The dead have become zombies, stalking in an endless quest to feed on those who remain alive. A group of desperate survivors in a Wisconsin town seek refuge in a large indoor mall, where they must learn not only to protect themselves from the zombie horde, but also to co-exist with each other. Remake of the 1978 film.
"We're going to the mall."
Remakes are just part of everyday life now. Where before you could count on a remake of a familiar story every few years, today they're comically commonplace. Sometimes getting some new blood into an old mix can bare a nice new product and give audiences a fresh spin on things. More often than not, the new version pales in comparison and offers up little - if anything - new or worthwhile to enjoy rendering the endeavor pointless. Thankfully 2004's remake of George Romero's seminal epic Zombie film Dawn of the Dead from director Zach Snyder and writer James Gunn proves to be one of the rare remakes that actually works. It's not anywhere near as good as the original - but it wisely does its own thing with familiar material.
After pulling a long double shift as a hospital nurse, Ana (Sarah Polley) returns home to her friendly neighbors and loving husband. Everything is good; peaceful. Nothing could go wrong - until the world ends. The next morning Sarah awakens to a nightmare. Her husband is attacked and killed when a seemingly out of her mind neighbor girl bites him in the neck. But the dead stay dead, don't they? They don't get back up and attack you! After narrowly escaping of her idyllic middle-class suburban enclave, Sarah drives out into a world of death and destruction where people are literally tearing apart and eating each other!
Ana falls in with a band of survivors with the gruff cop Kenneth (Ving Rhames), the amiable Michael (Jake Weber), along with Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his pregnant wife Luda (Inna Korobkina). The group decides to seek refuge at the abandoned Crossroads Mall. After more survivors arrive to seek shelter within the strong, sturdy walls of the mall, an army of the undead steadily amasses outside. As tensions rise and supplies dwindle, the place that was supposed to be a sanctuary quickly becomes a prison.
Remakes, reimaginings, reboots - whatever you want to call the process of essentially making a film once and then making it again - aren't necessarily bad things. As a concept, I'm not completely against the notion. There have been so many versions of Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman not to mention numerous interpretations of Shakespeare and other works of classical literature that the process isn't specifically relegated to genre pictures. Hell, by 1950 there were already three feature-length adaptations of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, so why not a genuine classic like George Romero's Dawn of the Dead? After all, it worked in 1990 with Night of the Living Dead.
Admittedly, when the news and stories about Universal pulling together the pieces for a remake of Dawn of the Dead surfaced, I wasn't pleased. By that point, Zombie movies had been my jam and bread for a little over a decade and Dawn was a true favorite in all of its various cuts. I didn't want, nor did I need a remake of that film. But, 28 Days Later was a modest hit at the box office which means studios were ready to raid the grave in order to drum up more bucks. With much reservation, I went to see this new Dawn of the Dead on opening day. To my surprise, it was actually pretty damn good!
Where and why this Dawn works is that it only feels like the same movie as the original in name and core concept of a group of survivors taking shelter in a shopping mall. The rest of the film is an entirely different beast altogether. Taking a page from the "infected" from 28 Days Later, these Zombies are fast. They do not idly aimlessly wonder about. They see a living person and they are going to run them down, catch them, and savagely tear them apart and eat them. They're not lumbering blue/grey masses of motorized instinct, these zombies ooze blood, bile, and viscera and are unrelenting. Generally speaking I don't like my Zombies running, but in this case, I'm making an exception simply because of how well it works. How the zombies spread is also slightly tweaked this time requiring a bite whereas previously anyone who died came back to life.
To that end, I have to tip my hat to director Zach Snyder and screenwriter James Gunn. For a Zombie film that was made in post-9/11 America, it's a bitter reminder how everything can change in the blink of an eye. They smartly exploited the "they're coming for us" fearful mindset and made it a natural element of this film. All these characters want to do is keep their heads down and hide from the horror outside, but they cant. One way or another these flesh-hungry monsters are going to break down those doors and destroy their sanctuary of consumerism. Granted, that's about as far as this film's social commentary goes, it's pretty surface stuff, but it works. I wouldn't dare say it's as good or as smart as Romero's original, but it wisely stands apart and does its own thing and is an entertaining ride.
Kudos to the cast as well. They're a big reason Dawn of the Dead works and holds up to repeated viewings. Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Michael Kelly, Mekhi Phifer, Ty Burrell, Jayne Eastwood and the rest of the cast are damn impressive actors to be appearing in a film of this sort. Usually when a horror classic is remade, a squad of disposable and forgettable up and coming actors is assembled with barely a credit between them. Here, we have a group of actors who give it their all and genuinely sell a certain measure of terror. It helps they all have characters with a purpose. Those whose characters don't bring much of anything to the table are quickly dispatched in gloriously gory ways.
Like I said, not all remakes are bad news. Sure, most of them are as they fail to have a purpose for existing. In the case of Dawn of the Dead, it's a rare exception. It doesn't outpace the genuine horror of the original, but it does its own thing with the material and for all intents and purposes it succeeds. I wanted to hate this film when it came out, but after leaving the theater I had to eat some humble pie. It's pretty damn good and wildly entertaining. It's also managed to spawn some great talent as both Zach Snyder and James Gunn have gone on to bigger and better projects for opposing comic book studios. If this Dawn wasn't your thing in 2004, 13 years is certainly enough time to warrant a second look.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Dawn of the Dead Collector's Edition rushes to the mall on Blu-ray for the second time courtesy of Scream Factory in a two-disc Blu-ray set. Both Region A locked BD-50 discs are housed in a standard two-disc Blu-ray case with identical slip cover artwork. There is also reversible artwork featuring the theatrical poster art. Disc One contains the 101-minute R-rated Theatrical Cut. Disc Two contains the 110-minute Unrated Cut. Both discs open to animated main menus featuring traditional navigation options. The new bonus feature content can be found on Disc One.
Both the Theatrical Cut and Director's Cut of Dawn of the Dead arrive with fresh new AVC encoded HD masters from the 2K intermediate and are presented in 2.35:1 1080p. At first glance, there really wasn't all that much of a difference between this new Collector's Edition presentation and the VC-1 encoded 2008 release from Universal. I really had to take a lot of time flipping between discs before I started to spot any differences and those differences really are only slight changes in color timing. Reds have been pulled back just a tad so that they appear less hot pinkish and more crimson. This makes blues a bit more natural looking and green foliage now has less of a lime appearance. Details are slightly improved, but again, you're going to have a hard time spotting those differences. They're so slight you may not even notice them in the comparison screenshots I've supplied.
Part of the issue with this film has always been its highly stylized appearance. Film grain fluctuates from shot to shot so in turn detail levels can be robust and pleasing or waxy and nondescript. I feel like black levels are a bit better balanced with this release giving the image a better sense of depth, but again that's subjective to the shot in question. Scenes, especially where anyone is wearing black clothing, can appear a bit flat without any sort of definition. Brighter daylight scenes look much better and help mitigate the differences, but scenes within the mall - especially when the lights go out - can traverse the map so to speak. All around I would say this is a marginally improved transfer, but only just so. Where I'd still give the original a strong and respectable 4/5, I'd give this new Scream Factory presentation a 4.2/5. It's a hair better. Barring a full restoration and new scan for a 4K UHD Blu-ray release, there isn't likely going to be any visible improvement.
Similar to Land of the Dead Collector's Edition from Scream Factory, this Dawn of the Dead Collector's Edition arrives with both a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that is virtually identical to the 2008 release as well as an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 downmix. There's not really a whole hell of a lot to add here. The 5.1 mix was pretty terrific to begin with and it remains so. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout. Sound effects and Tyler Bates moody score provide plenty of atmosphere. Imaging is all around solid as there is a great amount of surround activity along the side and to the rears when bigger action sequences hit the screen. When they escape the mall in the trucks and they break out the chainsaws - that's a pretty damn effective moment in the mix! The 2.0 mix is much more front/center loaded and misses out on a lot of the atmosphere and sense of dimension the 5.1 mix enjoys. If you don't have a good sound system or are relying on your built-in TV speakers, this 2.0 mix is solid.
Similar to how they handled The Thing Collector's Edition release, Scream Factory has gratefully ported over all of the previous releases' bonus features, but thankfully removed that pointless PIP function so you now can view everything individually again. In addition, they've also cooked up a bunch of new bonus features interviews and behind the scenes footage to make this a worthwhile package. The new bonus features are found on the Theatrical Cut disc and will be detailed in the HD Bonus Content section below.
Theatrical Cut Disc
Take A Chance on Me (HD 15:28) This is an interview with actor Ty Burrell who is very candid about what the film means for him and his career.
Gunn for Hire (HD 9:26) A great interview with writer and now successful director James Gunn. It's an entertaining interview as he's very blunt about not wanting to even try and outdo the original.
Punk, Rock & Zombie (HD 23:10) A fantastic interview with Jake Weber who goes into great detail about getting the part - auditioning alongside Ty Burrell and working on the shoot.
Killing Time At The Mall (HD 25:36) This is a great interview with special effects artists David Anderson and his wife Heather Langenkamp Anderson. It's pretty wild to see Nancy from A Nightmare on Elm Street working alongside her husband David as gore and creature effects artists. There's a lot of great stuff covering the creation of the gore effects and prosthetics and testing to see how an effect would work and whether or not they could make it bloodier.
Deleted Scenes With Director and Producer Commentary (SD 11:30)
Theatrical Trailer (HD 2:34)
Director's Cut Disc
Audio Commentary featuring director Zach Snyder and Eric Newman
Splitting Headaches: Anatomy of Exploding Heads (5:36)
Attack of the Living Dead (SD 7:24)
Raising the Dead (SD 7:54)
Andy's Lost Tape (SD16:22)
Special Report: Zombie Invasion (SD 21:05)
Undead and Loving it: A Mockumentary (SD 5:09)
Drawing the Dead (SD 2:48)
Storyboard Comparisons (SD 5:51)
Every once in awhile, Hollywood manages to squeak out a decent remake or two. While the ones that work are relatively few and far between, 2004's Dawn of the Dead proved to be an exception to the rule. By not trying to outdo the original George Romero classic, this Dawn manages to stand on its own and be its own movie with the only real similarities being in name and setting only. The characters are different. The social commentary is different. Even the zombies are different offering up a far bloodier interpretation of the classic walking undead. Scream Factory unleashes the Dawn of the Dead Collector's Edition upon fans. While the new and slightly improved video transfer may not be enough to warrant a double dip over the 2008 Universal release, this new edition comes with a host of new and interesting bonus features as well as the film's original Theatrical Cut making it a more complete package available to consumers. Highly recommended.