DVD: Dawn of the Dead (1978) – U.S. Theatrical Cut

April 30, 2013 | By

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Film: Very Good/ DVD Transfer: Very Good/ DVD Extras: Very Good

Label: Anchor Bay/ Region: 1 (NTSC) / Released: March 9, 2004

Genre: Horror / Zombies

Synopsis: Members of an anti-zombie S.W.A.T. team and a TV reporter seek refuge in a massive shopping mall, only to be surrounded by an even greater menacing force of the (albeit lumbering) walking dead.

Special Features: Audio Commentary by Director/Writer George A. Romero, Special Make-up Effects Artist Tom Savini, and Assistant Director Chris Romero, moderated by Perry Martin / 3 TV Spots (2:00) / 9 Radio Spots (3 x 0:60) (6 x 0:30) / Poster and Advertising Gallery with 25 images / George A. Romero Biography, Comic Book Preview / 4-page color booklet with liner notes by Adam Rockoff / 2 U.S. Theatrical trailers for “Dawn Of The Dead”

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Review:

Easter Egg #1: Go to the “Extras” menu, move the cursor upwards, and after you pass “Trailers,” a zombie silhouette to the right will darken. Press “Enter” and an interview with Chris Romero plays (4:35), in which she discusses how she met George Romero while still a drama student.

Easter Egg #2: Go to the “Audio Setup” menu, move the cursor upwards, and after you pass “Dolby Digital 5.1,” a zombie silhouette to the right will darken. Press “Enter” and an interview with Tom Savini plays (4:35), in which he recalls playing an amusing practical joke on his girlfriend.

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Anchor Bay’s Divimax Special Edition marks the first time the original U.S. theatrical cut has been released on DVD in North America. (The previous attempt, released in 1999 by Anchor Bay and billed as “The Anniversary Edition,”sported a 1.66:1 non-anamorphic, zoomed-in transfer. That print, by an odd quirk, also included an extended “dock scene” not present in the new Divimax release, that had actor Joe Pilato, later to appear in a major role Romero’s “Day of the Dead,” playing a police officer. The 1999 DVD also included the “Monroeville Mall” commercial – since replicated on Anchor Bay’s 4-disc Ultimate Edition – and two fullscreen dialogue scenes extracted from the European/Argento Cut: #1- the secluded survivors toasting their safety, while a news report plays on the TV; #2 – a dinner-date/marriage proposal between the film’s main couple.)

Released to coincide with the 2004 remake of George Romero’s zombie classic, Anchor Bay’s new DVD sports some publicity extras, and a newly recorded commentary track featuring director Romero, makeup artist Tom Savini, assistant director Chris (Christine) Romero, and moderator Perry Martin. (The original 1996 Elite laserdisc of the “Pre-Cannes Cut” contained a different commentary track with all of the aforementioned, except Martin.)

Over the years, there have been several DVDs that have re-assembled participants from older commentaries, and fear of a stale anecdotal narrative isn’t unreasonable. Happily, moderator Martin monitors the discussion’s overall pace, and the three participants on their own do an excellent job, revisiting production details with great affection, and frequently discussing the joys and trappings of independent filmmaking.

With the shadow of the 2004 Universal “Dawn of the Dead” remake looming over the discussion, even Romero raises a point most genre fans have noted: why doesn’t someone give the actual creator of the ultimate American zombie franchise the funds to make another commercially viable installment? Made for a shockingly low budget, the original “Dawn of the Dead” looks outstanding; it’s aided by a brand-new shopping mall, but even appearances by local militia and citizens – all unpaid – boost the film’s production value. The status of Romero’s unproduced 4th zombie script is frequently raised by the commentators, along with Romero’s rather absurd predicament in having to watch his film remade by a wealthy studio, while no one seems willing to finance his own version for a fraction of the cost.

The DVD’s remaining extras lean towards publicity, and include various U.S. theatrical and TV trailers, publicity graphics, and a Romero bio essay. The comic book preview is just a cover snapshot, plus minor publicity text with web links.

It’s might be a good idea to hold onto those early “Dawn of the Dead” DVDs, though, as they contain unique, albeit minor differences, but Anchor Bay’s new 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is very good. Richer colors and a slightly tweaked surround mix make this disc an excellent successor to older editions.

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© 2004 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

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