on the island, as the feud now centers on philosophical differences concerning the treatment of the undead reaches a boiling point.

'Survival of the Dead' is no horror film. In order for it to be such, it would have to have an actual threat, and the only villain here is Romero. The O'Flynns and Muldoons are petty squabblers, whose different beliefs aren't threatening enough to be the central theme of a film. The undead? They're disposable, rarely in large numbers, and often kept so much in check that they may as well be in a zoo. Those going into the film blindly, based off the previous Romero films, which, regardless of success, had their share of the undead, will be sorely disappointed by this. The film could have been resolved by a dueling banjos montage, and that isn't even sarcasm.

The real villain of 'Survival of the Dead' is the special effects. Reliance on computers has made Romero lazy and sloppy. Sure, he now works with budgets smaller than your average Tiger Woods mistress payout, but there is no excuse for the way it is used. Decapitated zombie heads, still moaning, that don't fit in the scene due to their lighting, unnatural movements, and size is not the future of this genre. Point blank executions that leave a floating scalp that lands where a head once was isn't, either. But what about mood? 'Survival of the Dead' struggles to find a meaning, but it also constantly battles itself in terms of what direction it wants to go. Is it a statement on the lengths the living will go to survive, and how the greater good will be ignored for personal gain, or a slapstick comedy where grenades will only demolish a single side of a building? Is it a film where zombies will outnumber, surround, and assimilate, or randomly pop up out of nowhere for gag kills? Consistency is sorely lacking.

Of course, logic is missing from the equation, as well. Early on in the film, we witness a survivor sitting atop a shack, fishing in a body of water that is full of the undead. We get an early establishing shot showing there is no possible way for a zombie to get atop said roof, as there is no visible ramp, or even ladder (not that the undead could climb one!), yet as said fisherman recasts his line, he hooks a zombie. A zombie that magically appears atop the shack with him. We, the audience, are the unsuspecting fisherman, just trying to have fun for a few hours, and we get attacked for trying, by things that don't quite make sense. What does make sense? Praying that the rumor that two more 'of the Dead' films don't get made. Considering the track record, it may be time to put this series to bed and focus on competitive whittling, Mr. Romero. That, or just sit back and let other filmmakers take the names of your film and cash in on them. As it stands, you're not doing us or yourself any favors.

The Disc: Vital Stats

'Survival of the Dead' is packaged in a standard Blu-ray case, hidden behind a neat, though misleading, lenticular slipcover. The images of a hand penetrating the earth, reaching towards us, and of a massively decaying, ready to attack zombie are not representative of anything in the film itself. The disc is a BD50, and has a fun little DVD-esque feature, where, upon loading, users get to choose a side to get a unique menu screen, between the militaristic humans, or the undead.

There is a pile of pre-menu trailers, including a preview of the upcoming AMC series 'The Walking Dead,' featuring an interview with Frank Darabont, as well as trailers for 'Rubber,' 'Centurion,' and 'The Oxford Murders,' as well as an HDNet bit, which is growing a bit old. Hey Mark Cuban, you wanna advertise the Dallas Mavericks in front of the discs, as well?

Video Review

4 Stars out of 5

When Optimum Home Entertainment released 'Survival of the Dead' in the UK before the film even debuted stateside, a friend was kind enough to loan me the import, since it was impossible for me to do a four hour round-trip drive to the nearest theater playing 'Survival.' Not only did he save me time, he saved me the money it would have cost to import it, as the film looked absolutely, utterly awful. Naturally, I had some level of trepidation heading into Magnolia's release of 'Survival of the Dead,' based off of this experience; however, said journey through the depths of Blu-ray hell only helped me appreciate how solid this AVC MPEG-4 encode is.

From the very start, it's impossible to not notice the difference in quality, as the USA version makes the UK disc look like a rotting corpse...at least, more so. Detail levels receive an enormous boost, from the more natural skin tones (that sometimes wear their lighting too much and get blown out), to the wear in sets, paintbrush strokes in walls and doorjams, and the finer patterns and fabric in clothing, the difference is, to steal cliche, like night and day.

Shadow detail is still somewhat poor, but black levels are much cleaner and improved (though they're still a bit subpar). Nice edges and great three dimensionality remain, but damn if far off backgrounds don't become anything but blurs of color. My biggest gripe here has to be the amount of noise that can invade shots, regardless of lighting. At least the artifacts don't come out to play this time around. If you bought the Optimum disc (and ever want to watch this again), congratulations, a double dip is now a necessity.

Audio Review

4 Stars out of 5

The strength of the UK import lay in its audio, with a solid (though not superb) DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Magnolia's release of the film yet again trumps its foreign counterpart, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that improves on its counterpart. Dialogue doesn't have any problems with clarity or room dynamics, while directionality is all quite proper and accurate. Rears get nice random noises, though not too much movement, considering some of the actions we see on screen. Bass levels aren't constant, but they come to win when they appear, creating some nice unsettling ambience, and some nice vibrations underfoot. It's not a rip-roaring mix, and it could have been more, but considering the low budget nature of the film, it sounds quite nice.

Special Features

3 Stars out of 5

Sorry if this supplement section takes a few potshots. After a while, watching these features can get on one's nerves if you're not seriously into this film. Additionally, tidbits get repeated over and over, sometimes featuring 100 percent recycled footage from a previous extra.

  • Audio Commentary - With George A. Romero, Peter Grunwald, Michael Doherty, Kenneth Welsh, and Matt Birman. While this track does bring the goods on occasion, such as the opening comments about the reasons behind the prologue, it often falls prey to extended moments of silence, and reactions to the film (often a bit too over the top), rather than comments about it. There's random anecdotal commentary and some insight here and there, but there are too many gaps for a five man commentary, and there just isn't enough meat in this stew to justify even a single serving.
  • Documentary- Walking After Midnight (HD, 76 min) - Journey through the making of '? of the Dead,' as the clappers proudly called the film. Cast and crew take turns hosting this almost-feature-length doc covering production of 'Survival of the Dead,' full of random insights that never quite hit the mark. Sure, it's well put together, but it lacks that one ever-important element: being interesting.
  • Short Film- 'Sarge' (HD, 4 min) - Featuring the lead character of 'Survival,' 'Sarge' isn't anything but a little mock self-made in-character retrospective, alluding to 'Diary of the Dead' a bit too openly for its own good.
  • Shorts- 'A Minute of Your Time' (HD, 20 min) - Thirteen shorts, thankfully with a play all option. No, these aren't short films, like the YouTube movies found in the supplement package of 'Diary of the Dead.' This is like a Romero/'Survival' video diary, which can be fun at times, but can be painfully, painfully awful (Zombie Walks made me almost want to cry it was so bad). This one's for fans only, though it is an interesting iteration of a behind-the-scenes feature.
  • Time With George (HD, 9 min) - Spend some quality time with crazy Uncle George, who can be endearing and fun to listen to, even if he's gone full-Lucas. That said, when he goes off on his CG tangent, justifying it with "time" and "budget" concerns, it's hard to not want to wheel crazy Uncle George back to the assisted living center. Or tar pit.
  • Storyboard Comparison (HD, 2 min) - Goody gumdrops, a feature on possibly my least favorite scene in the film, featuring the piked CG heads. I'll admit, the art is fantastic, but damn do I hate this scene.
  • How to Create Your Own Zombie Bite (HD, 10 min) - Find zombie. Get bitten. Not too hard. Eric Beck of Indy Mogul/BFX: Build gives us a miniature episode featuring a challenge to build a super-cheap zombie bite. Hokey as it is, at least it isn't CG.
  • Fangoria Interview with George A. Romero (SD, 22 min) - A Fangoria TV feature, with Tony Timpone (editor of the magazine/site) hosting the man who innovated the zombie subgenre. Romero gets coaxed into discussing the basic synopsis of the film, his first chance to bring a character back from a previous film (and the threat to bring back the awful characters from 'Diary' and 'Survival' in future films), and his comments on computer effects, making it possible to do things "even Savini can't do." The more he talks, the more I hope he retires before ruining his legend further.
  • HDNet: A Look at 'Survival of the Dead' (HD, 4 min) - A mixture of gag footage and film footage, advertising the film, expressing the basic themes of the film, of survival, feuds, greed, and family.
  • Introduction from George A. Romero (HD, 1 min) - A gag introduction, featuring zombies running amok near Romero, basically all of the gag footage shown in the HDNet feature above. Unfortunately, no one bites the legend in these shots. Even if they did, it would be a few years too late.
  • Trailers - No trailer for 'Survival of the Dead,' but you can watch those wonderful pre-menu trailers again. Joy.

Final Thoughts

Wanna hear something funny? Not once have I mentioned the worst part of 'Survival of the Dead' in this review. Do you like horses? Do you think zombies like horses? Do you think braindead zombies, who can't even talk, who probably shit themselves endlessly, can ride a fucking horse? That's right. We've seen Bub rationalize and associate, and Big Daddy become somewhat a leader, a communicator, which were both kind of fun, but we've never seen anything so stupid, in all of Romero's films, as a zombie that rides a horse. Until now. I suspect that's Romero's way of giving us fans the middle finger, as he rolls around in his pile of money and randomly throws ten words together to get the synopsis of his next film.

Magnolia, at least, treats us great, as their Blu-ray release puts the Optimum Region B release to shame, easily trumping it in video quality, besting it in audio, and utterly destroying it in supplements. Best yet, this is a Blu-ray that actually has a purpose for BD-Live! In short, this is one of those perfect examples of a good disc for a bad flick. When the slipcover is better than the film itself, you know you're in dangerous territory.

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